President Trump’s call to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia – to “open up” Maine, and other states that have sought to quell the spread of COVID-19 by enacting public health regulations – is little more than a call for anarchy. It is dangerous. It encourages individuals to break laws they do not like, notwithstanding that these laws (of varying severity) were put in place by the vast majority of states to minimize the loss of life caused by this global (viral) pandemic. His rhetoric elevates the rights of individual citizens and businesses over the powers (the duty) of the state to take those measures deemed necessary to protect the health (the lives) of its citizens.
Trump fails to recognize that all individual rights and freedoms are subject to necessary and reasonable state regulatory measures – no right is absolute. His rhetoric is doubly inappropriate given that he has failed to put national regulations in place aimed at minimizing the effects (the death toll) of the pandemic. He alone has ceded pandemic control law to the states.
Moreover, his actions while in Maine (and on visits to other states) flout the scientifically based regulations of both state officials and his own public health experts calling for “tests,” “closures,” “staying at home,” “distancing,” “masks,” “limiting crowd sizes,” etc. During his own recent visit to Maine (which he knew would generate large crowds), his continued refusal to wear a protective face mask and to practice safe distancing disrespected Maine law and put Maine people at risk.
His “open up” rhetoric (thankfully ignored by Gov. Mills) has cowed many states into prematurely relaxing meaningful pandemic control regulations. The growing national death toll (now in excess of 110,000) attests to both the power and the folly of Trump’s incendiary behavior. His rhetoric in the face of the pandemic blatantly values individual prerogative and economic gain more highly than the lives of people. Historically, we have rejected this balancing of social values.
The violation of environmental and safety laws often enhances the prerogatives and profits of the violating individual or corporate entity, but we are loath to tolerate violation of these laws. In the same vein, there should be no tolerance of the president’s “open up” behavior and rhetoric that would justify violation of pandemic control regulations. One should note that there is little (or no) evidence that violating pandemic control measures will (in fact) grow the economy, but there is a great deal of evidence that the failure to adhere to these public health measures will cause the national death toll to rise well beyond the present level.
Individuals and businesses adversely affected by pandemic controls may challenge them in court, but unless and until such measures are struck down as “unreasonable,” they remain in effect. Violators can and should be sanctioned – by fines, loss of licenses and court orders when necessary. The failure to enforce provisions of pandemic control regulations adds to the death toll, and encourages further violation of these measures by those opposed to any restraint on their prerogatives.
No individual right or freedom is absolute. Free-speech rights do not allow one to cry “fire” in a crowded theater; they do not overrule slander and libel laws. Freedom of religion does not allow plural marriages or the withholding of transfusions and life-saving medical care from minor children of faithful parents. The right to open a business does not allow one to avoid reasonable zoning laws or to discriminate against Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, etc. The right to own a gun does not bar reasonable gun control laws, or laws designed to prohibit the brandishing of a gun in an intimidating manner (as seen in Maine and Michigan and at other Trump-inspired gatherings). This list could be extended ad infinitum.
In sum, the economic goals of Trump’s “open up” policy do not justify the sacrificing of an untold numbers of lives. His disregard for human life is unacceptable, and though the usual sanctions for the violation of reasonable regulations may not reach the president, he can be sanctioned at the ballot box. Vote this November – the tens of thousands of lives lost to COVID-19 demand nothing less.