Freedom

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In 2009, while I lived in Argentina, I went to Iguazu Falls. Part of the falls are in Argentina and part in Brazil. I could not enter Brazil, which is behind me in the picture, because I needed to apply for a visa at the Brazilian Consulate in the U.S. Brazil’s intention was to make it as hard for Americans to visit Brazil as it was for Brazilians to visit the U.S. (America makes it really really hard for people to visit here.)

At 3am on Wednesday morning when I was going on five hours of sleep and had just learned that Trump would be our next president, my mind went to some pretty dark places. Economic collapse, deterioration of foreign relations, a wall that won’t let people in, people so desperate to get out that Mexico won’t even take us anymore. It was a strange place where I had never actually been before. Deep in the blackness of this hole, in the dead of night, alone in my apartment, I feared many things, one of which was: please do not lock me inside this country. Totally irrational, I know, but real: please don’t lock me in here.

A few weeks have passed now and my fears have transformed into something more rational. But that spiral down into a black hole on Wednesday morning has given me a lot to think about. The fear of getting stuck inside this country is not something I had ever thought to fear before. The inverse of my fear is perhaps what I see as my greatest freedom: the ability/right/privilege to tromp around this world. And I mean really, just, tromp.

I am not the only one who wants to go, to move around, to come back, and maybe leave again: Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times, “I recently met with economic and climate refugees in West Africa who made it clear to me they didn’t want aid from a rock concert in Europe. They want to come to the Europe they see on their cellphones.”

It’s like, duh, when you think about it. I mean, how would you feel if a bunch of cool, famous people in a foreign country got together to have a concert to help pay for your food but you weren’t allowed to go to the concert or even enter the country where it was?

Friedman’s observation was helpful in understanding a seemingly unrelated NPR story. In Clay County, Kentucky, Freida Lockaby has benefited from the Affordable Care Act. In her interview with NPR she says, “It’s been a godsend to me.” Under the act she qualified for free health care and was covered for the first time in eleven years. Kentucky’s Republican Governor Matt Bevin has been trying to cut back the Affordable Care Act in the state. However, he hasn’t been able to make his changes because he needs approval from the Obama Administration. With a new president in town, Gov. Bevin’s changes seem imminent and residents and health administrators in Clay County are worried.

At first I was stunned by this article. I didn’t have to look (but I did look) to know that this county went for Trump in the election (89% Trump; 3% Hillary). And I was perplexed at why they would vote against a measure that had been of such assistance to them. I have a few theories, but one is that, like the men and women in West Africa, what the men and women of Kentucky want most is not a hand out.

What they want–what we want–is the option to choose our own destinies. We want to make our own money, so we can have the freedom to buy houses and raise kids, or the freedom to never buy houses and never have kids and tromp around the world like we own the place.

The sad thing is, I don’t think a Trump presidency is going to help the people of Kentucky, nor the people of Western Africa, be more free.

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