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‘Bacchanalia of buffoonery’? Harsh words, but reopening businesses before coronavirus is under control fits that description to a 'b' | COMMENTARY

A ReOpen Maryland supporter hangs out a sunroof as a masked police officer directs traffic around Church Circle in Annapolis on Saturday, April 18. ReOpen Maryland is protesting the mandated closure of businesses due the coronavirus pandemic.
A ReOpen Maryland supporter hangs out a sunroof as a masked police officer directs traffic around Church Circle in Annapolis on Saturday, April 18. ReOpen Maryland is protesting the mandated closure of businesses due the coronavirus pandemic. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

We never expected to find ourselves defending a social media post from Len Foxwell, chief of staff for Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. After all, we’ve been the subject of them in the past. But calls for his firing from the Maryland Republican Party, after he posted on Facebook last week about people defying coronavirus safety measures, have stirred our concern.

Mr. Foxwell has angered quite a few folks, many of them gun-toting, judging from the Wild West memes they’re posting in response to his comments, which GOP Party Chairman Dirk Haire called “extraordinarily inappropriate and representative of a base and destructive mindset.”

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So what did he say that was so offensive?

People who protest over social distancing shutdowns should be lured into a “big, big warehouse (we’ll call it something classy to suit their refined sensibilities, like ‘American MAGA Platinum Palace’),” he wrote online. “Get them in, bar the door and then let Darwin work his magic.”

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A little survival of the fittest, in other words.

We’ll admit, after watching the line of trucks and cars driving around State and Church circles in Annapolis Saturday under the banner of “Reopen Maryland," a similar thought crossed our minds, but not in Mr. Foxwell’s death-match kind of way. Those who defy the stay home orders are already knee-deep in a game of natural selection: Are they among the hearty and smart-enough-to-stay-inside who will survive COVID-19, or are they too “unevolved”?

The restrictions that Maryland and most other states have been living with are no fun, we’ll concede that point. They are causing significant hardship. There are business owners facing ruin, and unemployed workers struggling to make ends meet. There are even curious twists of the lockdown, such as how gun shops and firing ranges are considered critical, while mom-and-pop Main Street stores are shuttered. Should the rules be tweaked? A case could be made.

But that’s not what the protesters were doing. Their message wasn’t to adjust the lockdown, it was to rescind it entirely. “We are petitioning our governor, Larry Hogan, to immediately reopen our state’s business, educational and religious institutions,” reads the organizers’ online petition.

Do they really think rescinding the stay-at-home order now, when health care practitioners don’t have sufficient tests — even with the South Korea influx — to determine who has or has had the virus, when there isn’t enough protective gear, when cases and fatalities continue to climb is a good idea? Do they believe that customers will flock to stores and restaurants or be comfortable sending their kids back to school under these circumstances?

We strongly suspect the protesters don’t believe any of that. Why? Because the resolute souls demonstrating in Annapolis stayed in their vehicles, many wearing face coverings, and they generally kept appropriate social distances. In fact, they acted like people who had gotten the message that COVID-19 is a serious disease and that taking proper precautions could spare their lives.

Yet their protest expressed exactly the opposite view. In psychology, this is called cognitive dissonance. According to Mr. Foxwell, such actions are “a bacchanalia of buffoonery.”

The best we can say about this is that the protestors may well have come by their cognitive dissonance honestly and from no less a personage than President Donald Trump who tweeted Friday: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA," “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and then “LIBERATE VIRGINIA." These were references to similar protests calling on the governors of those states to rescind stay-at-home orders. Note that all three have Democratic governors, and Michigan is regarded as a key swing state in the 2020 election.

As unemployment numbers skyrocket, the president is headed toward an “I want the economy back on track, but those governors won’t let me” argument — now that someone has explained to him that U.S. presidents don’t call all the shots. Protests in Annapolis serve his purposes.

Lucky for us, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has expressed little sympathy for the protesters or the president’s pushiness. He understands it’s far too early to talk about rescinding orders.

And Comptroller Franchot, who hopes to be the state’s next governor, appears to understand that Maryland voters aren’t much concerned about offending those who are willing to risk the lives of others with their own selfishness.

“I remain 100% supportive of Len Foxwell and the exceptional work he continues to do for me and for the people of Maryland,” Mr. Franchot said in a statement. “He is an exceptional public servant, a dear family friend, and I look forward to his continued service as my chief of staff for years to come.”

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Good for him. We may have our disagreements from time to time, but we can faithfully report that neither man is among the unevolved.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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