Cushman: Partisanship Poses a Bigger Threat to Your Liberty than a Mask Mandate

 

A recent Salt Lake Tribune article commended Senator Mitt Romney for his willingness to step away from his party. It cited examples like Romney’s vote to convict President Trump of abuse of power during his impeachment trial and his attendance at a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington D.C. last month. Senator Romney has demonstrated strong ethics and a commitment to his values. His actions stand out as an exception to a growing trend of dangerous party polarization.

The global community, the United States and Utah have spent much of 2020 grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. Despite numerous public safety measures, the virus has seen rapid growth since June, especially in Utah. This has led some Utah counties to require face masks in public spaces since they have been proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and help protect vulnerable populations–but many have taken mask mandates as an affront to personal liberty. At a Utah County commission meeting on July 15, hundreds of parents gathered to express their grievances with a state mandate requiring children to wear masks in school this fall. Few wore masks to the meeting, and those who did were shouted at and had their voices silenced.

Our communities are facing many challenges this year. At a time when we should be uniting to protect people who need help, many are retreating behind party lines. Rather than being viewed as a minimally invasive way to protect people who cannot risk contracting COVID-19, masks have become a pissing match for Republicans and Democrats. Something that should be a common-sense public health policy has become a way for members of each party to demonstrate their commitment to hating everything the other party embraces and ignore people who are vulnerable to the virus in the process. We have the opportunity to do something easy that could protect other people and their quality of life, but instead, we treat it like the forefront of the debate on personal liberty. There is something wrong with American culture if we would rather side with our party than do something so simple to help other people.

In addition to the ongoing pandemic, the United States is in the thick of a massive movement for racial justice. Millions have taken to the streets to protest police brutality, which takes hundreds of lives each year–lives that disproportionately belong to Black, indigenous and people of color. These protests have shined a light on the divide between liberals and conservatives. Since George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white police officer in late May, there has been evidence of police mistreating protesters using their constitutional rights. In Buffalo, New York, for example, two police officers pushed an elderly man to the ground and left him bleeding on the streets. After a video of this brutality swept the internet, President Trump tweeted conspiracy theories about the victim and insinuated that he was affiliated with ANTIFA, a group Trump has labeled as a terrorist organization. Many conservatives rallied around the police officers, agreeing with the President and exaggerating rumors about the 75-year-old man who was shoved. To those people, it is easier to demonize an elderly man and create lies than admit that some police officers would commit this act of violence.

It gets worse. In the last few weeks, federal agents have snatched people off the streets in Portland, Oregon to “regain control” over Black Lives Matter protests. Federal officers are robbing protestors of their liberty and constitutional rights under an executive order and against the wishes of local leaders. The Republican party has long believed in the power of local control and personal liberty and has championed small government. Many Republicans took issue when Obama used an executive order to create DACA and were happy when Trump ended it. What is happening in Portland is the very definition of big government, but conservatives are not defending Portland protesters. If executive orders and big government are bad, they should be considered bad across the board, regardless of the party affiliation of the person signing the orders. When leaders infringe on our freedoms, we should defend it no matter what party we belong to.

The compulsive need that so many of us have to reject everything the other side supports may seem silly and inconsequential at times–like when Laura Ingraham puts plastic straws in a steak to “trigger liberals”–but it becomes dangerous when government officials ignore direct affronts to our civil liberty. It’s possible to make the selfless decision to help others by wearing a mask while still having a strong belief in personal liberty. It’s possible to support the police force while also recognizing that police brutality exists and should be stopped.

I am a fairly liberal person. I never thought I would say that more people should be like Mitt Romney, but thinking critically about what members of your party are saying and doing promotes better leadership and stronger policy from leaders of both parties. In addition to voting for those kinds of brave and thoughtful decision-makers, individual Americans need to adopt those attitudes and qualities ourselves.

 

k.cushman@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kcellenc

 

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