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Masks and Social Distancing: What Would the Founders Say?
Yes, there's the question of liberty. But, there is also the question of civic duty. Also, Masks and Keeping the Economy Open, and The Principled Stance of Silence.
Welcome to this issue of Self-Evident. Today, I discuss whether the conservative response to wearing masks and maintaining social distance is consistent with our homage to America’s founding fathers and whether conservatives are keeping their narratives straight when it comes to keeping the economy re-opened. Also, I muse on whether the choice of many conservatives and Republicans to stay silent in the face of Trump and Trumpism could be a more principled stance than I once thought.
Masks and Social-Distancing: What Would the Founders Say?
I’ve often wondered what the founding fathers would say about our present difficulties. It’s a much harder question to answer than many assume, since their perspectives on government, culture, and society are so different than is usually the case today.
But one thing I’ve discovered pretty consistently about the founding generation was that they had a sense of republicanism that we no longer have. Their sense of civic virtue led them to believe strongly in the ideals of liberty, but it also led them to feel just as firmly that every unalienable right was accompanied by a self-evident duty.
For instance, if Adams, Jefferson, Madison, or Washington were to sit down today with someone who was concerned with whether wearing masks, maintaining social distance, or limiting the size of social gatherings was an assault on our liberties, I envision they would nod knowingly and concede the importance of being wary of any encroachment of individual freedom, but then they would ask, in all solemn seriousness, whether we would be failing in an essential duty if we neglected to voluntarily do even the little things that could help ensure the safety and welfare of our fellow citizens.
Masks and Keeping the Economy Open
But even beyond the higher sense of duty to our fellow citizens, those who have been clamoring the loudest about the economic damage of the shutdown should be the first to advocate for any and all measures to help keep the slow but steady re-opening of the economy from having to be reversed.
In the face of the recent second surge of COVID-19 transmission in the past few weeks, conservatives who have been clamoring about the economic damage of the shutdown are taking a stance on masks that is completely backward from what they claim their goals are.
If the economic damage of the shutdown was so catastrophic, are masks and social distancing really too much of a sacrifice to make to help keep the economy open? Why, if the economy must be the number one consideration, are so many conservatives more concerned with virtue signaling against the measures experts are saying can help us safely keep the economy open?
It seems to me far too many of my fellow conservatives are not keeping their narratives straight.
The Principled Stance of Silence
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the loud voices who opposed Trump and Trumpism in 2016 and how so many of them have gone silent in recent years. From radio hosts, to pundits, to sitting and former politicians, so many have chosen to keep their concerns about the current President and the direction of the Republican Party under his leadership to themselves.
For a long time, their adoption of a silent posture infuriated me. By being silent, by refusing to speak out and take principled stands, I felt they were enabling the intellectual decay of the conservative movement. I was among those who declared that I would not forget, that those who remained silent when they should have spoken up against what they knew to be wrong would be remembered and repaid for their acquiescence.
But lately, I have begun reconsidering my hotheaded view of the choice to stay silent. As I’ve looked over the political realities of the moment we find ourselves in, and as I’ve experienced interesting and surprising feedback for some of my own recent choices, I’ve come to better understand that for some, silence has been the only option.
Donald Trump is a force of nature. The prevailing winds of the veritable hurricane that swept the Republican Party and the conservative movement to uncharted waters has been chaotic and unpredictable. So many who have attempted to face this storm head-on have themselves been swept away into obscurity and irrelevancy. The sad truth of the matter is that there is little incentive, right now, for conservatives or Republicans to speak out against the President.
President Trump maintains an iron grip on Republican voters. Even politicians with stellar conservative voting records have lost primary challenges on the whim of a negative tweet from the President. And those Republicans who have spoken out against Trump and have survived primary challengers are rarely rewarded by independents and Democrats for their trouble. In fact, independently minded and moderate Republicans are often the most targeted by the Democratic Party (As I saw first-hand with my own representative, Mia Love).
And what incentive do pundits and journalists have for taking a stance against Trump? They incur the wrath of their traditional audience while failing to gain much respect or support from the center or the left. As I’ve recently experienced myself, a four-year pedigree of speaking out against Trump and Trumpism and leaving the Republican Party in protest still isn’t enough if I’m not willing to wave the Biden banner.
Regardless of everything I’ve done and the hundreds of articles I’ve written in opposition to the direction of the conservative movement under Trump, I’m told I might as well be a Trumpist and a fascist if I can’t get on board with the Democratic narrative. All after severely damaging my standing among fellow conservatives for the stances I’ve taken.
And so, I’ve gained a new appreciation for those who’ve chosen to batten down the hatches and weather the storm. I have a greater understanding of the choice to adopt strategic silence and to do what must be done to maintain positions of power and influence so that, at the least, those positions do not become filled by true #MAGA believers.
In some ways, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who stayed at their posts in the worst of times and refused to abandon the ship to the populist-nationalist interlopers. And, it may very well be that those who’ve chosen strategic silence will be a vanguard for a principled renewal as they let loose the rigging and steer the ship back to calmer seas as the storm abates.
Now, all that being said, I don’t regret for a moment the choices I’ve made in the last four years. We all have a part to play. Mine is as the agitator, the stalwart siren of constant principle, and the clarion call to conscience as I try to remind my fellow conservatives what we are supposed to stand for.
Whatever part we play in these, the worst of times, may we remember why we’ve made the choices we’ve made and to stand true and strike a blow to the illiberal trends of the right and the left when given a chance.
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Stay Free My Friends,