Should people who didn’t follow the CDC guidelines to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 be given priority for treatment in overflowing and understaffed hospitals?

One of the most important pressing moral questions of our time, that few of us want to ask or answer, is should people who have disregarded or intentionally ignored CDC guidelines to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and end up in the emergency rooms and intensive care units of our hospitals with corona virus symptoms be treated as anyone else who has done their best to comply?

In many states, counties and cities in the United States hospitals are overflowing with people who have COVID-19 or corona virus like symptoms. Most of these people have unsuspectedly been exposed to the virus. Some of them are our essential workers, while others are people in nursing homes. The young and the old, the virus is an equal opportunity phenomenon. The deaths and destruction that the virus has caused is not just unfortunate it’s tragic.

Assuming we could determine with certainty who rejects the guidelines, and thus science, and who doesn’t, most Americans by now know the virus is spread by asymptomatic people and that they need to avoid large gatherings, wear masks, social distance, wash hands frequently, etc. Many (perhaps most of the 74 million who supported Trump’s second presidential bid) believe COVID-19 is a hoax or at least exaggerated, ignore these recommendations and attended crowded events without masks or social distancing.

Some of these individuals also express hostility towards those who wear masks, advocate the use of masks, and towards folks who try to enforce the guidelines. For example, flight attendants spent most of their time enforcing the mask mandates and getting verbally and sometimes physically abused by noncompliant passengers.

These science and expert-rejecting folks believe that in the United States they have freedom to do as they please. Of course, this is nonsense. We have restrictions on most of our behaviors – you don’t have the freedom to run a red light, you don’t have the freedom not to wear a seatbelt, etc. We even have restrictions on our first amendment right of freedom of speech. So at the very minimum, if our behaviors potentially endanger the lives of others and of ourselves, we really don’t have the freedom to engage in that behavior. It is now abundantly clear with reams of data to prove it that failing to follow COVID-19 guidelines puts others at risk, drains needed health care resources, and puts the lives of health care professionals and essential workers at higher and preventable risk.

Despite the recent slow and dysfunctional rolling out of a vaccine, in the United States alone, we are now up to 24,438,786 number of people who are infected with the virus and 406,159 deaths. Reports indicate that there are x number of people who die each day.

There are few historic parallels to what has occurred with COVID-19. For example, during the 1980s HIV/AIDs was ravaging through the gay community. The public was advised to take precautions to not have unprotected sex with strangers, minimize the number of partners, etc., and if they had contracted the virus they had the moral obligation to disclose this information to their partners. Predictably there were people who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, ignored the guidelines, had unprotected sex with partners, and their partners contracted HIV/AIDs. Some of these folks were even charged with attempted homicide.

So, in light of these tragic statistics and a dangerously at capacity and over capacity health care system in many states/cities, many hospitals are very close to rationing health care. The question is should people who rejected science and experts and willingly and knowingly, with complete disregard for human life, infected others have the same access to diminishing health care resources in the same way as the rest of us who have been doing everything right to minimize transmission?

Clearly the medical profession is governed by the Hippocratic oath, which despite its slight modifications over the years, basically affirms the notion that that health and medical care profession should engage in their duties to patients without fear or favor in a totally equal manner. So perhaps the moral question of our time is best targeted to hospital administrators and health care planners whose job is to allocate limited resources judiciously. What will they do?

Photo “Virus Outbreak Italy” by Ninian Reid

Now that Congress has impeached Trump for a second time, what else can we do to improve the current political situation in the United States?

Neither last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, nor the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump by the House of Representatives, and the forthcoming Senate trial to convict Trump, will solve the political challenges that the United States currently has.

The more pressing question is how can we unite the country that is so geographically big and politically and ideologically divided, maintain peace and stability, promote equality, bring prosperity to the our citizens in the coming years, and in essence protect democracy?

There are short term and long-term solutions to consider.

Let’s start with the short term.

