Reading time – 4:11; Viewing time – 6:20  .  .  .

There are small mobs clogging our streets, attacking our state capitol buildings and protesting inside those buildings with menacing assault rifles in their hands. They are carrying Confederate flags and Nazi flags and they’re egged on by the President of the United States. They are yelling and frothing and spitting – no face masks. They are demanding their rights, dammit. What’s theirs is theirs. No stinking governor or healthcare professional can tell them what to do.

Others are protesting less pugnaciously, like the Cleveland barbershop owner who’s shop is in financial peril, who needs to provide for his family and wants his workers to have paying jobs so they can care for themselves and their families, too. He has a right to earn a living, he tells us. And he, like the violence threatening protesters, is willing to risk contracting coronavirus in pursuit of financial stability and personal independence. It’s impossible to argue with the barber’s motivation or his willingness to take that risk. Except for one thing, which I hereby offer first to the swaggering, gun-carrying protesters, and then to all self-quarantine protesters.

The right to own firearms has been expanded greatly from its original intent, greased by the lubrication of the NRA’s millions of lobbying and campaign contribution dollars. What is true concurrently with Second Amendment rights is that while you may have the right to bear arms, I have a right to not get shot by your guns, whether they’re concealed or menacingly brandished. Your right stops at the tip of my nose. And, silly me, I think my right to safety and staying alive supersedes your right to own killing machines.

It works the same way in dealing with this worldwide pandemic. Your right to get out and protest – even with your AR-15 in your hands – or open your barbershop or any other shop seems clear, and your willingness to risk illness and even death in pursuit of whatever it is you’re pursuing is your decision to make. Where your right stops is at that same tip of my nose: I have a right to not be infected by you and that supersedes your right to ignore the dire health warnings that are all around. I have a right to not get sick and die of the coronavirus that you contracted during your protests and that you could pass along to me. It doesn’t matter whether you took that risk of illness solely because of your financial needs or because you were having yet another temper tantrum against authority. Either way, you’re unfairly putting me at risk.

I feel for that barbershop owner. But while he may clear-headedly embrace the risk of contracting coronavirus by opening his shop too soon so that he can feed his children, when he’s in an ICU with a breathing tube down his throat and then dies, exactly who is going to feed his kids?

I’d rather not have to admit that I don’t feel for the gun toting protesters, but there it is. Right now I can’t find room in my heart for those who threaten others so they can feel powerful for a few moments.

My heart instead is focused on the front line troops, the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and EMTs and the people who clean and disinfect our hospitals and clinics so that they’re ready to care for us, as well as the restaurant workers bringing your takeout to the curb for you, the delivery people and grocery store staffs who bravely show up and work so that we can get the things we need. All of them are risking their lives for the rest of us, risking even for the angry, gun-toting protesters who at last show up at our hospitals with coronavirus drowning their lungs. That’s why all those front line troops are in my heart. And the people who are suffering financial deprivations due to this pandemic, like that barbershop owner, are in my heart, as well. That doesn’t leave much room for the threatening AR-15 mobs.

For both groups of protesters my message is simple: There are hundreds of millions of Americans who don’t want to be infected by you or by others whom you infect and who unknowingly pass it along. Those who have survived the disease don’t want to learn that you’re setting it up for others to suffer the way they suffered. And if the dead could talk, they’d say, “Your selfishness is going to kill my family and my friends.”

So, grow up. This is not all about you. And you don’t get to wave the red, white and blue until you learn to behave as a patriot.

The Greatest Generation suffered rationing, 405,000 deaths, about 8 times that number of injuries and far more deprivations. All we’re being asked to do is to stay home for a while. Have we become so soft that we can’t do even that? Have we become so self-centered that we can’t sacrifice for others? If the answer to those questions is “yes,” then it’s long past time to drop the self-congratulatory platitudes and our certainties about exceptionalism and do a national gut check and recommit.


Follow up report

In a recent post, Potpourri v11.0 – The “How Can We Be This Stupid?” Edition, a reader lamented that a lot of the money from the Payroll Protection Program intended for small business operators had instead gone to large corporations. Turns out he was right and The Washington Post reported on that.

The money from the Payroll Protection Program was supposed to provide money to small businesses to enable them to retain their employees, to pay them, even as our economy is “shut down” due to this pandemic. Instead, more than $1 billion went to large public companies. The result: “After the first pool of [money] ran dry, [that left] more than 80 percent of applicants without funding,” WaPo reported. This happened even as the CEOs of some of the large companies that received money from the Program are being paid millions of dollars.

It’s truly astonishing that in a time of national crisis the greed machine of the already wealthy keeps spinning along. Download a PDF of the WaPo article here, or read it online here.


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8 Responses to Rights
  1. Daniel F. Giallombardo Reply

    My dad always told me that my rights end where someone else’s nose begins. I rebelled at the time but now that I’m older, I find that to be very good advice.

