A Judge's View: 'Mob rule' will only make matters worse
One of the songs popular during my misspent youth had the refrain, “If you listen to fools, the mob rules.” Unfortunately, it seems like the mob is ruling a little too much these days.
I get it: A lot of people are angry about a lot of different things. We are living through a time of challenges unprecedented in our lifetimes. We are simultaneously dealing with a serious public health crisis, a major economic collapse, subtle and overt threats from foreign powers, and the worst political polarization I can remember. There are too many days lately that feel like the entire world is on fire.
Social media certainly doesn’t help. Spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook, and it is mighty easy to lose all faith in mankind. Rage-tweeting and trolling have become part of our culture. Each individual’s anger feeds off the anger of others and seems to grow exponentially. People say things on these platforms, often behind a shield of anonymity, that they would never think of saying to another human being’s face. Worse, our intelligence community has proven that some of the most inflammatory and misleading statements are actually from agents of hostile governments trying to manipulate us, and they will keep doing it until we stop letting it succeed.
Virtual rage is bad enough, but lately more and more of that anger is spilling into the streets, most of it currently directed at shelter-in-place orders. All of us have endured and sacrificed during the pandemic, in hopes that social distancing will keep COVID-19 from overwhelming our health care system and buy our scientists time to develop treatment or even a vaccine. We all want to go out to restaurants or theaters or ballparks. We all want our stores to be open and our kids to be back in school. We all want people to be working and paying their bills.
But these temporary restrictions to protect the elderly and vulnerable from harm do not make our government an oppressive regime, no matter what some people, often fueled by junk science and wild conspiracy theories, suggest. Even with the current COVID-19 restrictions, we live in a society with more freedom than most of the world will ever know. Ironically, the assembly of these angry crowds will likely further spread the disease and, as a result, delay the return to normal we all want so much.
This is the time for cooler heads to prevail. Storming state capitol buildings, wearing tactical gear and armed to the teeth, is not the answer. There is no upside to squaring off with police and waiting for a tragedy to happen. You’re not a “patriot” if you threaten to overthrow the government by force. The institutions of government need to be allowed to do their business without fear of violence. Tell your elected officials how you feel with a letter or phone call, not by shouting outside their offices. Hold those leaders accountable at the ballot box if you disagree with their decisions.
We can get through this. Don’t let the mob rule.
Dale Harris is a 6th Judicial District judge in the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth.