Give me liberty and give me death!
The Mamas and the Papas were right. The darkest hour is just before dawn. Americans have generally behaved well during the initial stage of our “war” against the Coronavirus. But while the dawn may be breaking in some parts of the country, the darkest hour is yet to come in others. This epidemic threatens the nation as a whole. The virus does not respect borders or ideologies. It will travel wherever we allow it to travel—in search of human hosts to infect and kill. Protesters at state capitols around the country do not seem to understand that now is not the time to try and recreate the America we enjoyed just three months ago. Those on the barricades demand their liberty, but they also welcome death—for tens of thousands of others, and perhaps for themselves.
Free speech and civil disobedience are woven into the American fabric, to be treasured and protected by government. But the business of government is to draw lines—in this case, the line between unrestrained commerce and public health. After the 9/11 attacks, American citizens gladly gave up some of their individual freedom for assured security. For a while. But once the threat of foreign terrorism appeared to recede, Americans demanded their privacy again. Government has never achieved a perfect balance between liberty and security. Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said that a people prepared to sacrifice one for the other deserves neither. Governors are doing what governors are elected to do, deciding on how best to balance both.
That is a difficult task, to be sure. Making it even more difficult are misguided anti-government protestors, fueled by extremist ideology and misinformation. The shocking images of angry groups of people—crowding together and not wearing facemasks—are bad enough. Worse are the pictures of angrier people brandishing weapons, swastikas, and confederate flags (in Michigan?). The groups are brought together by dark money and Internet sub-cultures that have turned the disease into a political battle instead of a fight for the nation’s health and economic well-being. The anti-vaccination zealots, also out in force, promise to oppose (and promote the opposition to) a vaccine for Covid-19 when it is developed. Conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this, and all of us may end up paying the price.
The protestors could have been taken right from the pages of my second novel. A More Perfect Union tells the story of conservative, law-abiding Americans, duped into believing very Unamerican ideas by a white nationalist leadership that doubles as a clandestine terrorist cell. Those citizens are at the open end of what the FBI describes as a funnel moving through space. People who dislike the government to begin with are sucked into the narrow end of the funnel. That is where ideology and violence come together. In my book, the violence takes the form of terrorist attacks across the country. In real life, the protestors at state capitols reinforce the notion that government is ruining their lives—on purpose, some say. Others even believe that civil war is inevitable. This cannot continue if all of us want our political leaders to balance individual and group rights in a way to satisfies most of our concerns. Most, if not all of them are trying to do just that—by listening to the economists as well as the doctors. Patience has gotten us this far. As is often said, we are all in this together. We will beat the virus together, or the virus will beat all of us.