  2. David L. Lindgren Reply

    Jack, I have come to the conclusion that we need “balance”. I am no expert here but…

    We are living in dread and unwilling to face the death of our economy and placing our country in jeopardy in the global political status. We have learned what it means to protect ourselves and our family. If the barber wants to open his business, not many people will come but he has a right to do so. The “authorities” of our state and country are “ordering” business to stay closed. There is no statistical data that shows that opening a barber shop will increase the pandemic. And furthermore, in less populated areas, there is even less risk. These business people supposedly need to knee jerk follow along with the metropolitan needs. There needs to be a movement toward Phase 3.

    We get all the “death” statistics thrown down our throats and people then make decisions out of fear and not relative safety. If I go into a store with a mask on, the likelihood of contracting a virus is pretty much nil. If I go into a hospital, the probability goes up. But it is up to me now to know better.

    The amount of controls is why the wacko gun-runner, White Supremacists are over-reacting. But the control factor is what is causing them to react. We need balance. We don’t need to emulate Sweden but we need to study them because their form of government works for them as they expect their citizens to use good judgment. Not here! We have a much more stupid citizenry. Stoicism is more the way of Being there. What is happening here is that we are out of balance and flying by the ‘scientists” pants. I know that you won’t agree…

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      I agree that balance is needed, especially in recognizing that Montana doesn’t need the same thing as New York City.

      The CDC has statistical data that shows that the barber opening his shop, this as placeholder for all businesses, is likely to cause spread of the disease, both for co-workers and customers.

      See that in the context of a manufacturing facility with lots of people interacting with one another and the threat becomes obvious. Example: You’ve seen the working conditions of meat and poultry packing businesses and you know the infection statistics. The workers are showing up both because our idiot president has ordered the businesses opened, and because if they fail to show up they won’t be eligible for unemployment compensation, so they won’t be able to feed their families. They know full well that they are risking death when they show up for work and I’m confident in saying that none of them likes to have to make that choice.

      Is it a nanny state if we attempt to protect our citizens? If so, is that bad? Should we turn off the nanny machine and let the herd cull itself?

      To be clear, I agree that each of us must be responsible for ourselves, but not everyone will do that and they will put others at risk.

      • David L. Lindgren Reply

        We just spent about 40 minutes “debating” in our less that hostile manner. We agree mostly…ordering a business open, like meat packing, to feed our slovenly bodies, is comparable to ordering a business to be shut down. It’s both “ordering” which is diametrically opposite to a democratic decision. The consequences are different.

        I get that then not being eligible for unemployment is ridiculous. There should be a provision given that the employees go through a process to determine whether they can health-wise go back to work. Oh, where did “unions” go? Maybe the workers need to organize and demand their rights. But I am slightly off course…back to Balance.

        The real debate concerns citizen’s rights in this “democratic” country. Perhaps there does need to be citizens pulling together to form a platform of citizen rights. We need to protect our citizens but it is their right to put themselves at risk…but not others. It is a fine line.

  3. Frank Levy Reply

    Jack – like you, I feel for the barbershop owner in your piece. I feel for all the small business owners, and the laid-off, furloughed, and fired individuals who have no income during this pandemic. I have given thousands to local food banks to feed these folk, something our federal government has chosen not to do.

    People do need to work. They need to pay their bills and support themselves and their families. But this is not an either-or crisis. People can go back to work. Just not the same way they did in February. They can go back to work AND wear a mask and observe social distancing. Not wanting to do either is reckless, selfish, ignorant, arrogant, and wrong. The protestors’ motives are not jobs but their dislike for the values required of one who chooses to live in a society governed by laws and common decency.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Just for clarity:

      1. That Cleveland barbershop owner is a real guy I saw interviewed on CNN.
      2. The militant protesters are, I believe, all about their feeling powerful. I don’t believe they care much about who they infect.

  4. Anastasia Gonzalez Reply

    Rights!!! It’s wonderful in this Country that we even have rights let alone that we have a RIGHT to voice our opinions to fight for our rights. We are spoiled and we have in some cases taken advantage of those rights!

    I think about our fight for our rights when we dealt with Smoking Cigarettes! We all had a right to smoke!! However, those that chose not to had a RIGHT to breath clean air!! You want to smoke and fill your lungs with smoke, fine, but do it away from those that do not want to inhale your smoke. This too was about death and dying and Rights! Smoking Cigarettes turned out to be bad for you!!!! Yet many people chose to keep smoking. I know we step into the area of addiction here, but it still involved choices. It still involved rights! It still involved death.

    Could it be as simple as, “Go to the section of the street where all the non-mask wearers go.” Exercise your right to not wear a mask but please go to the non mask section. God Help Us!

    On another note I THANK ALL THE FRONT LINE WORKS THAT YOU MENTION. They are angels on this Earth.