‘Opening’ protesters gamble with virus, putting their rights above others’ lives

Let’s abolish the police.

That’s just a modest proposal made possible by the low crime rate. The police are a drain on taxpayers when there’s little for them to do.

Similarly, we should end social distancing, masks and stay-at-home orders, because the number of Covid-19 cases has peaked. It’s time to get on with our normal lives. It’s possible that a few extra people would die, but not many. Besides, they are mostly old people.

Not good ideas? The presence of the police is the main reason crime is under control. Covid-19 cases have slowed thanks to government-mandated protective measures that are reducing its spread.

The real and growing problem is that some people do not understand how this works.

The best case for opening would be that people need to work and collect their pay to cover the basic cost of living, and some people are simply bothered by prolonged stays within the four walls of home.

But many protesting state government requirements to reduce the spread of the virus say their reasons are not mainly about personal economics or peace of mind. They resist government action that they claim limits their freedom. They want to self-liberate, not self-isolate.

Angry people in the streets protesting actions to reduce the lasting effect of the virus are being organized by a right-wing coalition, including the Trump presidential campaign.

Interestingly, among the demonstrations against action by governors to limit the spread, a crowd gathered to oppose the Republican governor of Ohio, the conservative leader of a state essential to Trump’s election effort.

The Ohio demonstration illustrates a split persists between Trump Republicans and traditional Republicans who support their governor. In some southern states that have been Trump strongholds, governors are already easing anti-spread measures.

In understanding the drive to “open” the country, there are economic and health realities. Even if government anti-virus action came to a halt, opening the country would not bring a quick return to the levels of health and the economy that existed before the coronavirus arrived.

Any reopening will be gradual. Change will come to places with less chance of people having undetected Covid-19. That may be less densely populated areas, though that’s not yet a certainty. It will also come to those activities in which people are not in close contact with one another. Playing golf may come ahead of dining out.

The economy will not boom to serve unmet demand. The aftermath of World War II is cited, but the national economy then had been subject to wartime rationing. When the lid came off, people bought cars and millions of veterans wanted new homes.

Now, the economy is coming off a sustained boom. There is little unmet demand, so there is not likely to be an explosion of purchasing. It’s possible that people will have picked up some new habits during the crisis, leading to more saving and less consuming.

Government, the frequent target of Trump and the GOP, may take a bigger piece of economic activity. It’s possible more funding will go to health protection. Greater attention may be paid to older Americans and others who are vulnerable.

As a result of these possible changes from the country as it was before the crisis, the economy may not return to the way things were as recently as January.

Even worse, if protective measures are lifted too quickly, especially without adequate testing to determine the true scope of Covid-19’s spread, it is highly likely there will be a new surge of cases and deaths. Re-opening then could take years.

Trump and his supporters appear to believe that reopening the economy will restore strongly positive economic results quickly. If good times were restored and the virus seen only as blip on the boom, that should improve Trump’s re-election chances.

If there were a new surge of Covid-19, the economy would have no chance of a rapid recovery and it might slow again. There might be a political price to pay for acting too soon. Governors do not want to take those risks.

For Trump, the calculation is different. The strong economy was his best argument for re-election. He chose not to cast himself as the unifying national leader in time of crisis, preferring to stick with his original plan of relying on the economy. Politically, he has gambled and needs re-opening, even with its risks.

Beyond the 2020 elections, opponents of anti-spread measures insist that personal freedom should be set above the common interest. Perhaps their demonstrations will focus popular attention on deciding the right balance.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.