Lawrence leaders should have pushed back against hecklers

Remaining silent in the face of absurd claims regarding COVID-19 prevention isn't a way forward. It's important that we speak out and challenge toxic discourse.



August 26, 2021 - 9:06 AM

A speaker at Wednesday’s Douglas County Commission meeting on the topic of a mask mandate for those 2 to 12 years old, said that such public health orders were comparable to the Holocaust.

What a load of trash.

Yes, public officials are supposed to value public comment. But sometimes the greatest value is that it reminds us how dangerous our environment has become. It wasn’t just one speaker but several who referenced Nazis and fascism in relation to masks and vaccines. Like sheep led around for profit, there are many Americans being led around by radio hacks, authors, maybe even pillow salesmen, looking to make a buck off fear, anger and confusion.

There is nothing about polite society that obligates us to stare blankly ahead while such comments foul our environment. It is perfectly appropriate to recognize them as trash, but don’t stop there. Let’s make sure we understand they’re dangerous too.

They are dangerous because when such inane comments are made publicly, they allow other members of the public to more easily believe that everyone who refuses to get a vaccine or wear a mask is an irrational, unbending, lost-cause hypocrite.

That’s not true and not helpful. We should not judge an entire group by the actions of a few. But, if those few want to get aggressive about this, we shouldn’t be afraid to push back. After all, it is rarely a wise strategy to be the only one sitting on your stool in the middle of a bar fight.

But, we shouldn’t go looking for a fight. Having two warring factions is not the way to exit this pandemic. On an individual level, it would be great if we could have more conversations that started “I want to talk to you about your decision to not get vaccinated. When we are done, I’m still going to like you, care for you and I won’t think you’re evil or uncaring, and hopefully you’ll feel the same way about me.” Then, see if there are myths that can be busted, philosophies that can be dissected with logic, statistics and facts that can be found. It won’t always change someone’s mind to get a vaccine. It may not even work the majority of the time. But it is a positive action individuals can take with those whom they care about.

Ultimately, though, more collective action will occur. Some will come from the government. It already is occurring with vaccine mandates for nursing home staffs, if they want to keep receiving federal funds. Some of it will come from businesses that are requiring employees to get vaccinated if they want to continue working at the business. There are other organizations that can have outsized influence. Health insurance companies are a big one. Eventually, they’ll start requiring very high deductibles for eligible people who refuse to get the vaccine. It is only fair. Why should the vaccinated help share in the expensive health care costs for the unvaccinated? It is pretty similar to charging smokers a higher premium than nonsmokers.

That’s the way it is with a lot of this. There is very little new ground being covered here. For instance, millions and million of kids every day are required to have certain vaccinations if they want to attend a public school. Notice that isn’t exactly a vaccine mandate. You won’t go to jail if you don’t have a vaccination. It is just that you aren’t going to be allowed to do certain things — like go to school — if you aren’t vaccinated. This isn’t a new idea.

But why is it inevitable that the country will get to this point of collective action? Mainly math. Math creates numbers that produce reactions. An interesting one right now is negative 29. As of Thursday morning, that was how many ICU beds were available in the entire state of Alabama. In other words, all the ICU beds were full and 29 people were waiting, most likely in emergency rooms. The next number to emerge will be the negative number of emergency room beds, and then the next number will be the number of people who die in ambulances while in transport to a hospital five towns over. At some point those numbers will resonate with politicians who will say, “Get a vaccine, or else you can’t do this, this and this.”

The more decisive number, though, is somewhere in the millions at this point. Those millions are the majority of Americans who support vaccination. It is evident in polls, but even more so in the number of people who have gotten vaccinated that a majority of Americans support vaccination. The problem is not that a majority of Americans won’t get vaccinated. The problem is we really need a vast majority of Americans to get vaccinated to knock out this pandemic.

But never forget that a majority of Americans believe in vaccination. It will become the most important number. Majorities have a special power in democracies. Right now, the majority is putting up with this.

It won’t forever.

— Lawrence Journal-World