Many of us have held certain truths to be self-evident, including the belief that America is a fundamentally just place in which rational leaders work for the common good. COVID-19 is sorely testing that and other assumptions about our society.

Perhaps like never before, today our health and welfare depends on the moral obligation of others. Experts say our most effective course for the foreseeable future is to practice social distancing, to wear face coverings when in public and to stay at home except when transacting essential business. It’s been 100 years since global pandemic swept aside the more whimsical goals of man, and some of us are having trouble seeing the light.

Exhibit A might be the small but noisy crowds of people who have turned up at various state capitols of late shouting such inspired chants as “Fire Fauci,” as if world-renowned immunologists are to blame for our current plight. These self-styled freedom fighters often cite their constitutional rights and suggest that capitalism demands we all return to work lest we become infected with communism.

If these flag-draped dupes seem a bit remote to those of us in the enlightened state of California, consider our friends who pack the family SUV for a trip to our Coastside beaches. They don’t claim any high-minded political aim. For the most part, they are just bored. Antsy. Tired of sitting at home to stave off an epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of Americans and will kill many times that many unless we all take care of one another.

And we’re not talking about a few rule-breakers. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office says it delivered 400 verbal warnings to visitors like this on Sunday alone. Over the weekend, it wrote 201 parking tickets along beach roads decorated with temporary no-parking signs. A deputy actually had to give out 132 written warnings to those for whom a verbal warning was apparently not enough.

Why do so many defy rules designed to keep us all safe? Because they have been taught that their individual rights are more important than the well-being of society at large. With all due respect to the current virus killing so many people across the globe, this is the fundamental problem with America right now.

We are a nation of some 330 million souls heading in just about as many directions. While many people follow government health recommendations to the very best of their ability, perhaps more of us are interpreting those rules to fit our own aims. We meet friends at the beach and stay about six feet away — at least most of the time. We walk our dogs on crowded trails without covering our face. We visit our girlfriends because we’re almost part of the same household, or pay a landscaper to stop by just this once, or have a friend cut our hair because, look at it, for crying out loud.

As a result, we will be grappling with this disease for months if not years to come. We will pay the price for that rugged individualism we value so highly unless we put the best interests of society above our own.

Don’t hold your breath.

— Clay Lambert

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