Let me get this straight… In Santa Cruz, California the local government had declared the beaches closed due to the surging numbers of Covid-19 cases. In a state that is struggling with hospitalizations and health care capacities, it seemed a reasonable, perhaps inevitable starting point in dealing with a growing crisis. The municipality promoted the closing, and instructed the police to monitor the beaches in order to enforce the action.
At first, the beaches were empty. Little by little, people snuck onto the beaches, and reluctantly left once they were confronted… then came back in ever greater numbers. Eventually, the police had to make a decision — to allocate their limited resources to preventing the hordes of determined beachgoers, or to acknowledge that they were unable to both do their regular jobs and play hall monitors. They withdrew.
“It’s become impossible for law enforcement to continue to enforce the closures,” Santa Cruz’s health officer, Dr. Gail Newel, said Thursday. “People are not willing to be governed anymore in that regard.” The county had intended to keep the beach restrictions in place until after the July 4th weekend, but efforts to enforce the closure have become increasingly more difficult, Newel said.
Again: “People are not willing to be governed anymore in that regard.”
If there is a tag line to this present surge, a simple definition of why America is the outlier in a world full of success stories in ultimately containing this pandemic, it might well be that simple statement. We refuse to be governed, particularly as it regards our response to this disease. We are the only nation where wearing a mask is a political statement, a question to be answered rather than a simple, logical response. Our government is a mess of contradictory messages, symbols and accusations. Our media is either impotent or rabble rousing and vitriolic.
How did we get here, and what does it mean…
To deny that it begins at the top is to suggest that President Trump is irrelevant, or has no impact on those who profess to follow him avidly. It is important to acknowledge that his own government, his appointed task force has issued the specific governance that is being refuted and ignored. It is critical to point out that it has been his own refusal to follow his own rules — or even to suggest that others do so — that is the proffered excuse for so many scofflaws, so much angry confusion.
Ultimately, it is those who are not willing to be governed who are specifically, loudly following their leader. It is not some grass roots movement, some leaderless, organic evolution. It is the fawning acolytes of the President embracing his values, or lack of them. It is visible in the protests on state office steps, where they have waved Trump banners as they demand removal of limitations. It is manifest in the tweets of support by the President for those who defy the rules that his own government created. This is not news, but it is urgent that we not forget it.
America certainly hasn’t always been this way, In times of crisis, in war and peace, our nation has embraced sacrifice and common cause willingly and enthusiastically. It is decidedly unique to this moment in time that the demonstrable good is defied by our own leadership, and promoted by a section of our media. For those who say that we should not overstate the importance of our President’s rhetoric, this is the counter.
We are where we are. Record numbers of infections escalating to unknowable heights to come. Our largest states hastily retracing their forced and premature steps, trying to put the poisonous toothpaste back in its tube. The repudiation by the European Union, in their statement that our people are too diseased, too irresponsible for even our precious dollars to be welcome now. America as a pariah state.
We take false comfort in the idea that the daily death totals are “only” in the hundreds now, instead of the thousands, even as we know that those deaths always follow the infections by weeks. That tragedy will come, as will the reports of medical personnel bent over with exhaustion and sorrow as their hospitals are overrun. We know the script, even as we deny its inevitable ending. Our President’s confounding refusal to lead upwards, towards a solution rather than downwards towards a fight, makes this painful replay a foregone conclusion.
At the end of the day, perhaps it is inaccurate to say that the people are not willing to be governed. It is more to the point to acknowledge that they are not anarchists, but the governing that they follow is not that of America. It is the solitary ruling of our President, inveighing against the very government that he supposedly heads.
The fight of some against the clear rule of the nation and its parts is simply this: it is the battle for allegiance to Donald Trump against America. We need to clearly understand that, for what it is, and for what it must never be again.