This will be a 4th of July unlike any other that we have experienced. COVID has disrupted family gatherings, schools, businesses, daycares, vacations, and summer recreation in unprecedented ways.
The 1776 Declaration of, “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” was bound to the understanding that the new nation “lay its foundation on such principles… most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” “Safety” is deliberately placed before “happiness”, an acknowledgement by the Founders that without safety, happiness is diminished.
The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document. It was, and remains, an aspiration to local political autonomy, not an invitation to anarchy. The Founders clearly understood that social norms and regulations crafted by direct representatives of the governed would increase personal liberties. But with these freedoms come the need for greater personal responsibilities. The 18th century saw waves of smallpox, yellow fever, and other infectious diseases. Just as we have enacted restrictions on certain freedoms to prevent the spread of COVID and its resulting dangers, the generation of the Founders enacted quarantines and other limitations on commerce and personal liberties to protect health and lives.
But laws and regulations can’t be enforced in every location at every time. If we hope to keep the virus in check, it will ultimately be done as a result of personal decision-making. Coronavirus is indifferent to anyone’s desires or beliefs. Virus particles don’t care why someone may refuse to wear a mask, attend a large party, or travel to an area with high infection rates. Viruses do what they are genetically programmed to do. COVID latches onto cells in a person’s respiratory tract, propagates, and spreads to the next person who falls in its path. Regardless of a individual’s rationale, this virus will continue to spread through communities aided by those who choose to act in ways contrary to basic health principles.
We are currently witnessing the results of oppositional behavior (ignoring evidence of increased transmission when people fail to wear masks and continue to congregate in large numbers) in states throughout the Southern and Western U.S. Currently the average American resident is 20 times more likely to become infected than someone living in Italy. No other industrialized country in the world has infection rates and mortality rates anywhere near those in the U.S.
This July 4th, we should act with benevolence toward our fellow Americans, some of whom are vulnerable to severe health consequences of COVID and others who will be adversely impacted financially, educationally, and/or emotionally by preventable spread. If infections spike in the months ahead, it won’t matter whether government restrictions are reimposed. The 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic led to mass business closures across the country, not because of government orders, but because We The People were afraid to go to restaurants, theaters, and any retailer that was not absolutely necessary.
This Saturday, take time to reflect on the liberties that we enjoy and the sacrifices, large and small, that patriotic Americans make to protect our collective “Safety and Happiness”. COVID-19 won’t be with us forever. But until a vaccine is available, likely sometime into 2021, we need to treat each other with consideration, including wearing face masks in public, staying home when we don’t feel well, and holding off on some of the group activities that we would otherwise like to do. As James Madison enshrined in the preamble our other great document, the U.S. Constitution, we must live up to the principles to: “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity“. Have a happy 4th and a safe summer.