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Our time in 'The Hurt Locker' -- The pandemic diaries

The title “The Hurt Locker” comes from an award-winning 2008 film, a character study about an explosives specialist serving in Iraq. Given the metaphoric theme of the film, it seems especially apt to what we are experiencing as a nation at this moment — which is, indeed, a locker full of hurt. Unemployment is now 15 percent and rising with some 80,000 deaths, a number that continues to trend upward. And of course, this collective trauma will, like the Great Depression, be a marker for all who are now living through it.

For me, I still find myself looking intently at the images of those protesters who continue to gather at state capitals, challenging the government guidelines and lockdown orders. What I find puzzling are not the protests — waving American flags, displaying signs stating opposition to the “tyranny” of the health policy, all while asserting, with conviction, that “Liberty is Not Risk Free.” However, I would ask those protesters the following: As you stand under the umbrella of the First Amendment, explain to me your purpose in bringing semi-automatic rifles and pistols to your protest. What is your message? Is it to intimidate? Is there a delusional expectation of an armed confrontation? Is a pandemic shelter-at-home order, all things considered, truly a threat to your liberty? And then explain to me the presence and meaning of those Confederate and swastika flags and the brandishing of Hitler’s name. Explain how those guns and flags are linked to a lethal, highly contagious virus now stalking all Americans, and how the Second Amendment comes into play.

I’m at a loss to understand. Are we having some distorted anti-government debate and are you expressing an embedded wish to reduce “big government” down to a size so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub, along with the CDC and all those “deep state” epidemiologists? Is all of this truly about freedom and patriotism? Or is it about something else?

Keep in mind that what you’re protesting is, for now, all we have to save ourselves: sheltering in place, hand washing, social distancing, and the now totemic mask. That’s it. There is no efficacious treatment, no Z-pack, no vaccine. For those infected, sick beyond measure, lying in ICUs, well, there are the front-line health care workers. They are exhausted by days and weeks of sustained patient care, and traumatized by the relentless suffering and solitary death.

Of course, there is the explicit and implicit connection between the protesters and conservative Republican supporters, including the “Liberate” White House. In a recent news article, Drew Holden, a public affairs consultant in Washington D.C., makes the case for the resistance to government virus guidelines. He explains that these Washington edicts challenge the basic principles of autonomy and liberty. And the mandated lockdown “runs counter to the spirit of rugged individualism that takes on near-mythic proportions in America ...” A quarantine conflicts with that “independent spirit, deeply enmeshed in the American DNA which resents and rejects being told what to do. These concerns shouldn’t be written off as anti-scientific or rapacious Far from the halls of power, countless Americans still agree that there’s little more frightening than an over-zealous government.”

Though Holden does counsel that we must consider that personal sacrifices should be seen in the context of the common good, and that not “every compromise is the harbinger of tyranny,” I would argue that this softly voiced caveat does not explain the Confederate/Nazi/Don’t Tread on Me flags, nor does it address the gear or the guns.

Something else is at play here that transcends the virus. There’s a thread of rage that uses the pandemic as a rationale to voice long-held convictions and ideology, which are completely detached from this unanticipated moment that represents, so manifestly, our country’s hurt locker.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.