Protesters have a right to be ignorant

The latest in the coronavirus pandemic is unrest that has broken out in Kentucky and states across the country where governors were proactive in issuing stay-at-home orders and closing parts of the economy.

To those of us doing our part — making personal, professional and social sacrifices in the interest of public health — the protests look like the same selfish, ignorant people who just don’t like to be told what to do, the epitome of the Trumpiest of Trump supporters and Tea Partiers.

I recognize that some protesters are not Trump supporters, and that some are apolitical, acting out of genuine fear and desperation.

We also now know that these protests are the work of shadowy, right-wing groups organizing “grassroots” protests — groups that Trump has promoted, “including one funded by the family of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos,” The Guardian reported.

Vox reported that “Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, a right-leaning advocacy group that helped support the Tea Party movement back in 2009, said in an interview that ‘this has the same DNA [as] the Tea Party movement.’”

This isn’t the American-Arab Spring during which truly oppressed people fought for freedom from an oppressive regime.

But I can’t figure out what these Kentucky protesters are actually missing.

They are still able to gather and refuse to practice social distancing.

Bigots and racists still have a right to be assholes, as evident by those who brought Confederate flags and swastikas (I believe the swastikas were in a Michigan protest).

Apparently, nothing is prohibiting U.S. Sen. Rand Paul from putting on his libertarian mask and feigning outrage over Beshear’s “totalitarian state.”

So, what, you need a haircut that bad? You were going to start using that gym membership you signed up for in January? You don’t want to get unemployment pay? Is that too socialist? But dying is OK, right?

In one sense, however, the protesters have demonstrated the critical need to reopen schools as soon as possible. We need to get back to educating our kids, because we can’t afford another generation of protesters who don’t have a clue what they’re protesting about, exemplified by the protester wielding the sign saying “We need Leadership! not Dictarship!!”

Maybe you’re protesting because you had to cancel that elective surgical procedure?

Well, Kentucky Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer is fighting for you!

“I’m calling on the governor to work with the Kentucky Hospital Association to get these hospitals open again,” Thayer said last week. “It’s absolutely got them flat on [their] backs.”

Beshear’s directive is for healthcare providers “… to cancel all procedures that in the opinion of a physician the delay will not cause harm to the patient or negatively affect the patient’s life expectancy.” This order leaves tremendous leeway for doctors and patients to determine what is elective. While elective procedures refer to scheduled procedures — they might be critical but not urgent — this order is basically saying forget the cosmetic stuff.

And contrary to Thayer’s understanding of freedom, hospitals are never obligated to do elective procedures, even during normal times.

The other problem for Thayer is that the hospitals agree with Beshear. “We still believe there is some vulnerability out there,” Norton Healthcare CEO Russ Cox said the day after Thayer called out Beshear. Baptist Health earlier this month announced a series of furloughs and pay cuts. “Baptist Health is striking a delicate balance between maintaining a strong front line of skilled caregivers to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, while grappling with the drain on resources,” said CEO Gerard Colman.

I’d love to make the President John F. Kennedy appeal to these protesters, and: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country… ” 

Now, there is danger in public officials not being proactive to loosen restrictions and reopen the economy where possible.

Loosening restrictions where possible will demonstrate that our leaders are discerning between rules critical to stopping the spread of the virus, and those that just aren’t as important. In this way, governors and mayors arguing for maintaining the critical restrictions will be bolstered, more trusted and better followed.

As more people grow restless, strained financially or just skeptical of the dangers of the virus,  more will be inclined to disregard health guidance of so-called experts. And, as unfair as it is, a small group of selfish protesters has the power to peaceably assemble, increase the spread of the virus and, ironically, cause more death and prolong the economic shutdown. •