First, we should continue with the Senate’s trial of Trump, even if this process extends past the inauguration of Biden. Trump must be held accountable. Not holding a trial will signal that he and others like him can continue to commit any crime they choose and will definitely divide the country further because there are millions who believe he’s not fit to govern. If the trial is successful and he’s convicted (meaning 17 GOP senators will have to defy fear), then we will have held him accountable, deprived him of important benefits that outgoing presidents are afforded, and more importantly reinforced a legal precedent.

Sedition will not be tolerated. Actions have consequences. At the very least, a conviction will signal that no one, not least a president, can incite a mob with murderous intentions to storm the seat of the legislative branch of government.

Second, all individuals who are accurately identified as storming the Capitol should be charged with committing specific federal crimes, afforded due process, and be given appropriate sanctions. Additionally, where possible these individuals should charged with appropriate state relevant crimes. Convictions at the state level will minimize the possibility that they can be pardoned in the future by a sympathetic Republican President.

Third, Section 3 of the 14th amendment of the Constitution, that allows elected representatives that have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion or given aid or comfort to the enemies” of the state, (such as the so-called sedition caucus) should be expelled from public office. This will send a strong message to those elected representatives pushing a false and disproven narrative supporting a stolen election and flaming the fires of insurrection. They have misinterpreted their right to freedom of speech versus participation as governed. Those who outright lie to their constituents and the American people in support of personal gain should be punished. Those who govern by fear that their voters will get mad them have no place in government. These lawmakers are the sedition caucus. Many of who were elected/reelected on the same ballots they claim are fraudulent and willfully encourage rebellion against a lawfully elected president.

Fourth, Social media organizations should continue to crack down on users who foment violence. It was long overdue that Facebook, Twitter and Amazon implemented lifetime bans on Trump and Extreme right organizations. This should be extended to members of congress and state legislatures who spread lies about the recent elections.

Fifth, news media organizations like Fox, etc. that push false narratives and ideological agendas of fear, intimidation, alternative reality must be held accountable, through government failure to renew licenses, and citizen activism (contacting the network, boycotting advertisers, etc.)

In the long term we should continue to do:

– make efforts to implement proportional representation and rank ordered choice voting,

– boycott corporations that enable the spreading of lies, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and try to buy shares in the corporations in order to vote to replace board members and change the policies and priorities of these organizations.

– fund organizations that fight for democratic values such as the American Civil Liberties Union, anti-racism organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, etc.

– adequately financially support our schools and revise what is taught to emphasize a curriculum of emancipatory democracy that emphasizes Classics, Civics and Government, Critical Thinking, Logic, & Information Literacy. We need to teach History in a way that acknowledges the bestiality of slavery, the economic benefit that slavery brought, and that takes a new moral, social, and economic view about its legacy and implications for social and justice for all

I hope that these initiatives can have a positive effect on our country, creating a place where human rights, civil rights, science, and democracy is respected.

All decisions have consequences. Even a failure to act has consequences. This will be long and protracted challenge and it is bound to distract the Biden administrations ability to govern, but it is necessary and moral to punish the President, those who supported or enabled sedition, including the news media, social media companies, and GOP legislators which enabled this dark stain on our democracy.

Photo: “Biden Inauguration – Locked Down Capitol,” by Geoff Livingston

What’s wrong with this picture?

By now, most Americans have seen the footage of the large pro-Trump mob who this past Wednesday, at the president’s urging, stormed the Capitol in Washington, DC.

We saw a thin detail of United States Capitol Police officers haphazardly try to deal with this mob who easily broke through the metal barricades, walked up the stairs, smashed through windows, and breached the Capitol.

Not only were the Capitol Police deployed in insufficient numbers for effective crowd control, their response appeared weak. One of them is caught on camera talking jovially with the rioters while another one is heard giving directions to legislators’ offices. In some photos and videos, other officers appeared to hold open gates, waving the mob through. Meanwhile congresspeople, staffers, and the news media inside the building were led by police to a safe and secure place.

