Live Free or (Maybe) Die
By Patrick F. Cannon
I was watching the news the other day, and some old codger (he might actually have been younger than me) attending a rally for President Trump loudly proclaimed (sans mask) that it was nobody’s business but his if he died from Covid-19; his God-given freedom as an American to do as he pleased being paramount.
He is obviously not alone. And if he were only putting his own life at risk, he’d have my support, if not understanding. People do all kinds of risky stuff. They say that there are still unrecovered bodies littering the slopes of Mt. Everest. Dozens of rock climbers die every year. Not everyone who jumps out of an airplane makes it to the ground alive. It’s true that they may leave a saddened friend of loved one behind, but few people actually die of grief.
Before I go any further, let me say that I am a staunch believer and supporter of the Bill of Rights. Go ahead and shoot your mouth off! Tweet to your heart’s content. There is almost nothing you can say that would cause me to put a sock in it. Of course, if you shouted fire in a crowded theatre, I would draw the line, just as the Supreme Court has. Because, if you did so just for the hell of it, people might well be trampled and even killed in the resulting panic. And advocating the violent overthrow of the government is against the law, although actually trying to do it these days seems OK in some cities.
We also have freedom to assemble for redress of grievance. But notice that the now-vilified Founding Fathers qualified that right by using the word “peaceably” before “to assemble.” Throwing rocks and feces at policemen does not fit the qualification. Nor does destroying livelihoods and jobs by looting.
If I’m of a mind, I can call any politician – even the president – a son-of-a-bitch and stay out of jail. I can even peddle some lies and half-truths, as long as the victim is a public figure and can’t prove “actual malice.” Notice that President Trump, who sued right and left before he was elected (and rarely if ever prevailed) is now satisfied with yelling “fake news.”
Americans don’t lack for rights; indeed, they have been greatly expanded over the years. Black citizens can now vote in the South; job discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation is no longer legal; abortion is legal, if restricted in some states; same sex marriage is permitted; you can even flout biology by deciding you would rather be another sex, or no sex at all. I don’t doubt that someday you’re be able to be your own grandpa.
But here and there, there are some limitations. In most states (I think) you can’t marry your sister. Sexual relations with underage children is beyond the pale, with prison if you get caught. Although less of an issue now, you can’t knowingly infect another with AIDS. You can’t drive as fast as you want, or park your car wherever you please. In some jurisdictions, you even have to pick up your dog’s crap or face a fine.
Asking people to wear a mask in public, and keep their distance, seems to me a reasonable public health precaution. As of yesterday, 196,500 Americans have died from Covid-19. That is about five times as many as die from the annual flu outbreak. I would only ask the “freedom at all cost” folks this question: if you’re willing to die in the cause of freedom, are you willing to take someone with you? Like your granny, or your child?
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon