In his song Youngstown, Bruce Springsteen asks,
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam, now we're wondering what they were dyin' for
Springsteen, of course, sings about disillusioned and disenfranchised communities in the former Rust Belt. Springsteen blamed the "big boys" who "did what Hitler couldn't do" when they closed down America's steel industries in the 1970s and '80s.
In reality, our steel industry at that time fell victim to greedy union bosses and to tax-hungry welfare statists in Congress and state capitals, milking everything they could get their hands on for another fistful of dollars to spend on their egalitarian pet projects.
It is not capitalism that has decimated America. It is not the "big boys" in corporate board rooms who have crippled the world's economic superpower. It is the very ideological project that liberals like Springsteen cherish. Egalitarianism is the real force of economic destruction.
Yet Springsteen's question makes a point. It is not irrelevant to ask what Americans in our military uniforms are fighting for. The question is not just relevant to the decline of the American economy in the pre-Reagan 1970s. It is relevant with regard to what happened during the Great Recession, and what is happening in Wyoming today. A journey through Gillette and other parts of our state, hit by our current economic decline, is not unfamiliar to anyone who saw the decline of the steel belt from Youngstown, Ohio to Gary, Indiana and the imploding Detroit.
Back in the 1970s, the steel belt was turned into an archipelago of an economic wasteland, dotting itself through the American landscape. Today, that wasteland is spreading through the great state of Wyoming, and much for the same reasons. With its left hand, government takes taxes and fees away from productive businesses and their workers; with its right hand, it applies a regulatory noose around their necks, pulling it just a little bit tighter each year.
Government always had a good reason for taking more taxes. Starving children in the inner cities. Crumbling schools. The poor needed health care. How can you deny the poor health care? Welfare for single mothers. More unemployment benefits. How can you not want to help the unemployed?
Then came the regulations. Workplace regulations. Safety regulations. Pollution regulations. Transportation regulations. Climate change regulations. Unemployment insurance regulations.
Because people can't find work.
In reality, it is not because of American businesses that people can't find work. It is because a bureaucratic labyrinth makes life hard for American businesses. The destructive forces that cripple the American economy emanate from Congress, and from the state capitol in Cheyenne. A man in Gillette, who used to make $80-90,000 a year working in the coal industry now pulls minimum wage in retail. Why? Because government has taxed and regulated America's great capitalist force to its knees. Government is more concerned about economic redistribution than prosperity.
Government has demoted the American worker from a member of the greatest workforce in the world to a dependent on the government dole. Its ideologues have dispirited and vilified the American worker with an ideological hurricane blaming him for global warming, cursing him for wanting to raise his family in faith and patriotism.
But even as America had been brought to her knees, she has stood up again. Slowly, she rises from the rubble, brought about by egalitarian greed and incompetent do-goodery. She voted for Reagan, she vote for Trump, she fights back for her faith, and slowly regains her hope of a better tomorrow.
The forces of economic destruction have been put on notice, but they have not gone away. While Donald Trump is pointing to the future and America is slowly beginning to move forward again, the Republican Congressional caucus refuses to hear their voters' message. Our federal lawmakers are so committed to egalitarian delusions that they cannot even produce a meaningful Obamacare reform.
Entitlements have become sacrosanct. In Washington, DC as well as in Cheyenne.
Never in the history of our country has a legislature repealed an entitlement program without replacing it with another. Since the War on Poverty started in 1964, entitlements have engulfed federal, state and local government budgets and shoved core government functions like national defense and law enforcement to the side. Slowly but relentlessly, the venom of economic redistribution; the economically disabling forces of work-free income and entitlement; have turned a smooth industrial machinery into a patchwork of struggling, staggering businesses trying to navigate an economic landscape filled with tax hurdles and regulatory minefields.
Despite the heroic efforts of President Reagan; despite the brave campaigns of the Tea Party and the bold challenge that is Donald Trump; the question lingers: what America are we fighting to defend? Is it just the jurisdiction we know as the United States of America, or is it more than that? Is it the bold moral project that our Founding Fathers created? Is it the vast horizon of opportunities, open to the driven and the dedicated? Is it the promise of prosperity from responsibility that has motivated millions upon millions of migrants from all corners of the world?
What America is it we are fighting for?
This question is as relevant to our state legislators as it is to our Members of Congress. In fact, Representative Cheney inadvertently put the question on its edge in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, where she and former Vice President Dick Cheney explained (subscription required):
Providing for the defense of America is the most sacred constitutional obligation of the U.S. Congress. If Congress fails in this, no balanced budget, no health-care reform, no tax reform, no entitlement reform will matter. If lawmakers fail to provide the resources necessary for the defense of the nation, nothing else they do will matter.
In a linear sense, the Cheneys are correct. However, the economy is not linear. We cannot choose between fighting for our country and fighting for our economic freedom. It is our economic freedom that provides the resources we need to build, maintain and develop our national defense. If we cripple those resources by subjugating our economy to welfare statism, we will lose both our national and our economic freedom.
If we stand down from the fight for economic freedom, we lose our country. If we neglect our national defense, we also lose our country. If we think we can do one but not the other, then Bruce Springsteen's question will once again come back to haunt us: what will our son's and daughters die for?
A wasteland of taxes, regulations, entitlements and industrial poverty? A business-class version of the economic life that people endured in Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain?
Or that proud, prosperous nation, admired by its friends, feared by its foes, inspired by God and built by us all in peace and liberty?