While the melee was occurring, we were left to wonder how, despite the police presence, were these rioters so easily able to break through the cordon and breach the Capitol? Surely the police knew that this was a possibility? Trump’s rally was not a spontaneous event. It had been planned for weeks, plastered all over social media sites, and a cursory glance of right-wing media clearly demonstrated their objectives and the violent threat they posed.

Where was the coordination with the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC)? Assistance from the DC National Guard? Both were mobilized and deployed in Washington, DC, which is a distinct jurisdiction from the Capitol and the National Mall where the rally was held. Where were the United States Park Police? The Secret Service Police or the numerous other police departments that operate in DC?

Coordination does not seem to have occurred until much later in the melee when control was brought back over the Capitol building.

During the mess and Thursday morning quarterbacking, observers started wondering not only about the sufficiency of police tactics at the scene, the lack of mutual aid directives, but why were so few people arrested during the melee?

In sum, despite their injuries and the death of a Capitol Police officer, the officers who were outside the Capitol could do did little to prevent the hoard from entering the building and rummaging through the chambers and offices.

But one of the most galling takeaways from Wednesday’s event was the dissonance between what we saw at the Capitol and what took place during this past spring and summer during the largely peaceful protests, both in Washington, DC and throughout the country, by mostly African-American protesters against the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.

During these public displays of dissent we saw phalanxes of police, some wearing riot gear, crack down on Black Lives Matter protestors. Police frequently responded with excessive force, rubber bullets, smoke bombs, flash bangs, and teargas. Protestors were injured, beaten, and were arrested en masse. Much of this response was pure and simple an overreaction by the police. In grim irony, the many of the protests against police brutality were met with… police brutality.

Closer to Washington, DC, in June, when law enforcement cleared Lafayette Square ahead of Trump’s bible photo op and afterwards as MPDC police pursued fleeing protestors through the city, 300 people were arrested. 200 of which were done after law enforcement kettled protestors just north of the White House.

In the case of the Capitol breach, perhaps public safety officials were confident that perpetrators would be later arrested based on photo and CCTV evidence. But to the world, it seems like a right-wing mob was easily able to storm the Capitol, threaten law makers, and walk away relatively unharmed.

As selected members of the Republican party try to paint the riotous mob as members of Antifa, one has to wonder if the protesters at yesterday’s melee were African-American would the police have responded so lightly. I think we all know the answer. We have eyes. We’ve seen what law enforcement is capable of.

The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that, despite the presence of African Americans on the Capitol Police Department, one of the reasons why police treated this mob differently has to be racism and white supremacy.

Someone somewhere in the chain of command decided that a rally of Trump supporters who for months have been whipped up in a frenzy against lawmakers of both parties were less of a threat than black and brown people asking to not be murdered and beaten in the streets.

So where do we go from here?

We already know that an investigation is taking place, and both the Chief of the Capitol Police and the Sargent at arms to the Senate floor have quit, but if the recommendations are more hardening of the target, resources, or more training (especially racial sensitivity or awareness), this is insufficient.

It’s not because the Capitol police are underfunded, or poorly trained. We know they have a big budget and adequate weapons. And in terms of sensitivity training, employees, with the assistance of a facilitator, temporarily get in touch with their inner emotions, but then go back to the powerful effects of the organizational culture.

We know that individuals and organizations spouting white supremacy are a threat to our domestic security. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, numerous social justice organizations, and experts, for example, have repeatedly warned us about the recent growth of this kind of activity.

Dissent and political protest are important. They are elements of freedom of expression and bedrocks of our constitution and democracy. But when protests turn violent, appropriate law enforcement actions need to be implemented, and done so without fear or favor. They can’t selectively engage in force, both legal and extra-legal violence dependent on the issues and nature of the perpetrators.

Both the police actions of this spring, summer, and this week should serve as an additional wake up call for a massive and urgent change in American policing, including a serious consideration of defunding the police, and what exactly that means. One that no matter who is in charge of our police, both they and we need to take into account the overt and structural racism in the way that selective police officers can perform their duties.

Photo: Jo Zimny “A Scary Day On Capital Hill”