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What’s So “Liberating” About Declaring Defeat to COVID-19?

Perhaps under different circumstances, I would have gone out to see some of these “liberating” anti-shutdown protests for myself. But in the era of COVID-19, I have to think about more than just my own desire to get a good story.

In the era of COVID-19, so many of us have had to think beyond ourselves and act beyond our own self-interest. It’s just too bad that certain national “leaders” refuse to lead by that example.

It may not feel “liberating”, but shutting down was the only responsible choice.
COVID-19, coronavirus, Steve Sisolak
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae

Over the weekend, Steve Sebelius actually gave us the occasional good reason to check in on the R-J. In his latest column, Sebelius honed in on Nevada’s COVID-19 induced shutdown’s effect on the state’s economy and fairly critiqued the state’s sometimes shaky communication with Nevadans about the state’s response efforts. 

Then, Sebelius gave this fair summary of Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) performance thus far: “When we — ahem — recall Sisolak years from now and reflect on the unprecedented early dark days of the coronavirus, it’s far more likely we’ll remember a governor who stumbled while doing his best to do the right thing, rather than a would-be autocrat who fiddled while Nevada burned.”

As we pointed out (again) last Thursday, and as both the Nevada Current and The Nevada Independent have pointed out for the last month, the real crisis is probably worse than what Sisolak and other state officials have described in their official briefings. We’re only beginning to catch up on testing, and too many frontline medical workers and other essential workers continue to lack adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) to do their jobs safely. And as long as the Trump administration continues to prioritize partisan politics over good governance, Nevada and other states may ultimately have no choice but to find ways to cope with an increasingly hostile and reckless White House.

What are they really trying to “set free”?

According to The Nevada Independent’s report, about 100 far-right activists gathered within a block of the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City last Saturday to “Set NV Free!!!” This came hot on the heels of another far-right led protest in Las Vegas last Friday, and these were just two of another wave of far-right “LIBERATE!” protests to emerge across the nation in the last week.

At least some of the far-right activists in Carson City carried guns and wore military-style fatigues last Saturday in a strange resemblance to the far-right activists who swarmed the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing last Thursday carrying guns, nooses, swastikas, and Confederate flags

Meanwhile in California, a network of right-wing politicians in Orange County have been challenging Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) “Stay at Home” order by reopening beaches for just the kinds of crowds who facilitate the spread of COVID-19. And when Newsom cracked down on these Orange County politicians’ actions, far-right activists responded with an illegal restaurant reopening in San Clemente and a protest in Huntington Beach (full of demonstrators who refused to wear masks or practice social distancing) led by the owner of a Contra Costa County “regenerative medicine” clinic that ran into criticism last year for selling “stem cell therapy” that has yet to be proven effective for treating joint pain.

Late last month, we observed the tightening relationship amongst President Donald Trump and his campaign apparatus, far-right militia groups and conspiracy theorists, and the “LIBERATE!” protesters. And really, it’s likely no coincidence. After all, Trump has already been signaling that he worries more about losing the presidential election than losing 100,000+ American lives (as the White House now privately admits is likely).

Why can’t we “liberate” ourselves from declaring defeat to COVID-19?
Donald Trump
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just compare and contrast the U.S.’ COVID-19 statistics with Canada’s, an otherwise culturally, demographically, and geographically similar country where their federal government coordinated with provincial and local authorities to mandate widespread social distancing and provide support for its people, its businesses, and its health care infrastructure. If anything, the Trump administration’s haphazard COVID-19 response more closely resembles that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and other aspiring autocrats than the response, relief, and recovery efforts in functioning liberal democracies.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of wholly legitimate reasons to bemoan Americans’ plight in the midst of the pandemic. However, these “liberating” siren songs from the likes of Donald Trump, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Mesquite City Council Member Annie Black, and notorious far-right provocateur Ammon Bundy have thus far only succeeded in “liberating” COVID-19 to infect more people. There are plenty of reasons to protest, but we’re better off staying away from the far-right protest crowds and maintaining proper social distancing.

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.

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