Gerald Elias: Masks don’t limit freedom, they protect it

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Kim Myers, assistant director of Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, shows off her Live On mask to promote a 3-year campaign to bump up education, provide resources, and change the culture around suicide and mental health Thursday. The statewide campaign, Live On, is a statewide effort to help Utahns struggling with isolation, job loss and increased stress and anxiety surrounding COVID-19.

Darin Bushman, a Piute County commissioner, likened Gov. Gary Herbert to Adolph Hitler. Why? Because the governor approved requests from two Utah counties for their residents to wear face masks indoors. I can’t imagine that an elected official like Bushman would be so ignorant of 20th century history as to truly believe that his Nazi comparison is anything more than rhetorical flourish.

Accusing decision-makers of being a Nazi or Hitler is almost de rigueur these days. Those opprobria have become so mainstream they’ve even been the source of comedy. Think “Springtime for Hitler” in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” or Seinfeld’s “soup Nazi.” Maybe the farther the memories of horror and pain from World War II recede from our collective memory the easier it is to flap our tongues.

What’s clear is that for one public official to call another Hitler or Nazi is still an effective headline-grabber. If Bushman had called Herbert another Deng Xiao Ping or Papa Doc Duvalier it might have left people scratching their heads. So Bushman went for the gold, knowing he would get what he wanted: attention. After all, it’s election season and candidate for governor Greg Hughes is his guy.

One troubling aspect of Bushman’s Nazi assault is the lack of proportion. Rep. Phil Lyman, coming to the commissioner’s defense, tried to nuance it.

Lyman tweeted, “Hitler didn’t start out killing Jews, Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hungarians, homosexuals, the disabled, political critics, Poles, Soviets, and Gypsies; that was after he asked politely for people to ‘just wear the dam [sic] arm band.”

Maybe that’s an over-simplification, because, judging from old newsreels, I don’t think Hitler ever asked politely for anything. But Lyman made an important point. Hitler’s strategy to deprive people of their rights was indeed insidious. And that’s why I would expect Lyman and Bushman, so exercised over face masks, to be ardent supporters of Black Lives Matter. Compared to wearing a mask in order to go to restaurants, 400 years of being denied one’s human rights is a much bigger big deal. Isn’t it?

Bushman was off the mark on another angle. Not only did his comments devalue the memory of millions of holocaust victims, it dishonored Americans who gallantly served in World War II.

On June 6, Rep. Chris Stewart tweeted: “Today marks the 76th anniversary of D-day. A day that changed the course of WWII, as thousands of men fought for freedom. May we never forget the service & sacrifice of the Greatest Generation and the immeasurable debt we owe them.”

This statement clearly made an impression on Bushman, because he retweeted it. My father was one of those men, but I’m not sure he would have been as enthusiastic about liberating Europe if the mission had been to save the free world from face masks.

I agree with Bushman that Herbert (and his second-in-command, what’s-his-name), are deserving of censure, but for the opposite reason. They, the Trump administration, and those governors (mostly Republican) who recklessly opened their economies against all their health experts’ pleadings have failed miserably as responsible public servants. They’ve done such poor jobs that the United States, notwithstanding MAGA hoopla, has done by far the worst job of every developed country to protect its citizens from the virus.

Bushman wrote the following on his webpage for the American Land’s Council: “John Adams famously said once that ‘Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.’”

Look at the stubborn facts, commissioner. Face masks save lives.

My philosophical disagreement with Bushman and Lyman is that they consider wearing face masks to be a constriction of freedom, whereas I believe it is an expansion of freedom. The lives of my over-60 demographic group, along with people with medical conditions, are at risk if we contract the disease. If the general public wore face masks I would not be a hostage in my own home. I would have freedom: the freedom to go to a restaurant, to a park, to a concert.

For all of us patriots, including Lyman and Bushman, let’s remember the Declaration of Independence. Among humanity’s three basic inalienable rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — life comes first. Wearing a face mask abrogates none of them. So, the next time your public official asks you to save a life by wearing a face mask, please think hard before you call them a Nazi. They’re protecting your life and mine. It’s a right that belongs to us all.

(Keith Johnson | Tribune file photo) Violinist Gerald Elias June 12, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Gerald Elias is a Utah author and musician.

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