We are roughly two months into Coronamania, and it seems already a new local legend has been born. We’ve all seen him at this point. He’s your coworker, your neighbor, maybe he’s even your cousin. He’s the middle aged man driving in his car alone with a mask on. All joking aside, I’ve seen dozens of people doing this over the past few weeks, and it got me thinking. Why? While I like to think I’ve taken the virus fairly seriously and acted responsibly, I fail to understand the mindset of the most ardent faction of quarantiners.
Much like radical climate change fanaticism, the most extreme prognosticators of social distancing seem to have adopted the practice as a religion, complete with the system of rewards and guilts that accompany most religious systems. While I admittedly abide on the more relaxed end of the social distancing spectrum, my curiosity drives me to examine the thought processes and motives of this group. Broad generalizations are rarely accurate to the whole, and I’m certain the motivations are numerous and disparate. Some are no doubt motivated by fear, while some others are acting out of the goodness of their hearts and a desire to protect those most vulnerable. Some, particularly those who assign religious status to the practice, may do it for glowing social media posts and virtue signaling to their peers.
The aforementioned motivations are fine and harmless, and each person is within his/her rights to act on them freely. Sadly, I think there is a small but very real minority who have different motivations in this. Is it possible that some radicalized citizens and maybe even government officials are enjoying the unprecedented exercise of government authority and the shaming of those people, particularly rural southerners, who don’t abide by Big Brother’s rules as stringently as they do? Are some people happy that capitalists who’ve worked their entire lives for financial independence are now on a “level playing field,” depending on the government like millions of other Americans at this time? History would say yes.
During the great Red Scare of the 1950s, we saw Americans reporting on Americans to their government, suspicious of their friends and neighbors in a time of heightened fear. The great Arthur Miller compared them to the judges at the Salem Witch Trials. Those same personalities exist today, and they relish the opportunity to turn in business owners and citizens who are just trying to make a living for the same reasons John Proctor was hanged for witchcraft. Unchecked fear is corrosive to the bonds of society.
To some this isn’t so far from their ideal version of America, where the government is intimately involved in the day to day affairs of capitalists, regulating and restricting everything down to the type of soap available in the bathroom. They want everyone dependent on monthly stimulus checks, as federal power expands and individual liberty contracts.
On Monday, we observe Memorial Day and honor the fallen. From Bunker Hill, to Shiloh, to Flanders field, to Normandy, to Baghdad the blood of American patriots has been shed to water the Tree of Liberty. When confronted with a crisis, they did not let fear get the best of them, they did not retreat. They charged ahead, united under one banner, to advance the cause of freedom in the world. What would they think of our response to this virus, of the heirs to that freedom living today? Have we guarded that torch of liberty as vigilantly as they during this time of fear and crisis? What would they make of government temporarily shuttering churches to little resistance from its citizens? The question is not whether or not these government actions prevented the spread of infection, as they certainly did. The question is are we okay with a government that has the authority to do what we have allowed ours to do over the past eight weeks?
During the Cold War, there was a prominent segment of society that called for peace at any price. They adopted the slogan, “Better Red than Dead.” Opposite them, were lovers of liberty. Ronald Reagan spoke for this faction when he addressed the nation in his famous address, The Speech.
“You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin — just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.”
This is America. We do not retreat. The virus has caused great uncertainty and unprecedented surrender, at times perhaps appropriately. But we have had time to gather our wits, look over our enemy, and regroup. Now is the time to press on, at work, in church, and in our communities, with the grit and fortitude that sustained us for centuries.