“This is America. Ain’t no stupid virus gonna’ shut us down.”
Our local TV station ran a story about an owner of an open market in Lincolnton, NC who was cited for violations of Governor Cooper’s recent mandate requiring the wearing of masks. Part of the story was a brief interview of a woman standing in the parking lot of the market as she spoke the above quoted words to the reporter.
This pandemic has elicited many reactions from citizens around the world. Fear, anger, denial, distrust of leaders regarding the pandemic, and other opinions have been expressed by actions or words. One man selling vegetables in an open market of Mexico City responded to a reporter’s question about his precautions concerning COVID-19, “Fear is better than hunger.”
As George Orwell wrote, our words reveal our thinking, and both of these quotations tell us how each speaker see her and his situation. The vendor in Mexico City states a sad truth for him-he must fear the virus in order to feed his family. He does not make that choice but is forced by his economic circumstances to work selling vegetables in an open-air market. He can only hope that he does not contact the COVID-19. His fear of suffering a possible death from suffocation is less than his fear of his family not eating. A choice? Yes, but one no person should be forced to make, but one that many people across the globe must make, even in America.
The woman in Lincolnton offers a view full of arrogance based on ignorance-ignorance concerning COVID-19, her country, and what it means to be an American. She, like too many Americas, has made the virus a a political issue. She has done what Jon Meachum feared many would do, she has made the virus a red/blue issue. She sees it as a political ruse that “her” government can easily conquer. Hers is a statement of denial of the virus’ danger, its sweeping presence, and how America needs to combat it. Her statement shows that she has little, if any, understanding of American history. If she knew of George Washington’s mandates made to keep smallpox from infecting his soldiers during the Revolutionary War, she would not stand in a public place without wearing a mask as mandated by Governor Cooper. If she knew this and more of American history, she would be helping combat this deadly virus by following mandates aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and not showing a willful ignorance of our history like Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell demonstrated when he wrote, “As your Sheriff, it is not only my duty to enforce the laws enacted by our legislature, but to also protect the constitutional rights of all citizens. I firmly believe that the order mandating face coverings is not only unconstitutional but unenforceable. In closing, to be perfectly clear, we have no intention of enforcing this order.” Campbell, too, has made the virus a red/blue issue by thinking mandates made in the interest of public safety are a Constitutional issue. Sheriff, mandates are made for your safety and that of others, and to say the mask mandate is unenforceable is like saying, since not all speeders can be ticketed, why bother with any enforcement of speeding.
The Mexican vendor does not, sadly, have a choice. He must earn a living and support his family. He has no network to rely on, so his fear of the virus is less than the ache of hunger. He and his family may “dodge” the virus, but hunger is a certainty for them unless he sells vegetables.
The Lincolnton woman is correct one way, this is America and we have our wealth, history, Constitution, and leaders. We have riches, resources, means. Yes, unlike the Mexican vendor we do not have to learn to live with the virus as the White House will soon tell us to do. We know how to help control COVID-19, but to do so we must become purple and see the battle as an opportunity to defeat a deadly enemy. Our mis-guided interpretations of America and her Constitution will not help us win this battle, but our combined wills will.