Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Final Solution: When Freedom is an Achilles' Heel

"Thetis Dipping the Infant Achilles Into the River Styx  (Peter Paul Rubens, 1625)
Why has the wall of division grown so big? A year ago, no one would have predicted that the country would find itself in the sorry state evidenced by the recent Times headline, "U.S. Is Alone Among Peers In Failing to Contain Virus," NYT, 8/7/20). Politics hasn’t changed. Trump still has his loyal base. However, what is striking is the degree to which the failed policies and attitudes alluded to in the piece, prevail despite all the suffering. Not only has the upsurge in cases, not resulted in a retrenchment. In some cases, such as that of the behavior of Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, it’s led to a syndrome of further resistance to medical realities. Now the municipalities and teachers’ unions in certain counties are on course for a head-on collision with state government. It’s similar to the conflict that mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms has had with the governor Brian Kemp over mandating the wearing of face masks. Even among normally educated liberal voters the attempts to rein in freedoms has run into problems when it comes to a concerted effort to control the pandemic. The notion of individual freedom is such a deep-seeded element of the American character that it’s extremely hard to regulate, Trump or no Trump. In some ways Americans are like perpetual children who don’t like to be told what to do. The Volstead Act led to the roaring 20s. The famous "Schenck" case in which Oliver Wendall Holmes famously employed the example of “crying fire” exemplifies one attempt to point to limitations of freedom. There are numerous constitutional examples which involve the curtailing of freedom. For instance, the Bill of Rights pits the inalienable rights of the individual against those of a potential mob. The very thing that has made America strong is, in fact, its Achilles heel. The fact is in many situations you can’t do what you want. The state has to intercede to protect its citizens from themselves.

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