The Right to Be Wrong
I swore I wasn’t going to do this. After basing my first installment of the return of TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less on the societal impact of the corona virus and then following that up a few weeks later with how Trump’s handling of the crisis told us all we needed to know about his leadership, I vowed that I was done writing about Covid-19. But then we witnessed a drastic spike in cases of the disease in many states throughout the country despite some people flouting even the most basic common sense measures used to prevent the resurging spread of the pandemic, and I thought to myself, yeah these people need a lesson in Civics 101.
Despite the fact that most Americans are clearly done with this whole shelter in place thing and are pent up with a desire to go back to normal like hyped up school children on the last day before summer vacation, this virus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, at least not here in the United States where our national response has led to a pronounced increase in cases in recent weeks while other nations, who had effective programs for testing and tracing put in place by competent leaders, have largely put this thing in their rearview mirror and are sitting back laughing at our incompetence, as they pass travel bans restricting American travelers from coming to their countries. And so while some countries, like New Zealand, are back to hosting sporting events with fans in attendance, we are experiencing a dramatic resurgence that threatens to put us right back where we started just a few months ago.
In order to try to stem this potential tidal wave of cases in states like Florida and Texas, governors, Democratic and Republican alike, have been putting into place some reasonable measures aimed at stopping the spread of the disease so that they don’t have to go back to shutting down their economies to prevent overwhelming the health care system. We all know what these things are (social distancing, wearing a mask in public, limiting group sizes), and we have all heard plenty of medical researchers attest to the efficacy of these practices. A recent study found that if 80% of Americans would wear masks in public situations, the spread of the disease would drop to 8% of current levels. So what’s the issue?
Well, seems some folks find these measures to be an affront to their personal liberties, as even a global pandemic has become a hot button topic of political division. On Facebook recently, I had an acquaintance, whom I generally respect intellectually, share a post that compared the limitations in California to the social agenda of Nazi Germany. I was fortunate to be one the few folks who got to see a fireworks display this Independence Day as my town allowed local Bandimere Speedway to host their annual car race and firework show as long as they limited the crowd in attendance to 175 people. But in a gesture that can only be described as a giant middle finger to the town and the community at large, the speedway allowed thousands of people to be in attendance, almost all of them without masks. The president himself has been holding rallies, even indoors where spread of the disease is far more pervasive, and neither he nor many of his attendees are wearing masks. We’ve all seen the videos of raging lunatics shouting at folks who have politely asked them to don a mask, but my favorite has to be the man at a local Costco, who refused by saying that he was “born in a free country”. Yeah, this kind of stupidity begs for a lesson in Civics, and while Disney has just released Hamilton for streaming, I doubt most of these folks are watching musicals, so let me get out my virtual chalkboard.
You see, these folks are all working off of a very different definition of “freedom” and “liberty” than the one our founding fathers intended. Sure, America is a free country, but that doesn’t mean you just get to do whatever the hell you want. That’s called anarchy. While our government does bestow certain rights, there are rules. Our nation’s democracy is founded on the notion that you generally have the right to do what you want until your actions impact the rights of others. And it is that impact on others that these “freedom lovin’ patriots” seem to misunderstand.
When I get pulled over for driving 175 MPH in a school zone, I can’t lean over to the police officer and say, “I know I was speeding, officer, but I was born in a free country.” That’s because my behavior of driving recklessly needlessly endangers the lives of others around me. When I watched the video of this Costco guy, I had a sincere desire to seek out this individual and punch him square in the nose, only so that when he looked up at me in pain and bewilderment, I could look back at him and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that I really wanted to punch you in the face, and well, I was born in a free country, so….” We have laws to protect the rights of others from morons like this who think that their right to do whatever the hell they damn well please should somehow trump the rights of others.
Because let’s face it, the right these governors and other local officials are protecting for the vast majority of their communities by passing responsible social distancing and mask wearing measures is the right to health and happiness free of a life-threatening epidemic. If these folks who refuse to wear a mask want to go get themselves sick, that’s just fine with me, but the problem is that they are then going to unknowingly spread that illness to folks who are thus being deprived of their basic rights to health and public safety. So for all of you folks out there that want to use the Constitution to somehow defend your refusal to just do the right thing and wear a mask in pubic spaces, please do me a favor. Read the Constitution. And maybe throw in the Bill of Rights while you’re at it. Heck, if you’re really feeling frisky, throw in the Federalist Papers. And this is what you will actually come away with: You have the right to make stupid decisions that only impact you, but no founding documents that underpin American democracy give you the right to be an asshole to others.
And with that, the lesson is over.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com