By Bill LaCroix, Victor
At a recent Ravalli County Commissioners’ meeting to ‘develop a message about COVID-19’, one man stood up to proclaim that he was an ‘Americanist’, which meant (to him) that he wasn’t responsible for his neighbors’ wellbeing. The commissioners, who apparently are also ‘Americanists’, agreed, declaring quite adamantly to the mostly-unmasked people in attendance that they weren’t interested in infringing on people’s ‘liberty’ by being the ‘mask police’, that they would settle for ‘encouraging’ people to act responsibly while letting their fellow ‘Americanists’ decide how much harm or benevolence they choose to visit on their neighbors.
Well, I’m only someone who’s lived in Montana for the last four decades and whose ancestors have only been on this continent for the last five centuries. I do have a keen interest in U.S. history and have never come across this new breed of impervious citizen before, but I’ll admit that more than a few bold movements have been woefully unreported on these last few hundred years, including this ‘Americanist’ thing. Maybe I just read too much and am therefore ignorant, but this child of pilgrims still feels entitled to share a few facts and ask a couple questions of our commissioners who are getting a good salary on my dime in order to speak for me.
It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to observe that both traffic laws and Covid-19 mandates are enforced on behalf of public safety and welfare. This is easily demonstrated by simple math. Since January there have been 167 traffic fatalities in Montana. In that same timeframe Montana has seen 365 Covid-19 deaths. Four of those Covid deaths and two traffic deaths (that I’m aware of) have been in Ravalli County. In other words, there are at least twice as many Covid deaths in our state and county than fiery scenes on the highway, yet traffic laws clearly meant to oppress citizens’ freedom to drive recklessly are still enforced while mask ordinances that would muzzle an Americanist’s right to whine but would potentially save twice as many lives are not? I’d agree with any freedom-loving ‘patriot’ that not all traffic deaths would be avoided if everybody drove as if somebody else’s life depended on it, but some would be. So why does a mask ordinance that would save twice as many of those random lives get a pass while the city of Hamilton is still writing $100 tickets for going 29 MPH in a 25 MPH speed zone? If the commissioners’ logic of not being the ‘mask police’ is followed to its natural angle of repose, should we expect the police to ‘encourage’ citizens to not drive drunk while acknowledging that it’s every citizen’s constitutional right to drive drunk if she wants to? Should the correct response to a drunk driver or a maskless ‘patriot’ be, “is that freedom I smell on your breath?”
I don’t know if any of my ancestors were actively involved in the Salem Witch Trials, if they were passive bystanders or if they actively spoke out in resistance against tyranny. I do know some of them were involved in some pretty sad wars against the indigenous people they sought to displace and that history is a lesson we either learn or don’t. I also know that everyone who attended that commissioners’ meeting – barring one individual – failed to wear a mask. That meant that folks like myself who take personal responsibility in respect to my neighbors seriously as well as my own health can’t attend public meetings convened to discuss the public’s business in a public building because the commissioners have decided to opt out of enforcing ordinances that reflect nothing but basic human decency. This is undemocratic by definition, which begs the real question here. With such doings afoot right under our (masked or unmasked) noses, I think We the Taxpayers who foot the bill for these public officials’ gold star health plans but who don’t share their peculiar political ideology should hear from them on where they stand on this thorny issue of Democracy. It’s a pretty simple question. Do they believe in it or not? Can we participate in our democracy while protecting our loved ones and ourselves or do the commissioners really believe those who don’t share their worldview deserve less freedom as the new, bold ‘Americanists’?
Democracy, then, commissioners. It’s such an old-fashioned word, but a simple yes or no will tell us all we need to know.