On January 6, 1941, at the edge of what would become a terrible global war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress and spoke of a better future “founded upon four essential human freedoms.” These were, as he saw it, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. It was — and remains — a moving prescription for the planet from an American president.
More than three quarters of a century later, twitching in the Oval Office is a president who seems to believe that freedom of speech and expression (his excepted) is fake news; that the freedom of every person to worship in his or her own fashion shouldn’t include Muslims or perhaps people who live in “huts” in “shithole countries” (or was it “shithouse countries”?); that freedom from want only applies to plutocrats (because they, naturally enough, always want more); and above all that the need to fear, to be afraid, truly afraid — an emotion on which, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon points out today, the national security state in its present outlandish form has been built — couldn’t be more useful. It’s what, as recent national security budgets have shown, funds and builds so much, walls included.
So in a White House in which the fear not of god but of Trump is to be instilled in everyone, don’t expect this president to lay out four essential anythings, no less freedoms, other than his freedom to say whatever happens to cross his mind, however bizarre it may be. If a genuine program for a better future is to be laid out by anyone, it certainly won’t be by our tweeter-in-chief. In other words, it’s up to the rest of us to do it, which means, as Rebecca Gordon suggests, that we need to muster our better selves in resistance to our present American world without the expectation of a helping hand from Washington.