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Finley: Will my grandchildren live free?

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

I’ve about reached the point in life where the phrase long-term future is a fantasy.

Concerns about where the country is headed over the next quarter or half century are theoretical. If it goes bad, all I’ll be able to do about it is roll over in my grave.

And yet, as a father and grandfather, I worry about whether America will be able to fix the things that are wrong while not destroying the things that have always been good.

I feel some hope that we may finally have the determination to address the nation’s foundational sins, and rid ourselves of the twin evils of racism and inequality. A country built on the promise of equal opportunity should not have so many of its people — black and white, by the way — who feel its sweetest fruits are beyond their reach.

At the same time, I’m afraid that in trying to perfect America, we are abandoning the ideals that inspired its creation.

An American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington.

Will my grandchildren be allowed to stand as empowered individuals, free to make their own decisions about how they live, to express their opinions, no matter how unpopular? Will they be able to resist demands that they march to the beat of a single drummer?

Americans absolutely must pull together. But in doing so, they also must be able to stand apart if they choose.

This year has not been a good one for civil liberties. The space the Constitution carves out for the individual to stand safe from the government has shrunk.

In name of fighting a frightening virus, we’ve opened every aspect of our lives to government intrusion. Not trusting us to protect ourselves, our government has locked us in our homes, shut private businesses, kept us away from our loved ones, even in their dying moments.

Whether this is an extraordinary event or a softening up for an ongoing erosion of our liberties remains to be seen. But once you get a people to forfeit their rights once, it’s a precedent for doing so again and again.

The protests against racism, which have included Americans of all races, hold the promise of bringing real, positive change. But they’ve also taken an ugly turn.

We are talking less about repairing America, and more about tearing it down to build a new model, with fewer flaws but less freedoms.  

The fight against racism is being used as an excuse to silence, rather than to coax honest conversations. Instead of vigorous debate, we are being forced into group think. 

Even those who considered themselves allies to every progressive cause are being marched off to the guillotines for falling short of perfection. Madame Defarges are lurking everywhere, eager to point the pitchforks toward those who stumble. 

The first immigrants came to America to escape this sort of persecution, and generation after generation followed for the same reason.

Now I worry that my grandchildren, or theirs, will have to leave this place for a new one where they will be free to control their own fate.

I won’t be around to see it. So I’ll just hope for a casket with enough room to roll over.  

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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