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Politics, The Pandemic and Prerogatives-

An essay on the intersection of National and local issues- Brian Keeler

When we see some Americans time and again doing unbelievable actions, that fly in the face of common sense, flaunt the law, and show a willful disregard for the common good, we can only wonder. We are confronted in the news daily of anti-vax groups protesting and even denigrating those who try to protect themselves. We’ve seen so much worse than this too, with disregard for due course, law and order, or underminning our institutions of governance or the enervating of the foundations of civil society. All of the aforementioned are arguably the result of the previous occupant of the Whitehouse and his minions.

A painting of Towanda from 1993 with the Bradford Coutny Courthouse in the background.

The impetus for this essay comes primarily from news reports in Pennsylvania in the county were I grew up but also from national news sources. Somehow when community leaders and elected public officials follow the examples of fringe groups like QAnon, The KKK or Proud Boys and the like, then encourage others to do the same, we again can think the lemmings are being lead over the cliff.

In Towanda, PA recently, the Bradford County seat, the County Commissioners came out with an “anti-proclamation” of sorts, stating that they would not require the employees of the Bradford County Manor to be vaccinated or wear masks. Their rationale comes from a distorted idea that government officials should not impose their will on the citizens or encourage them to practice safe health measures. The Bradford County Manor is a facility for the care of the elderly on US Route 6 between Towanda and Troy .

I hope I am not the only one who thinks that this sounds like the opposite of governance or leadership. Instead of advocating for the rule of law or listening to the advise of medical experts, we are instead lead to believe that somehow we should adhere to a wrong-headed view of freedom.

Perhaps all this could be dismissed as a misguided and errant policy decision if the consequences were not so potentially harmful if not fatal. Moreover, when those who will suffer as the result of this decision are the elderly and infirmed or their caregivers it makes the whole mess even more egregious. When the vulnerable amongst us are made to suffer even more it should be a sign that something is amiss.

We recall that the COVID 19 pandemic first got its foothold in the US in a personal care home in Seattle, Washington and some of the worst outbreaks have occurred in these health care facilities. Even the Bradford County Manor had an outbreak of COVID. In October of 2020 there was an outbreak with a total of 102 residents and 47 staff members testing positive.

So what possible justification could the commissioners summon for such reckless acts of colossal irresponsibility? We can have some cause for thanks that their mandate as commissioners does not include determining the polices of surgeons at the Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, PA as well. If so, they would likely invoke their credo of personal freedom and discourage surgeons about to operate by claiming that there is no need to wear surgical gloves, or surgical masks.

"Poplar Street Towanda,PA" oil on linen 36" x 54" This winter view of Towanda shows the beauty of afternoon light on the 19th century buildings. The court house where some of the policy decisions of the commissioners noted in this article are made is shown in the background.

Should we be surprised? Probably not. After all, these are the same guys, (well at least one of them) who organized a bus load of QAnon adherents to load into a bus (unmasked probably) and ride to Washington, DC on January 6th of this year to join the other thugs who attacked our capitol, destroyed property, killed people and blew a big hole in the national psyche in regards to democracy. Were the commissioners amongst the mob that broke into the hallowed arena of American democracy? Who knows. We know that instead of even sticking up for their own actions- they tend to blame the entire thing on Nancy Pelosi or on so called antifa.

It doesn’t stop there. These commissioners are also the same fellows who encouraged their constituents to ignore gun laws by aligning themselves with that bizarre national movement of so called “gun sanctuary” towns. I wrote a previous essay on this debacle and travesty that I titled, “Blood on Their Hands.” Further, they encouraged local law enforcement to join their movement to flaunt the law. In other words, scoflaws are ecouraged and abetted in government and within the local police.

Then there is the effort to discourage voting and one commissioner was quoted in a regional paper as stating that voting was not a right in America but a privilege. Well, to give him his due, there is no constitutional right to vote. Still, voting is a fundamental principle of democracy and it should be encouraged and should be a right. In fact there is a movement to make it a right. The sentiment expressed here by the commissioner seems go with the penchant of republicans nationwide now to inhibit voting at every turn- as they can't seem to win fairly. The Arizona recount of this week further undermines their harping about a stolen election.

We see this continuance of right wing stuff filtering into local policies and actions on an ongoing basis. We can only assume that these fellows are at home at night glued to the Faux News, boning up on Ann Coulter, Steve Bannon and eulogizing former Senator Eugene McCarthy. Speaking of Bannon and his cohort Guiliani, the commissioners even had a televised rally with those two as a live video feed. We can’t make this up.

What makes it worse, is this holier-than-though hypocrisy in effect too, as a French TV station showed us with an aired a segment on the commissioners. One was shown taking a knee and offering a prayer to supposedly bless their actions. God help us. But they are probably against sports stars doing a genuflect for a noble cause of racial justice.

What does the local press have to offer in commentary? Well in the same issue that the front page news was of the commissioners shirking their duty, the commentary was to go on a Biden-bashing rant complaining about how bad the president was doing. Is our collective memory so short that we cannot remember the atrocious proclamations of the DT.? Encouraging Americans to use Clorox enemas or to blather that the whole pandemic was a hoax or similar to the flue; this is the legacy of so called Trump leadership.

Do you ever get the idea that republicans are on the absolute wrong side of every issue, from the environment, to personal health, to world politics? It seems that simple and that black and white. In today’s New York Times there was a lead article on how Trump dominated areas are paying with higher rates of infections of COVID 19.

Then there are the school board meetings in the region and and nation wide where confusion reigns, extremist rage threaten and cajole public servants. There is no consistent policy; national and state mandates are decried as fake laws and they go so far as to whine that the rules to have kids masked on buses and in schools is a form of child abuse. Whoa- how about your kid or thier teacher dyeing of COVID, do you think that would be a pretty picture? Worse even still- on NPR last night, there was a segment detailing how right wing groups are threatened school board members with death threats and drive-by harassment etc. Not pretty.

The pandemic has also brought about some comeuppances that blur the edges somewhat as it has shown some examples of disregard from certain quarters that I would not expect. For example in the environmental arena, a certain individual who has shown verve by standing up against the goliath of the fracking industry has also shown a disregard for the facts in the Pandemic. It was made worse by perpetuating half-baked theories that denigrated the efforts to stop the pandemic- this done on social media. This to me has undermined the credibility of the good work done in being outspoken against corporate greed. Another example, was from a woman I know that claimed that the entire COVID situation was a ruse. It was justified in part because an episode of the Simpsons supposedly foretold the epidemic. Whoa! And this was from a science teacher.

With close to 700, 000 Americans dead as a result of COVID and 40 million infections, one might hope for better. Maybe even a galvanizing of support or unity of national cause similar to what happened after the Twin Towers attack or after Pearl Harbor would seem in order. Once again, whether its tens of thousand victims of gun violence in our schools, public arenas or shopping centers or hundreds of thousands struck down by a virus, those commissioners have made horrible decisions which will imperil us all even more.

Well it seems like we are truly in an Orwellian inversion of the universe. When religion is used to distort common sense, when anti-voting polices are touted as democracy, when "alternate facts" and outright lies are foisted on us as truth, when storming the US capitol is viewed as patriotism, when brandishing the Confederate flag or swastika is bragged about as preserving history, when public health is just another arena to flaunt your conspiracy theories, or when anti-gun control is promoted as a duty- then we realize how truly warped our country has become.


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