If Americans had responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the way far too many of us are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, not only would Osama bin Laden still be alive, he’d be having tea at the White House.
Not that everything our nation did over the last 20 years is something to be proud of. Torture. CIA black sites. Guantanamo Bay. The Department of Homeland Security. Two decades of the slog of war in Afghanistan and a totally unjustified foray into Iraq.
But the orgy of journalistic remembrances we’ve just lived through does bring into focus how much we have changed. How service to a greater good was the picture of patriotism then and how an irrational and potentially deadly selfishness is ascendant now.
Then, people flew flags, gave blood, gave to the Red Cross, became firefighters, joined the Marines, raised children who joined the Marines, held annual memorials, built impressive monuments and museums. It was all about us.
Now, it’s all about me, me, me. I don’t wanna wear a mask. You can’t make me get a vaccination. We’ve become, to all outward, social-media appearances, a nation of petulant 12-year-olds. And too many of our elected officials, almost exclusively Republicans, are going along.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes and Sen. Mike Lee have shamefully knuckled under to the know-nothing fringe of their own Republican Party. They are rallying to the idea that President Joe Biden’s plan to use OSHA as a tool to require vaccinations or weekly tests as a workplace safety requirement is somehow a threat to our inalienable rights, when the opposite is true.
The Utah Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee committee hosted a public bull session Wednesday, kicking around ideas for blocking the Biden order, giving underserved credence to the idea that vaccination is a personal choice affecting only the person with the poke in the arm.
The fact that our leaders are not taking every opportunity available to tell their constituents what a bald-faced lie that is is disgraceful. Our grandchildren - if any of them are left - will marvel at just how foolish people can be when they are without real leadership.
It is, or should be, incumbent on every incumbent to explain that accepting the responsibility to vaccinate is a basic requirement of civilization. That you get the jab for me, and I get it for you, and we both get it for children who are too young or for people who are immunocompromised and run a significant risk of death in culture of irrational selfishness.
Utah politicians, including state Rep. Paul Ray and Sen. Jake Anderegg, who promote anti-vax medical and biological ignorance — who sit still for the idea that another wave of sickness and death is less threatening to the economy than simple round of vaccinations — pose a clear and present danger to our society and have proven themselves unfit for public office. Not that that is likely to matter to their (surviving) constituents come the next election.
At the least, they should be honest about it and change the name of their panel to the Death and Human Disservices Committee.
It might make sense that the lessons of the War on Terror would have left many Americans with the distrust of government, of experts and of government experts. Two decades of being told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi agents when they were really from Saudi Arabia, of accepting the Patriot Act and authorizations of military force and warrantless wiretaps might well leave our national dialog overshadowed by suspicion.
To be fair to Lee, it should be noted that while many on his side of the aisle have been totally accepting of every Big Brother, it’s-for-your-own-good, measure since 9/11, our senior senator has been bravely skeptical of all that rot.
So now the nation that honors the sacrifice of the passengers of Flight 93 — the normal Americans who crashed themselves into the Pennsylvania countryside rather than let their aircraft become the missile that would destroy the Capitol or the White House — is witnessing passengers who have to be duck-taped to their seats because of their violent objection to mask rules.
Sweet Zeus, people. No one is asking you to run into a burning skyscraper, give up a lucrative football career to join the Army, crash the airplane you are on, torture someone, be tortured, or so much as take off your shoes.
All we need is for people to make the most minor of efforts to protect your own life, the lives of your loved ones, your co-workers, teachers, students, customers and a bunch of people you’ll never know. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, if you are a Utah Republican, it is.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has a vivid memory of the whole town showing up for polio vaccinations. And of not having polio.