What's the reason behind those drivers who cut in front of you without flashing a turn signal? Or the grocery shopper with the overflowing cart standing in front of you in the checkout aisle for 10 items or less? Or how about the one on a cell phone at the airport, speaking loudly enough for everyone to hear from Gates 14 through 17?
Did you ever stop to think that these might all be the same people? That the person imposing his voice like a foghorn on poor airline passengers is the same one lacking the courtesy to signal which way his or her car is going to turn? Or who thinks nothing of opening the driver’s window to toss out a food wrapper or cigarette butt?
And if for once you’d like to vent and give all the inconsiderates a piece of your mind, you can likely find clusters of them gathered these days in St. Paul, Lansing, Sacramento, Honolulu, and other state capitals, protesting the coronavirus restrictions imposed by their governors.
For while they may appear on the TV news to be diverse groups with respect to gender, age, and choice of firearm, they all have one important thing in common: self absorption.
Let’s think for a minute about what they are doing (for certainly they themselves are not bothering to). Governors have issued temporary orders to try to slow the number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. Loosely enforced, they are more like strong suggestions than edicts, all conceived for the common good. In other words, we are being asked to stay at home as much as possible, to keep six feet apart when we must go out, and to wear a filtering mask, all in order to protect the health and very lives of our neighbors, elders, young children, and fellow citizens.
But many who are protesting the closings and lockdowns and who are screaming at state police are objecting that their freedom to eat a cheeseburger inside a restaurant, or guzzle beers with a dozen pals at a picnic in a public park, is more important than preventing the deaths of their neighbors. Is more important than the 320,000 lives and counting that have been lost to this dread global disease.
Take a close look at them on cable news. Watch their faces. Their mouths. They appear angry, shameless, vituperative. And I must admit that each seems sincere and passionate, but that’s because the mission is so near and dear to their hearts: the almighty self.
Pandemic, schmandemic! they are essentially saying. Sure, I’ve seen the numbers of sick and dying. But what about me? I’m sick, too — of not having anyplace to go on a Saturday night!
Others say they want to go back to work, pleading that they are broke with no money for food — while carrying an $800 AK-47 rifle.
Though they walk and talk like it, they are probably not sociopaths in the clinical sense. Merely the same careless, selfish, thoughtless individuals we know who talk in movie theaters and think both armrests are theirs. Except that now, their lack of consideration is not just ruining other people’s enjoyment at a movie theater but potentially is causing them to become infected and die.
The protesters do seem to realize they’re in the minority, as some have waved Confederate flags, have displayed swastikas, have worn MAGA hats and nooses, and have toted gigantic guns to garner as much attention and TV camera exposure as possible.
An ABC News-Ipsos poll showed that, indeed, a large majority of Americans are on board with coronavirus restrictions and are willing for them to continue, despite hardships, to do what’s necessary for the good of society.
It’s that kind of self-sacrifice that allows the rest of us to take tremendous pride in our fellow citizens, essential workers, first responders, and health care workers around the country — while shaking our head in piteous tolerance of the selfish few and their tantrums on the steps of capitol buildings.
David McGrath is formerly of Hayward, is the author of "South Siders," is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page, and is an emeritus English professor for the College of DuPage in Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.