As America Reopens, What Awaits the Bolder States?

Mark Davis, Is anyone surprised that the path out of our COVID-19 nightmare is littered with political land mines?

We have been good soldiers for weeks. But it is time to take steps to reclaim the lives we have willingly surrendered to protect fellow citizens from the spread of coronavirus. Elected officials of every political stripe agree that we can make plans to manage a path forward, permitting businesses to open, commerce to resume, lives to reset. The differences arise over how soon.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is allowing some businesses to gradually reopen with specific guidelines for caution. One would think from the reaction that he has sentenced the state to a guaranteed wave of mounting death.

Other states are moving at a slower pace. In my state of Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, a familiar target for liberal criticism, is being hammered by some conservatives for not moving at Kemp speed. Our red state’s blue enclaves, notably Dallas County, are dissuading prompt reopening and in some cases extending “Safer at Home” orders into mid-May. Abbott is under pressure to supersede such local hesitancies with a statewide back-to-work schedule, sooner rather than later.

I am as vigilant as anyone with eyes peeled for leaders who are enjoying this authoritarian orgy a little too much. But President Trump’s own guidelines call for giving governors latitude to gauge their own states’ readiness. Democrat Jared Polis in Colorado is letting his stay-home order expire Monday as part of a gradual reopening plan.

In at least some cases, some benefit of the doubt is in order. We would restrain those who would smear Gov. Kemp as a wanton rogue sacrificing public health; perhaps not every Democrat governor is gleefully plotting a despotic fiefdom.

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No one should have expected our path out of COVID-19 to be free from political hectoring. There are encouraging moments of bipartisanship, as when President Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo conducted constructive talks toward marshaling the resources necessary to care for those in need. But out among the masses, knives are sharpened to meet each day’s headlines with a hot take on who is to blame, for past statements and actions, and for predicted future disasters.

We have no idea whether Georgia will see a spike in virus deaths in May. We have no idea whether further lockdowns are the only way to turn those flattened curves into downward slopes. What we do know is that in our federalist structure, a patchwork of varied solutions is to be expected. In each state, citizens rejecting a pace either too fast or too slow are free to voice their concerns.

The playing field is not level. In states choosing to restore more liberties, individuals are free to quarantine themselves as they please. But in states choosing to prolong the economic paralysis, the public’s only option short of civil disobedience is to comply. As varied solutions roll out, expect waves of condemnation aimed at states erring on the side of reopening, as if they are subjugating human life to resuscitate the tax base.

Only the most callous analysis portrays this as “lives versus the economy.” Tell the single mom who can’t make rent or feed her kids that it’s about “the economy.” Tell the aging couple with destroyed prospects for retirement. Tell the family whose business is lost forever.

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We have done these things to them in the name of mitigating virus deaths. The majority view as of today is that it has been worth it to some degree. But most people passing that judgment have not lost their jobs.

The question as April ebbs into May is: when do we return to the citizen the latitude to self-govern? There are those who feel it is past time; there are others who will call for more tests, more tracking, more tracing. How much will be enough?

We will not be at concerts or sporting events for the foreseeable future, but we will be able to choose to engage in some commerce and activities that will allow our society to mend. We are educated and tempered by the counsel of those who have taught us the behaviors needed to dampen the spread of COVID-19.

There will indeed be people who ignore such advice. There always have been. There always will be. But we can no longer allow the vagaries of the few to justify the suffocation of the many.

As businesses open and lives are healed, let us move forward with wisdom and purpose. I would love to think that no one on the left will root for the virus to spike in Georgia. But I know better. This is a time for a unified nationwide wish for the states leading the way to prove that curves can be pointed downward without sacrificing our households, our businesses and our way of life.