Belligerence as Leadership

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by Joe Fitzgerald

About one in 16 American adults suffer with chronic pulmonary disease. Serious health guidelines say they’re the primary ones who should not wear masks. Some of them still can, but a figure of 6% is about the maximum of adults who shouldn’t wear them.

The governor of Virginia, elected to eradicate a subject that isn’t being taught, has decided that removing masks from public schools is the hill he wants to die on.

The two possibilities are that he truly believes life-saving mask mandates in public schools threaten personal freedom, or that he wants to pick a fight early on to exhibit his strength as governor.

The latter seems more likely. And while even some people are his side of the aisle are smart enough to see what he’s doing, a lot of the people who voted for him aren’t. They elected a reality TV star as president and now a financial speculator as governor. Somehow the image of a private equity manager struck them as more John Wayne than Jacob Marley.
How much of a logical leap is it to say a governor’s belligerent stance on masks enabled the woman who said she’d bring a weapon to a public school to keep her child from having to wear a mask?

The anti-maskers belong in the same category as those who say that fluoridation of water is a political conspiracy or that vaccines cause autism. I shudder to think what damage those ideas could have done if they’d been introduced for the first time in an age of NewsMax, Breitbart, Fox & Friends, and opportunistic, rapacious businessmen running for public office.

Follow-up stories and posts about the woman threatening the School Board said that she apologized. What could she have said? I didn’t realize offering to oppose a public-health precaution at the point of a gun in a school full of children was illegal? Or maybe she thought she was carrying out the will of her governor, just as those who trashed the temple of democracy a year ago thought they were working for the then-president.

The business the governor ran sought profit. That was its job. It didn’t seek decency and fairness for humanity. That wasn’t.

The mission of a state government is vastly different from the mission of a financial speculation firm. Understanding, leading, and improving life for nine  million Virginians requires a different skill set from increasing profits. And yet people keep voting for those who translate their skill at growing and leveraging money into growing and leveraging power.

Parents across Virginia are being encouraged today to disrupt public schools tomorrow, to accompany their children to school, empowered by a sense of entitlement and grievance, and a mandate from their governor.
There are people who see this as leadership. There will be many watching the turmoil and thinking that’s not what they voted for. But they did.

Joe Fitzgerald lives in Harrisonburg, where he served as mayor. This column has been republished with permission from “Still Not Sleeping.”