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Oct. 16, 2020

Today’s headlines read, “The third wave is here” — a dramatic announcement for what is, actually, no surprise to anyone.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash

For weeks now we’ve been seeing the new COVID infections rise steadily throughout the U.S.— in some places, steadily as well as fast — alongside a climbing death rate.

We’ve watched the hospitalization numbers rise. We’ve seen businesses and school districts shutter again, heard Dr. Fauci and other experts talk about how cold weather will lead to more virus cases: people gathering indoors, people weary of restrictions, people deciding that wearing a mask is unnecessary, or prohibitive, or maybe even, as Trump said just this week, a cause of COVID-19.

As of today, the U.S. still leads the world in numbers of confirmed cases (8.4 million) and deaths (218,000).

COVID-19 Map - Johns Hopkins Coronavirus
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We are numb and weary now, staring glassy-eyed at numbers we can hardly comprehend. We know they’ll be still higher tomorrow. We know the Trump administration still has no plan for addressing this catastrophe. In fact, we watch every day as our President holds super-spreader rallies all over the country, his ardent fans howling their support of him without masks, packed together in their red MAGA hats, gleefully defiant.

Photo: Andrew Craft, The Fayetteville Observer, Sept. 21, 2020

“I’ve been cured,” he proclaimed last week, citing the experimental antibody cocktail he was prescribed at Walter Reed Medical Center during his three-day stay.

The messaging coming from the White House is so convoluted, contradictory, inaccurate, falsely upbeat, and just plain irrational that it’s little wonder many citizens have now given up on the virus.

It’s not that people can’t make their own sound decisions, or follow local leaders and public health agencies offering guidelines based on scientific analysis. The problem is that there’s still no single, clear strategy that’s being followed by everyone.

With every state, workplace, family and individual inventing their own response, the ones who reject safeguards circulate, shedding virus wherever they go. The person trying hard to be safe and keep others safe has to work twice as hard to make up for the people who refuse to do the same.

Strangely, there is so much more animosity among the refusers than among those being endangered by them. Doesn't it seem like it would be the other way around???

I have a theory about this. For four years, the Trumpers have been winning. This hasn't made them nicer. Just the opposite. They are more aggrieved than ever, and readier to fight about it. Masks have become a symbol of their "oppression," and a target for their rage.

Yes, this was an actual event that happened.

That America has settled into these two camps now pretty much guarantees that our experience with this virus will be longer and more brutal than other countries’. As has been true for months already. We will obviously lose more people, and there will be more longterm disabled. Our health care system will be more strained. Our economy will suffer. We will continue to fight each other. And all these problems will get worse over time, as we get tireder, and as all of our resources, internal and external, start to wear out.

This is the path being chosen every day by a belligerent segment of our population that wants “freedom” more than all the benefits that come from cooperation.

Illustration by Guy Parsons,

Even when (if?) we get a vaccine, we’re not all going to get it at once, are we? Some will be afraid, some will get it and may get sick. The process may move forward, then back, then forward again. At a minimum we’re looking at six months to a year before we can start to relax our vigilance; most experts anticipate longer. Maybe two years to three.

The irony is that in 2020, none of us is free — we’re all tied together by our citizenship, the physical borders of our nation. The virus is the tyrant.

I can’t help feeling enraged that the word “freedom” has been commandeered in this era by people who actually seem to want the exact opposite: to enslave us further by taunting the virus and giving it more power over us.

Or as American writer and activist Emma Lazarus, whose sonnet “The New Colossus” appears on the Statue of Liberty, declared, None of is free until all of us are free — echoed this year by Black Lives Matter protesters.

What about the great hero of the right wing, John Stuart Mill, who wrote that people must be free to do what they like “as long as what we do does not harm [others]”? Or as recent New York Times opinion column put it, “Your freedom to do as you please with your fist ends where my jaw begins.”

As the third wave of this catastrophe starts to wash over us, we better all start questioning what freedom means in America today, and how much damage we’re willing to endure collectively so that some of us can feel “free.”

John Stuart Mill

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty, “ 1859

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