The Cabbie's Question

"'You are an American, yes?'  The burly New York City cabdriver looked at me through the rearview mirror as he asked the question, his voice saturated with a heavy Eastern European accent.

"'Yes, I am,' I replied.

"'Tell me: what are you doing?'

"About a year into Barack Obama's presidency, I climbed into this man's cab for a short trip across Manhattan.  Engaging city taxi drivers can go one of two ways: it can either be an enjoyable, interesting experience or it can end in a torrent of profanity in multiple languages.  This particular cabdriver was friendly and gregarious, particularly when I asked him about the source of his accent.

"'The Bronx,' he replied.  'Oh, you mean where I am from?'  He paused for a moment and then said, 'I was born in Bulgaria.  But I am an American.'  And then this big, strapping man grew emotional as he told me his story: 'I am an American by choice.  And you'll forgive me, but I think those of us who are Americans by choice rather than by birth have a different view.  Many Americans, you do not appreciate your freedom.  You have always had it.  You don't know anything else.  I have lived under communism.  I have been beaten and put in jail.  I have heard the knock of the secret police in the middle of the night.  I have had neighbors disappear.  I have had the government open my mail and listen in to my phone.  I have gone days eating only potatoes because the store shelves were bare.  There was no medicine, no good doctors.'

"He told me that his family fled Bulgaria to escape the tyranny and brutality of Communist rule and came to the United States to seek the very promise of America: freedom.  That's when he asked me: 'Tell me: what are you doing?  Why are you letting America be destroyed?'

"His voice quaked with despair and frustration as he railed against what he called 'enslaving debt,' 'communist medicine,' and 'a jackboot government.'  As he stopped at my destination, this refugee from communist hell turned around, threw his arm over the seat, and looked directly at me.  'Please don't let this happen to America.  It's creeping in here, and it's creeping in fast.  We came to America to get away from socialism.  If it comes here, where will we go?  Where will any of us go?  There's not other hope anywhere else.  You're letting your freedoms be taken from you, and you don't even see it.  Or you see it but you don't care, which is the worst kind of treason.'

"Treason.  The word stung me.  By allowing the insidious tyranny of the ever-growing state, were we actively betraying our country?  Were we all essentially traitors to America for permitting our own government to seize our freedoms and move us into debilitating dependency with our own lazy acquiescence?  Were we complicit in our own destruction?  Were we guilty of citizen malpractice?

"That grizzled New York City cabdriver pointed to an enduring truth about America: that it is still seen by billions of people around the world as--in Abraham Lincoln's words--'the last best hope on earth.'  But he also warned that the country was in grave danger of slipping beneath the waves, pulling that last best hope of humanity into the perpetual darkness of state domination, economic collectivism, and human misery.  Would we allow our current government to cripple us and atrophy American power?  Or would we heed the words of Thomas Paine: 'It is the duty of the patriot to protect their country from its government.'"

--Monica Crowley, What the (Bleep) Just Happened?  The Happy Warrior's Guide to the Great American Comeback (New York: Broadside Books, 2012), pp. 311-12.

One of my friends at fencing asked much the same question this autumn as we were talking about the election.  His parents immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union, and he said that his father and mother couldn't understand how Americans could be voting to subject themselves to the very same kinds of government programs that they left the U.S.S.R. to escape.  So, tell me, my fellow Americans, what are we doing?  Are we really and truly willing to let America be destroyed? 


  1. I'd say we are trying to construct a social democracy, along the lines of modern western Europe. My French, English, German, and Dutch friends don't quake in terror at the iron hand of the state.

    The problem with such anecdotes is that they posit a simple binary: either tyrannous socialism or laissez-faire capitalism, with no middle ground. It's the same mentality that leads Richard Dawkins and company to think that anyone who rejects their militant, smarmily superior atheism has been deluded into supporting fundamentalist theocracy.


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