It was a powerful moment, maybe a defining moment of Jared Polis’s governorship.
During Polis’s April 15 media conference, Charles Ashby of Grand Junction’s Daily Sentinel asked, “We’re hearing a lot of reports around here, and I know I’ve seen some stuff going on statewide, about neighbors reporting on other neighbors for not following the orders. I’m seeing a lot of rebellion out here against your orders, which have been called tyrannical, against local health department orders, being equated to Nazism. How do you react to that? What do you say to those people who are clearly getting frustrated with this stay-at-home order?”
Polis, Colorado’s first Jewish governor, responded eloquently and tearfully. “As a Jewish American who lost family in the Holocaust, I’m offended by any comparison to Nazism,” he said as the emotion of the tense times welled up. “We act to save lives, the exact opposite of the slaughter of six million Jews, and many gypsies and Catholics, and gays and lesbians, and Russians and so many others.” He said to the person who defies the orders, “You’re putting yourself and your loved ones in jeopardy, and you’re prolonging the economic pain and difficulties that your fellow Coloradans face.”
For obvious reasons, one word of the question stuck out. The overheated rhetoric about Nazism is unfortunate, not only because it is grossly unfair to Polis and the other political leaders responsible for the state and regional orders, but because it pushes aside the legitimate questions woven through Ashby’s remarks.
If you’re not bothered by neighbors ratting out their neighbors, you’re not paying attention. Perhaps you’ve seen the despicable note that someone left at a neighbor’s house, one that creepily detailed the neighbor’s movements and demanded, “STOP LEAVING YOUR HOME.” There’s just one detail that the ominous note overlooks: The person targeted is in fact a 911 operator, working hard to keep others safe.
Lt. Jim Sokolik of the Colorado Springs Police Department said that various people stupidly called 911 to narc on their neighbors. He said his department got “calls about ‘my neighbor’s out in his yard, he should be in his house’ or ‘I saw a car drive down the street.’ These are not violations of the governor’s order.”
Polis has not encouraged people to turn in neighbors, and I don’t find anything like that on the state’s COVID-19 web page. But Jefferson County’s web page features a convenient form to “report a violation” of the orders. Denver’s page has a section to answer, “How do I report a business that I believe should not be open, or that is not practicing social distancing?” Seems to me there’s more than enough substance to Ashby’s question.
If not for the legitimately upsetting wording of the question, perhaps Polis could have shared some stern words for those Coloradans who are ratting out their neighbors not only for violating the orders, but for doing things that aren’t even violations. Is Colorado really the place where neighbor turns suspiciously against neighbor?
Surely it is possible to criticize House Minority Leader Patrick Neville for his choice of terms in criticizing the orders while recognizing the legitimacy of his concerns. Speaking on the radio, Neville said the orders lead to a “Gestapo-like mentality.” He later changed his tune, telling the Denver Post, “I should have said authoritarian. And I think authoritarian is still accurate.”
It’s pretty hard to argue that putting most of the state in what amounts to house arrest and shutting down large swaths of the economy, on the authority of a few elected leaders, is not in some sense “authoritarian.” The Online Etymology Dictionary says “authoritarian” means “favoring imposed order over freedom.” Does anyone wish to argue that the stay-at-home measures are not “imposed order?” At the same time, an emergency order imposed for a few weeks intended to stop a deadly disease is hardly comparable to an “authoritarian” state that consistently oppresses its people for no good reason.
Can we find no common ground or mutual understanding here? Must everything be so hyperpartisan, all the time?
Democrats who are shocked—shocked!—to find that their political opponents sometimes use overheated Nazi references might occasionally glance in the mirror. If I had a nickel for every time a Democrat called Donald Trump a Nazi I could shore up the state budget during this economic catastrophe.
Let us roll back the clock a few years to 2010. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had signed a bill that, as Politico summarizes, “requires police officers to ask people for identification papers if they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ to believe that someone is an undocumented immigrant.” It was a highly controversial bill and one I opposed.
You’ll never guess what Polis, then in Congress, said of Brewer’s policy. Naturally, he played the Nazi card: “It is absolutely reminiscent of second class status of Jews in Germany prior to World War II when they had to have their papers with them at all times and were subject to routine inspections at the suspicion of being Jewish. I think it’s a very fair comparison and I hope that we’re not headed on the same trajectory that Nazi Germany was.”
I appreciate and accept the argument that, given the disease ran away from us, limits on social interaction were necessary to slow the spread of the horrid coronavirus and prevent the overload of the hospital system. But I also think that the stay-at-home orders overreached in important ways and imposed needless and arbitrary burdens on countless businesses and individuals.
Just a thought here: How about people chill out, stop tattling on each other, stop pushing the limits of Godwin’s Law, realize that these are incredibly tense times full of pain and uncertainty, and attempt to set aside the screaming matches in favor of nuanced discussions. Let’s try to remember that we are Coloradans, and we’ll continue to be neighbors long after this is over.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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