Something Has Got to Give: Law, Liberty, and Coronavirus
I’m a liberal. I am well-known to be a liberal. I am a public option, give away all the money to the poor people, stay out of reproductive decisions, legalize all the weed, uncage the kids liberal. An anti-Trump, blue voting, feminist liberal. And yet, what I am seeing in our country right now has me on an angry, build-the-guillotines tear worthy of the most screeching of freedom eagles.
Our valid fears around COVID-19 are lulling us into a daze in which we, for the most part, nod along complacently as our freedom is impinged, because most of us believe it is necessary and temporary. And it’s true, for the most part. Closing schools was necessary. Working from home wherever possible is necessary. Shutting down places where people gather in dense groups, like movie theatres, restaurant dining rooms, and bars was necessary. But in true authorocrat (is that a word? Should be. It is now.) fashion, giving an inch has resulted in some of our leaders taking a mile.
All states are handling things slightly differently, with various levels of nanny state-ism. We keep hearing the word “essential”, which depending on where you live means a wide range of things. In my state it means our state parks are closed but the golf courses are open. Lowes is open. Big box stores are open, but in the “hotspot” counties they have been limited to a capacity that permits the acceptable six feet of social distancing. This means you wait in line to get groceries, which is something that most people have never experienced before, and while vaguely ominous it is only a mild inconvenience.
In other states, Vermont and Michigan for example, their governors have gone a step further, issuing executive orders forbidding retailers from selling goods not on an approved list of essential items. It makes a certain amount of sense; it limits the amount of people shopping if they can’t get shoes or clothes or curtains or sports equipment. Hearing about these restrictions rubbed me the wrong way, but I could rationalize the policy, because I do not deny the need for social distancing and the danger of this pandemic.
But then, I started seeing things that didn’t sit well, like the lone paddle boarder in the pacific ocean arrested for violating the closed beaches ordinance, even though he was alone. You can’t let one person paddle board; if he paddle boards, we’ll all paddle board! It’ll be anarchy! But the optics of the police on the empty beach waiting to ensnare the Spicoli as soon as he came ashore were not good. Not comfortable. Not American.
And then a judge in my county decided he would slap a GPS ankle monitor on any coronavirus-positive person in his jurisdiction who refused to quarantine. Again, I tilted my head slightly. Can he do that? I mean, I guess he can… though it felt Not Right. But it’s necessary, I suppose. I was reminded of the story of Typhoid Mary. She was a real person, an Irish cook named Mary Mallon who was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid. She moved among households in Long Island, New York, leaving a trail of dead typhoid victims along the way. When a doctor finally figured out she was the link among outbreaks, Mary was told of the situation, but she defiantly refused to stop working as a cook — or to, you know, wash her hands before cooking. She insisted she was not sick and therefore posed no danger. Mary could not be convinced of her disease spreading and had to be detained and locked up to keep her from continuing to infect unsuspecting families. So, maybe these restrictions and threats are necessary to avoid legions of Typhoid Marys spreading their germs around.
But then, this morning, I hit my limit. Making the rounds on social media were pictures out of Michigan of vegetable seed displays at retailers, cordoned off with tape, with a sign saying that the purchase of these “non-essential” items was not permitted, by order of the governor.
Governor Whitmer of Michigan has banned the sale of seeds. Because that will help stop a pandemic. pic.twitter.com/dptePhfp4T
— Direct To The People (@dttpeople) April 11, 2020
Indeed, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order includes “garden centers” as non-essentials to be closed off from shoppers. (It’s near the end; hit CTRL+F and type in “garden” to find it.)
So, in a time in which people feel insecure about their food sources due to depleted grocery shelves, and may find themselves drawn to the idea of a modicum of self-sufficiency by home-growing vegetables, their governor impedes their access to seeds. Yes, seeds can be bought online, if you can find them — Amazon and Burpees and some other big sellers are sold out of most things — but this measure is unnecessary. True, the fewer items for sale, the fewer people will come to the store. It may seem justified. Please also know that booze, weed, and lottery tickets are still available for sale.
This is enough to make the more conspiratorial minded among us look askance. Is it dependency they want? Enslavement to a government in return for our basic needs? That’s overwrought, right? They’re just trying to keep us safe. It’s not as if they are dragging us out of buses if we are not wearing a facemask, or prohibiting churches from offering drive through-Easter services to the faithful.
Please, someone explain to me the public health danger created by folks all sitting in separate cars to listen to a sermon? Fortunately, for now, a federal District Court judge has issued an injunction against the Louisville, Kentucky mayor’s plan to prohibit the worship services, finding the mayor’s edict to be “beyond all reason.”
Good. Let reason prevail. I want to stop the pandemic. I don’t discount the danger or the tragedy this virus has visited upon our country. I am not one to knee-jerk react to government intervention as inherently evil, but I see this getting out of hand. And I am not unaware of how reactionary legislative restrictions on our freedom often become permanent (see: USA PATRIOT Act.)
Something has got to give. This is not us. We cannot, as a free people, tolerate the erosion of our most basic values: independence and self-sufficiency. Growing our own food, when we can, is so basic a thing that to have to affirmatively assert it feels inescapably wrong.
Now and then when I say things like this on Twitter, I get libertarians trying to get me to join their cult. I am not there yet, nor do I think I ever will be. But I bristle mightily at even the most low-level attempts to restrict my rights. I would, for instance, never, ever join an HOA. I’ll be damned if I let someone tell me what color I’m allowed to paint my front door, how high my flagpole can be, or that my kids can’t draw on the sidewalk with chalk.
I wonder how far they can go, how long this can go on, before we lose our collective willingness to submit. When will the virus, and the fear thereof, abate enough to make us revolt against this ridiculous infringement?
I understand the need for social distancing. I understand that some people, left to their own devices, poo-poo it all and put everyone at risk. But some of these “executive orders” are government overreaches. I am not a conservative or a libertarian. I am an American who enjoys the freedoms appurtenant thereto, and I see with my own eyes decidedly non-American, fully unnecessary restrictions on our most basic liberties.
Keep the schools closed. Keep the bars and gyms and restaurants and salons and amusement parks closed, until we beat this thing into retreat. But do not tell us we cannot feed ourselves independently, or listen, in the safety of our own cars, to our spiritual leaders. This power is going to their heads. Let it be known that we will not allow it.