There’s an old saying in the law: “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” Attributed to such a diverse cast of characters as Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Stuart Mill, and even Abraham Lincoln, the exact genesis of the quote is uncertain, but in general it conveys the principle that your right to exercise whatever “liberty” you think you’re entitled to ends when that liberty threatens my life and safety. Perhaps John B. Finch expressed the intended meaning best when he declared “Neither in law nor equity can there be personal liberty to any man which shall be bondage and ruin to his fellow-men.”
Over the past week, we’ve seen crowds both tiny and large exercising their right to protest at state capitols around the country. The protests purport to oppose “social distancing” measures and business closures ordered by various state governors, and most of them, not coincidentally, are occurring in states where Democrats are in charge of the statehouse. The protests are not “organic,” but are actively being ginned up by right-wing, anti-government organizations and so-called “Tea Party” activists that led similar self-righteous protests against the “tyranny” of the Affordable Care Act.
In some cases, protesters are being exploited and encouraged by Republican state legislators eager to capitalize on any personal grievances that might help them politically. The vehicle for these protests is social media, and the one in Michigan, known as “Operation Gridlock,” was deliberately organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, and the Michigan Freedom Fund, a right-wing group that is linked to the DeVos family.
Michigan Gov.Gretchen Whitmer correctly described that protest: “It was essentially a political rally — a political statement that flies in the face of all of the science and all of the best practices from the stay-at-home order that was issued.” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also weighed in on Twitter.
“Using your right to peaceably protest in such a manner as to spread a virus which may endanger your life, the lives of your friends, family and neighbors, and the lives of countless food service, law enforcement and healthcare workers does not make you a patriot,” she said. “A ‘patriot’ is defined as a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against its enemies. The enemy here is the virus-not each other.”
But it seems the right-wing now sees an opening to do what they do best: Channel resentment and discontent to achieve their political goals. That they should try to do this in the midst of potentially the worst public health crisis ever to strike this country is despicable, but hardly surprising. A political party that relies on inflaming racial divisions between Americans to maintain its power is clearly capable—even practiced—at harnessing the worst aspects of human nature. And they have a fine role model in the current president, who is as bereft of human decency as they come.
But this is not a debate about “Obamacare,” nor is it the bread and circuses atmosphere we have come to expect from one of Donald Trump’s Nuremberg-style rallies, in which people are encouraged to vent their foulest impulses. We, the rest of the country, have stood by, gritting our teeth while you exercised your “freedom of speech” and the thinly-disguised racism that drives that speech. Certainly we held you in contempt, but unlike you, we liberals actually do understand what the Bill of Rights stands for. And if you wanted to waste your lives screaming about how brown people or black people or gay people or Jews or Democrats or whoever you think infringed on your sense of entitlement, or how “government health care” was somehow a path to “tyranny,” then as odious as your opinions were, we never said you had no right to express them. It’s a “free country,” after all.
This, my right-wing friends, is a little different situation. And yeah, it’s a little personal. Because what you’re doing now is essentially asserting your right to potentially kill me and my family. You’re saying my state governor ought to reject the advice of public health experts, physicians, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts—people who actually know what they’re talking about—so you can go get your hair done or paint your house.
So you block a hospital entrance just so you can strut around and boast about your “freedom.”
You say you want to go back to work. I get that. You know what? Everyone, every single one of us, wants to go back to work. Wants to go out to a restaurant. Wants their kids to go to back to school. You’re not special. And just because you “think” you’re special doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you please and risk infecting me, my family, my parents, my kids, my friends. Your right to swing your fist ends right where my nose begins. And your right to be a self-absorbed asshole ends when you threaten or try to intimidate my governor for trying to protect my family against even more risks of contracting a potentially deadly virus, brought about and encouraged by self-deluded fools such as yourselves.
Some of you jackasses actually had the gall to bring weapons to your protest. Were you planning to hold us all at gunpoint, marching us into the schools and stores just so you could feel good about yourselves? What the fuck is wrong with you? Guns? Really? To protest “social distancing” measures imposed in the heart of a deadly pandemic?
You know what you can do with that AR-15? You can shove it straight up your ass.
I’m not going to waste my time explaining the seriousness of this pandemic. Assuming you know how to operate a TV remote you should already know that. You should also be aware by now of how fast this virus spreads when people don’t practice common sense measures like distancing. And what happens if you open up businesses, restaurants, hair salons and “paint” stores when the virus hasn’t even peaked. If you don’t, then God help you. Actually, I take that back—if you don’t get it by now, then God damn you, ‘cause you’re just stupid. I certainly don’t want my kids or myself infected because we reopened the economy based on your whims and misguided beliefs, or worse, so you and the people that back you can score some cheap political points.
And if you want to get practical about it, I don’t want to be the one who has to give up a ventilator or lose a doctor for my family just to save your sorry ass when your lungs start turning into glass shards and you’re coughing up a rope of blood.
Because I live in a state where the governor has some common sense, I’m going to write him a letter thanking him for taking the political risk of dealing with shitheads such as yourself in order to protect me and my family. In fact, I’m going to encourage others to do the same.
Bye now. And hey, thanks for your attention!