Opening up Maine: To be, or not to be

By Reade Brower | May 07, 2020

Gov. Janet Mills has taken a reasonable and conscientious approach to COVID-19, so in opening Maine back up for business one might expect more of the same.

It’s hard to please everyone, but Mills has been a consensus builder and taken a bipartisan approach, unlike her predecessor, in an effort to show cooperation often reaps benefits where “might is right” isn’t always the best approach.

She listened to gun owners, adding gun stores to the essential list and has taken a conservative, yet sensible approach allowing statistics and her health advisers to lead.

Not all agree her three-stage reopening program is the right medicine; some want it to happen more quickly (as our president trumpets that the cure is worse than the disease, encouraging people to actively congregate to protest governors who, like Mills, have taken sane and reasonable baby steps to open us back up slower than he wants).

Weighing risks and rewards meets commonsense principles. Time will tell if states with more aggressive approaches see lingering COVID-19 effects or a second wave. Normally caution is not my favorite route, but this pandemic is not the norm.

Like toothpaste, you can’t put COVID-19 back into the already squeezed tube.

On one side, those feeling Mills’ caution will bring long-term ruin to our economy, destroying restaurants, hotels and tourist businesses that would choose to take the chance the pandemic will die down, rather than ramp up, in order to save the summer.

There are others who think this conservative approach is too soon, feeling discomfort watching people begin the “new normal” enjoying activities like golf, group running, picnics on the beach or getting haircuts.

The measured approach is one that makes sense but may please the fewest people — some wanting more freedom, others wanting more protection. Voicing opinions is fine, as is creative defiance — one of the favorite moments in the early ordered quarantining in Italy were scenes of singing from balconies and ringing of bells that allowed emotional connection to take place when physical distancing was the rule.

To congregate in crowds, unmasked and unruly, may or may not be a “right”; it might be the price of living in civilized society with rules about freedom. You can’t drive your car as fast as you want because the damage you do might not just be to yourself, but to others. COVID-19 is the same. Getting yourself infected isn’t a right if it might mean denying someone else their life.

The commonsense piece is hard because everyone has different thresholds of reasonable.

States have long argued the merits of seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws; protective masks are now entering into a similar scenario where they are needed not only to protect ourselves, but also others. Free societies are often in search of balance.

When we shy away from middle ground, we end up in anarchy or totalitarianism.

Like it, or not, our governor’s approach is middle-of-the-road and relies on science to lead the way, with common sense her thermometer.

This past weekend we got back a slice of “normal,” but it was hard. Mark Twain said “golf was a good walk spoiled” but some would not agree, thinking it a step up from walking the breakwater or hiking Mount Battie. The challenge was not the social distancing or abiding by the new rules (the clubhouse and restaurant closed, the practice putting green as well, and the cup now extended so no reaching in the hole for your ball or the need of communal touching of the flag); it was the after golf socializing in the parking lot, now forbidden by the no-congregating rule, that proved tricky.

The small group run Sunday was also pretty good, at least until the group “selfie” at the end got a little too tight.

In both situations, there was rule-stretching but, like hugging, we will find a place where we can honor the principles over the rules. This is a fine line — a dance none of us has ever done before.

Honoring our own freedom, while protecting others who feel vulnerable and would prefer rules over principles, is the slippery slope called life during COVID-19.

We have a governor who is straddling the line and doing her job weighing both sides, relying on science and experts. For those who want more, there is no more than that — having former Gov. LePage and President Trump jeering instead of cheering amplifies the rhetoric and confuses an already muddled road.

Discourse is the strategy Russia purportedly used getting involved in our 2016 elections; it makes sense when an enemy tries to disrupt, but when it is coming from within, it is troubling.

This is a time of great opportunity for Maine people to step up and consider finding the middle road akin to kindness — with everything else discord.


“The being cannot be termed rational or virtuous, who obeys any authority, but that of reason.” — Mary Wollstonecraft, reformer and writer (1759-1797)

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 07, 2020 11:37

"This is a time of great opportunity for Maine people to step up and consider finding the middle road akin to kindness — with everything else discord."  Absolutely.  And it depends on us all.  May we take the opportunity to make us once again the United States of America in November. Before that just be kind.

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