Free-Dumb isn’t Free, We’re All Paying the Price

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that the top infectious disease medical professionals are predicting the next three months to be the worst for the coronavirus pandemic, which has already crippled the nation and killed more than 250,000 Americans. Yet, clinging to the very bad advice dispensed by The Loser in the Oval Office, a huge number of Republicans, including public officials, continue to flaunt common sense precautions of social distancing, avoiding crowded indoor environs and wearing a mask in public. But free-dumb isn’t free — the costs are enormous and it’ll be innocent members of the public and future generations that pick up the tab for their idiocy.

It’s been almost a year since coronavirus emerged to plague the global community. Here in the U.S. we basically shut down in March — more than two months after the disease began its deadly spread. As the numbers of infections and deaths skyrocketed, the nation entered various degrees of lockdown. Businesses closed, jobs were lost, entire industries — such as hotels, airlines and tourism — could no longer operate as the uncontrolled virus raged through the population.

Despite foolish promises from the denier-in-chief that coronavirus would “vanish like a miracle,” it didn’t vanish. But thanks to the lockdown, the upward curve of victims began to flatten. What didn’t flatten was the enormous costs to try and keep businesses from bankruptcy, people from losing their homes, and the sheer enormity of contracting for millions of medical-grade personal protective equipment for responders, doctors and nurses, thousands of ventilators, and hundreds of billions of dollars to speed the development of a vaccine as quickly as possible.

The good news is that it looks like the effort to find effective vaccines is bearing fruit and sometime in the coming year it will be available to the general population. But the other trillions of dollars poured out of the Treasury are gone. To some extent — not counting the millions sent to fraudulent scammers — the stimulus payments achieved their goal. People received “free money” from the government, unemployment benefits were boosted and some industries, such as airlines, received billions of public dollars to keep them from dissolution.

During summer more people conducted social activities outdoors, where the virus was less likely to spread. But the federal lifeline simply could not replace the revenue generated by a healthy populace engaging in business as usual. As states “re-opened,” the curve of national infections began to climb.

Unfortunately, the assumption that rural states like Montana were less susceptible due to more dispersed populations proved incorrect. Adding to that was the politicized resistance to precautionary measures by a president concerned only about his re-election chances and his adherents who blathered nonsense about their constitutional rights being infringed upon by the measures necessary to protect the populace and contain the virus.

Comes now the Montana legislative session, when 150 legislators and hundreds of lobbyists will descend upon Helena from all corners of the state to mingle with legislative staffers, agency bureaucrats and employees of the restaurants, bars and hotels that cater to their needs. Unfortunately, free-dumb-loving Republican legislators decided to ignore the advice of the county health department and meet in person — needlessly endangering every individual in the Capitol’s closed environment as well as the community at large.

But make no mistake, there is no constitutional right to sicken and kill others. Free-dumb isn’t free — in fact, the irreparable price we’ve already paid in sickness and death is only going to climb thanks to these reckless fools.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.