I’m not a religious man – like the old Tom T. Hall song, “Me and Jesus got our own thing going” – but I understand the biblical concept of sowing and reaping – and the importance of acceptance and forgiveness – concepts that seem quaint and antiquated in a nation horribly divided by, of all things, one’s vaccination status.
This now engrained divisiveness was never more evident than last weekend when I posted a heartfelt condolence on the loss of local radio icon Marc Bernier to a social media platform – a natural human response to loss – something I hoped would comfort his family, friends, and associates – a gesture that was met with the basest, most despicable form of hatred and ridicule, a low point even in the anything goes environment of the internet.
Trust me. It takes a lot to shock my conscience – and I can give as good as I get on matters of politics and public policy – but these post mortem and ad hominem attacks on Mr. Bernier, ostensibly because of his opposition to government mandates and a personal reluctance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, defied what I know of common decency and the idea of empathy as a foundational aspect of our shared humanity.
Most of the vile comments and laughing emojis were sent by anonymous posters, hiding behind fabricated profiles, which allowed the faceless cowards to provoke the emotions of others – many grieving the loss of a friend – without fear of accountability or retribution.
I found this goading, bullying, and personal disparagement disgraceful – but not surprising.
Nothing surprises me anymore.
Several people messaged me offline asking that I delete the hurtful remarks – and despite my natural aversion to censorship in all forms – I removed some of the more outrageous comments.
It was then I realized that it is impossible to eliminate hatred and fear with the push of a button, and my post was not the only one that prompted a venomous response from those oh-so-virtuous keyboard warriors.
On Wednesday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal eulogized Mr. Bernier in an editorial entitled “Long time voice is silenced by COVID,” which read, in part:
“It’s a tragedy that, in death, Bernier is being denied that courtesy. As a vocal opponent of vaccination, his death of COVID-19 has drawn mockery from people who try to reduce his death to one factoid. The comments turned so vicious that WNDB was forced to moderate comments on its Facebook page.”
How did we get here?
Perhaps more important, what are the long-term ramifications of this cruelty – clearly defined battlelines with American’s taking sides – Red vs. Blue, pro-vaxx vs. anti-vaxx, Republican vs. Democrat – where family, friends, and neighbors are now willing to dehumanize their perceived enemy in this pitched ideological war?
Perhaps the seeds of our dysfunction were sowed the minute a public health crisis was seized by self-serving politicians during an election year, a time when the concept of statesmanship has been replaced by demagogues and virtue-signaling elitists – firebrands on all sides of the political spectrum – who have now brought the fringe elements to the mainstream with a constant “us vs. them” drumbeat – further dividing the masses along racial, ethnic, political, patriotic, and economic lines.
And our local and national media was all too willing to jump on the bandwagon and sensationalize the crisis to sell newspapers. . .
Now, one’s personal healthcare choices – once the exclusive domain of the individual and his or her doctor – have become a flashpoint, an excuse for prejudicial demonization, a moral justification for discrimination and intolerance.
On Tuesday evening, the Volusia County School Board met in an emergency session to discuss the imposition of a “mask mandate” – something many angry parents saw as a personal affront to their liberties, their parental rights, and a reversal of the optional policy they were told to expect when school began last month.
I don’t want to argue the virtue of the board’s intent – but it was perceived by many as a “bait and switch” maneuver with few choices remaining for those who seek to keep face coverings optional.
In my view, this continued confusion and rancor is the natural result of an abysmal lack of effective communication between Volusia County school administrators and the parents, students, teachers, and staff who have grown suspicious of the district’s mercurial approach to any crisis – and its insular, circle-the-wagons mentality when dealing with criticism and outside input.
Perhaps most confounding to both sides of the issue – in a meeting that quickly descended into bedlam, with angry parents shouting from outside the board chamber, others offering boisterous jeers and comment from the gallery – was that the “emergency” mandate apparently designed to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus was given an effective date of September 7 with a week-long grace period to give parent the opportunity to obtain medical opt outs for their children.
That means the board’s urgent mandatory mask order won’t be enforced until September 13 – with an end date on or about October 12.
Confused? Me too.
I happen to be a proponent of vaccinations and personal protective measures – having received the jab at my first opportunity – because, after doing the research, it was the right decision for me – and I wear a mask when appropriate and wash my hands with a frequency that boarders on compulsion.
That’s my decision.
I could care less about your personal healthcare choices – until you shove them down my throat.
However, I abhor government mandates and diktats – especially in a time when our public health agencies have become uncommunicative, and speculation runs rampant.
In my view, the idea that local, state, and federal entities would stop reporting hard data, replacing sound recommendations and education with the removal of personal choice and subjugate citizens to conform to state ordered inoculations and practices against our free will is frightening.
Now, it appears logical discussion and debate has been lost in the fog of battle and the din of speculation and conjecture.
Are the unvaccinated infecting the vaccinated?
Are the vaccinated infecting the unvaccinated?
Do cloth face coverings have any significant affect on viral transmission?
Is it morally and ethically acceptable to shun someone based upon their vaccination status – to diminish their worth and socially ostracize them – even to the extreme of denying advanced medical care or publicly mocking their death?
What ultimate responsibility does the media, and our elected “leadership,” bear for their role in hijacking a public health crisis and turning it into a political shit-show, then fanning the flames of divisiveness for purely self-serving reasons?
The answers change hourly. . .
All I know with certainty is that, in the last few days, I have had both vaccinated and unvaccinated friends succumb to complications of COVID-19 – and their loss is equally profound and heartbreaking.
The seeds of our dysfunction have sprouted – and the invasive fruit is spreading like an aggressive malignancy – sending its foul roots into the very heart of American society.
If we ever stop fighting amongst ourselves long enough – perhaps we might take a minute to consider who planted them – and why?