GREENWOOD -- Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a disconcerting level of animosity directed at any government official who has thought the best way to slow the virus’ spread is to restrict human interaction and force the public to take preventive measures.
The anger has largely been directed at Democratic officeholders or their appointees, as they, in dealing with the nation’s worst public health crisis in a century, have been much more willing than Republicans to buck the libertarian instincts in this country.
The pushback has included a kidnap plot against one governor, angry outbursts at school board meetings and, most recently, an increasingly nasty and sometimes vulgar opposition to President Joe Biden.
Biden’s latest move — a mandate requiring most workers in this nation to get vaccinated — has the potential to cause an already tense situation to boil over.
Most Republican governors and attorneys general have joined in the resistance, filing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Biden using federal contracts or workplace safety regulations to force vaccination on private sector employees.
Most of the elected officials’ rhetoric has been relatively tame, only occasionally crossing over the line, as when Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves described Biden as a “fading tyrant.”
Let’s hope it gets no worse, since we have seen in this country what can happen when those in positions of influence stoke the flames of resentment in the masses. The Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol is just the latest dramatic example.
Although it’s not a perfect parallel, the anti-vax movement reminds me of another resistance movement, the opposition to racial desegregation in the South during the 1950s and 1960s. Federal directives from the courts and the U.S. Justice Department a half-century ago met with inflammatory rhetoric and threats that later spilled over into lots of violence.
I was struck by the similarity when I came across the other day an excerpt from an op-ed column written by Ralph McGill, one of the few courageous editors of the mid-20th century who opposed segregation when most of their fellow white Southerners in positions of leadership either strongly defended the practice or condoned it by their silence.
McGill, who led the newsroom of the Atlanta Constitution, was famous for his front-page columns supporting racial equality, and they produced many threats against him. “Some acted on the threats and burned crosses at night on his front lawn, fired bullets into the windows of his home and left crude bombs in his mailbox,” says Wikipedia.
One of his most famous columns was published the day after a Jewish temple in Atlanta, whose rabbi was an outspoken critic of segregation, had been severely damaged by a dynamite blast. McGill won the Pulitzer Prize in 1959 largely for that column.
The bombing of the temple, like other bombings of churches and schools at the time, were the product of incitement fueled by those who should have and did know better, according to McGill.
“Let us face the facts,” he wrote.
“This is a harvest. It is the harvest of things sown.
“It is the harvest of defiance of courts and the encouragement of citizens to defy law on the part of many Southern politicians. It will be the acme of irony, for example, if any of four or five Southern governors deplore this bombing. It will be grimly humorous if certain state attorneys general issue statements of regret. And it will be quite a job for some editors, columnists and commentators who have been saying that our courts have no jurisdiction and that the people should refuse to accept their authority now to deplore.
“It is not possible to preach lawlessness and to restrict it.
“To be sure, none said to go bomb a Jewish temple or a school.
“But let is be understood that when leadership in high places in any degree fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands.”
We haven’t gotten to this extreme with the anti-vax movement. Reeves, Attorney General Lynn Fitch and their GOP colleagues from other states are challenging Biden in the courts, which is the proper venue to decide whether the president is overreaching and using a wrong means to try to accomplish a desirable end.
Nevertheless, the tensions within this country are real. It doesn’t take much nudging for them to erupt in violence. Those in power should use rhetorical restraint, encouraging others to let the legal process run its course and respect whatever decision comes from it.
If the courts say the president has the authority to require vaccination, all those now criticizing him should be ready to tell their supporters to comply. Anything less risks planting the seeds of yet another bitter harvest.
- Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.