George Pyle: Utahns love making rules that apply to other people

(Laura Seitz | Deseret News, pool) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert puts on a face covering after speaking at a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 9, 2020. The governor announced that he is expanding face mask requirements to all schools, but he did not make a general requirement statewide.

“At this time, I choose not to make this a [statewide] mandate. I’m going to give the people of Utah the opportunity to show what kind of people they are.”

— Utah Gov. Gary Herbert

We are sooooo dead.

The kind of people we have in Utah -- the kind who make the decisions, anyway -- like to make rules that limit the behavior of other people. Powerless people. People who don’t belong to the club.

So when logic and science strongly suggest that there should be statewide order compelling everyone to wear masks in public places, it isn’t just a few Faux News-watchers who demand their right to bare faces. It is a feeling that motivates such worthies as the Utah Legislature’s Senate president and House speaker.

Herbert has given the order for masks in public schools and in state-owned facilities, including offices, colleges and liquor stores. And he has granted requests to make the mandate apply to places where local officials really wanted it, including Salt Lake, Grand and Summit counties and in the city of Springdale, at the gateway of Zion National Park.

But he balked at doing the logical thing, making the mandate apply everywhere in the state. A state that is among the hardest hit among other states -- and nations -- in terms of per capita infection rates.

Herbert was following the advice of Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, who said, “In Utah, we prefer to encourage people to do the right thing rather than issuing mandates and demanding compliance.”

Of course, the words -- and whatever coronavirus particles might have accompanied them -- were scarcely out of the speaker’s mouth when online comments and social media resounded with the obvious retorts.

Oh, so we’re just going to “encourage,” rather than mandate or demand, people to stop at stop signs, drive slow near schools and refrain from murder and mayhem. And, when it comes time to pay our taxes, well, sorry. You didn’t encourage us well enough.

Not that Wilson’s attitude is unusual or surprising. After all, he leads a Legislature that is happy to make it difficult to buy liquor, because most of its members don’t, or get an abortion, because most of its members will never be pregnant.

But repeated attempts to crack down on people who fumble with their mobile phones while driving have failed. It doesn’t matter that research at the state’s own flagship university finds that such behavior is at least as dangerous as driving drunk. Utah lawmakers and their friends and family like to talk while driving, so it becomes an inalienable right.

And our political class really, really likes campaign contributions so, although Utah is pretty good about making it all public, there are no limits on this form of legalized bribery.

The objection to wearing masks, or being directed to wear masks, might make a little sense if the point of doing so was to protect the person wearing it from contracting the potentially deadly COVID-19. But it isn’t.

Wearing a mask is about the best trick we have so far to keep the virus in the lungs, blood, spit and brains of those already unfortunate enough to be carrying it and not letting it jump to other people.

So, by refusing to wear a mask in public, you are not putting your own life at risk, as you may argue you have a right to do. You are putting the lives of other people at risk. And that, under any system of faith, thought or philosophy worth knowing, is bad.

It is a point we argue, and a mistake we make, in more cases than this.

Those who oppose abortion claim that the right of the mother to control her own body is at least balanced by the rights of the embryo. They are wrong, but at least they have a claim that laws banning or severely limiting abortion aren’t there just to control women and make them second-class citizens, which is clearly what they are for, but intended to protect the innocent.

Those who like to show off their cool firearms at Walmart or McDonalds claim that lots of guns in public serve to protect the bearer and, maybe, sometimes, innocent bystanders, when Second Amendment fanatics have a chance to ride to their rescue. It’s total poppycock, of course, but is a way to appear something other than a case of arrested development.

Utah’s political class may really believe that they are immune to the coronavirus. That, like the royal entourage in Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” they can hide from the plague because, well, they are just special, untouched by the woes of those other people.

That didn’t work out so well in the story. And it is an idea that endangers all of us.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, claims sanctuary from the calories found in cookie dough ice cream.


Twitter, @debatestate