Opinion: COVID-19 has shown us that Americans have forgotten what it means to be American
The state of Michigan, among others, made headlines last week for their citizens' protests against the stay-at-home order that some proclaimed “unconstitutional” (they were promptly met with this plea from the state’s Nurses Association). Over the past couple of days, more protests have begun to sprout in other states such as Wisconsin and California. The question that has many of us now scratching our heads to is; why are everyday people defying scientists and experts for grass seed and paint?
Ever since this pandemic has reached the U.S. conversation has flooded towards the issue of states' rights. As the first weeks of this era unfolded it became apparent that President Donald Trump was going to leave a majority of the decision making to the governors of the country. To his credit, this is probably the correct move seeing as each state varies greatly in population density, location, economic structure, and general needs. This decision is libertarian in nature, Trump has forgone his own power and left it to the people of America and their elected officials. One would think that this would please the same people that are now calling for more personal freedom. But a simple glance at your state’s capital being swarmed by germ-defying protesters will show that’s not the case.
When I first read about this online I was quick to chalk it up to stupidity or selfishness, but I think confusion is much more fitting. See, the year is 2020, roughly 232 years have passed since the constitution was ratified. Our world functions much differently than it did in 1788, however, I think we all desperately cling to the principles this country was laid upon. But our memory of these principles as a population has become undoubtedly cloudy. We focus our attention on which concepts seem most relevant today. Primarily, the concept of individual rights has been dumbed down to be the battlefield for arguments about topics such as abortion, gun control, and now quarantining.
To start, let’s establish that there is nothing in the Constitution pertaining to the unalienable rights of the people. This quote comes from the Declaration of Independence, which was written in the context of the 13 Colonies being denied a seat at the bargaining table with its foreign parent Britain. While these unalienable rights still hold true outside of this context I think we should be careful taking them too literally in the current one. We the people of America do have a seat at the table with our domestic parent the federal government. We vote in elections, and as individuals we determine who sit in the positions of power and in turn allow them to make decisions for us. If we didn’t live under the umbrella of our government then we would presumably be fighting amongst each other for land and property like cavemen. But since this isn’t the case we allow ourselves to call each other Americans peacefully and give up some of our personal rights to do so.
If these protesters really wanted to have their individual rights remain untouched then they would have to renounce the power of the country they currently inhabit. The same country that supplies you with roads to travel on, schools to send your kids to, and warriors to fight foreign threats. Before you scream “Bu it’s our money to begin with!” take a second and think; If you kept that money in your pocket would you be able to utilize it as effectively as the government does? The answer is no. We need taxes to accumulate funds in a central location, otherwise, on its own, the money is useless in millions of different hands. This is just one example of how we involve ourselves in the social contract Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau theorized.
By simply being American you have signed the social contract that was established in 1787 and in turn have given up some of your rights in return for the services the government offers. One of those services is protection, protection from identity theft, criminals, international threats, or even, say, a global pandemic. While you protesters might not be at risk, some of your fellow Americans are and they, like yourself, have the right to be protected. So when a stay-at-home order is issued it isn’t a violation of your rights but in fact the opposite. It is protection that the government is obligated to supply to the people that consent to be governed, a people that you are apart of.
I will end this with a request. To those of you who feel that you are in the right by defying the very government that is completing the very task, you have given it. Understand that by doing so you are being un-American and are vastly overstepping your bounds as citizens of the country and states currently abiding by the advice of experts. You are asking for more in return than you have given and have confused individual rights with personal desires. So please, don’t congregate in large protests that you transitively, yourself, have outlawed. Instead, I would suggest using other methods at your disposals such as phoning your local legislators and online petitioning/campaigning.