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Front Page - Friday, May 1, 2020

Rogers column: ‘Tyranny’ doesn’t mean what they think it means

A driver displays an alternate opinion as she passes protesters demonstrating at the Tennessee Capitol. Protesters were seeking the re-opening of businesses closed by the COVID-19 pandemic. - Photo by Mark Humphrey | AP

It’s not a flattering image for Tennessee: A widely published photo of a woman at the Capitol, part of a protest seeking to “liberate” the state from coronavirus restrictions, holding a sign saying this:

“Sacrifice the Weak. Re-open TN.” Hold that thought: Sacrifice the weak.

Since that event, a couple of major developments have been announced.

First, Gov. Bill Lee said he would not extend his safer-at-home executive order, paving the way for most of the state to begin a phased-in exit from constraints.

In doing so he ignored – or wasn’t aware of – a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington suggesting Tennessee should wait until May 20 before relaxing guidelines.

But hey – people have a constitutional right to visit tattoo parlors and bowling alleys, right?

Not all the state comes under the governor’s plan. The six counties that operate their own health departments – Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Shelby, Madison and Sullivan – are working in concert with the state to establish their own guidelines.

Toward that end, Mayor John Cooper announced a four-phased plan to return Nashville to normal – or as close to normal as is possible until a vaccine is developed, which could take up to two years.

“Living with COVID-19 means returning to work with COVID-19,” Cooper said in a statement outlining his plan. No date was specified for starting the plan, though May 1 has been mentioned as a possibility.

Moving to each subsequent phase in Cooper’s plan is predicated on the city’s meeting certain health metrics for 14 days, so at best we wouldn’t enter Phase 4 until midway in June or beyond.

The plan itself anticipates that the best is unlikely to occur.

“There is a probability that Nashville will experience continued outbreaks of COVID-19 that will force us to revert to earlier phases of the plan,” it states.

Phase 1 has restaurants and bars that serve food, along with retail stores and commercial businesses, reopening at half capacity.

Phase 2 would allow small gatherings of up to 50 people, including church services.

Phase 3 would allow the opening of bars and entertainment venues, along with gyms and fitness centers.

Phase 4 would allow for sports and large-event venues to reopen. (I’m hoping for some sort of Sounds season, however abbreviated. A summer without baseball is not a summer.)

Of particular note is that wearing masks in public is still recommended in Phase 4. And through it all, people 65 and older, along with others at high risk, are supposed to stay home.

In case it has escaped your notice, I am in that age group. I don’t anticipate staying at home until a vaccine is found. Then again, I’m in no particular rush to be around people who think it’s their right to ignore precautions.

More on that, perhaps, another time.

Now, back to that woman at the Tennessee Capitol with the “Sacrifice the Weak” sign. Protests of that sort have taken place in various places across the country, peopled by the same kind of folks who demand the “right” not to have their children vaccinated.

And, truth be told, if they were putting only themselves at risk I’d be happy with letting Darwinism thin the herd.

But they don’t just put themselves at risk, a point that seems lost on them.

The protests are encouraged, if not covertly organized, by national organizations like FreedomWorks that define any government action they disagree with as “tyranny.”

The tyranny claim reminds me of a line from Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (In his case, the word was “Inconceivable!”)

Rhetoric at the protests leans toward assertions of personal liberty being more important than other people’s safety.

“If you’re sick still come, it’s your right!” advised one poster about a gathering, along with “No mask needed.” God is seen as protection enough against the virus, suggesting, I suppose, that more than 200,000 dead worldwide were just insufficiently faithful.

“Sacrifice the Weak” strikes me as an especially ungodly proposition, but we’re left to draw our own conclusions as to the woman’s intent. Despite media coverage of the event, I have found no evidence that anyone asked her.

Here’s what I’d like to believe: The woman intended her sign to mean the opposite of what it appears to say. She displayed it ironically, to point out that a too-hasty relaxing of restrictions would inevitably put the most vulnerable people at even higher risk, an approach unacceptable in a civilized society.

If I’m wrong, and she meant what it appeared, then I offer an alternative: “Sacrifice the Stupid.”

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.