Democracy and Us on the Other Side of COVID-19
Chapter Three in a Series.
April 8, 2020:
Am I the only person who has a problem with this? Please tell me if I am wrong.
Tuesday, April 7th, Governor Cuomo signed his latest of 14 Executive Orders exercising his (purported) authority under New York’s Executive Law to suspend and modify various state laws in his efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Most of this Executive Order 14’s directives routinely extended prior mandates and prohibitions through either April 29th or May 7th. Fair enough. Our fight rages on. Especially Downstate, COVID-19 shows little sign of abating.
But here’s my problem. Among the prior orders so extended is that which I call the “Birthday Party Ban,” the portion of Executive Order 202.10, originally issued March 23rd, which cancels or postpones all “non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason,” including, presumably, inside one’s own home.
Tuesday’s newest Executive Order extended the Birthday Party Ban through May 7th, making clear that the prohibition applies to “parties, celebrations, games, meetings or other social events.” Before the State Police barge through your door and disrupt that quiet dinner party or maybe your four-person Baptist Bible Study group, I’d hope they’d first stop by the Town Justice’s house and secure a warrant. But knowing this Governor, nothing’s assured.
Here’s the clincher: Tucked into Executive order 202.14 is this further nugget. Now, Governor Cuomo’s imperious admonitions have grown sharp teeth. From the date of his April 7th signing through May 7th (and who can tell, maybe, beyond):
“The fine for such violation by an individual who is participating in any gathering which violates the terms of the orders or is failing to abide by social distancing restrictions in effect in any place which is not their home shall not exceed $1,000.”
My heavens, at least the imposition of fines ends at the domicile’s threshold. (At least, for now.) But maybe not in the back yard? Or on the Enfield Elementary soccer field? Or the basketball court? Or maybe, the church sanctuary?
Failure to social distance now carries a price. I guess that’s one way to close the State Budget.
Don’t get me wrong. I support social distancing. We can work together, and do it voluntarily, to combat this disease. We can perform our task without a nagging Nanny-Governor shouting orders at us from his Executive Mansion or from some Downstate venue.
But I start with this question: Don’t we still have a New York State Legislature? Don’t we still have 63 State Senators and 150 Assemblypersons, brave souls whom we trust to enact our laws? Don’t we assign the Governor the power of the pen, and do so only after we’ve exercised our legislative will? Don’t our elected representatives—including those we choose from Upstate New York and not just virus-plagued New York City—carry any voice in actions to curtail our liberty? Apparently, in Andrew Cuomo’s world, the answer is a loud, Gotham-accented “No.”
We must all do our part to fight COVID-19. But a State Government that stands poised to sock you and me a cool Grand fine for a family backyard barbecue, yet nonetheless, still allows an Ithaca Wegmans Coffee Shop to remain open—where a positive-testing employee may have sprayed hundreds of us with COVID-19 germs—troubles me to the core.
Someday, perhaps only many months from now, we will win our battle against this unforgiving pandemic. Then, and only then, will our society, our nation, and our revered State of New York return to near-normalcy. Normalcy, albeit absent, I fear, some of our dearest friends.
But when we come out the other side, we must still have a Democracy to cling to. We must still place our trust in the Rule of Law, not the stern pronouncements of power-craving men. I sincerely hope we will, but I increasing fear we may not. Crisis makes for bad law and sets bad precedent. Amid our haste and our panic, I worry we may sacrifice principles equally as precious—perhaps more precious—than the lives this terrible disease will spirit away. Pray with me that we will not.
Freedom once lost is near impossible to regain. Remember that.