President Biden recently seemed to imply that if we can get to a 70 percent vaccination rate we can celebrate the Fourth of July.
And we don't call him "Slow Joe" for nothing.
Having recently spent a week on vacation in the Smoky Mountains, I can confidently say that certain parts of the country have jumped the gun without permission from our celebration authorizer-in-chief.
During that week we visited amusement parks (Dollywood), water parks, the honky-tonks on Broadway in Nashville, and a packed house at the Grand Ole Opry on Memorial Day weekend, and about the only evidence of a pandemic were "masks required" signs on doors of businesses that hadn't got around to taking them down yet and mask jokes from musicians between songs. There was no social distancing, no limited-capacity eateries, and only a dozen or so folks out of tens of thousands seen with masks on, indoors or out.
The hunch is that we could have been plopped down in the same places two summers ago and not have noticed any difference, except that things were perhaps even more cheek-to-jowl than usual on account of people itching to get out after having been pent up for so long.
We had taken some masks along, just in case, but they never made it out of the glove compartment. Indeed, the idea of slapping one across the nose and mouth to go about one's business now seems more like a bizarre ancient ritual than the routine it was just weeks ago.
The vaccines obviously had something to do with this apparent return to normalcy, but there was also a sense that Americans all along were going to be the ones who decided when enough was enough, that they would eventually conduct their own risk assessments whatever edicts flowed from would-be dictators masquerading as mayors and governors.
What we saw around us in eastern Tennessee probably would have been terrifying to Anthony Fauci but to us it looked an awful lot like something called freedom.
The fear that Americans would discard their liberties out of fear, that they would become permanently habituated to being ruled by decree under a perpetually shifting series of public health pretexts, suddenly seemed unfounded; if anything, the sense was that the circumstances that were allowed to prevail over the course of the past year would never be allowed again, whatever the nature of the threat. Having been there and done that, there seemed to be an overwhelming determination to never go again.
Much of the credit for all this must accordingly go to the governors of Florida and Texas, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, who proved that a return to normal was possible with minimal risk despite media fear-mongering and predictions of impending doom.
The "Neanderthals" got it right, as DeSantis and Abbott demonstrated that "following the science" led away from rather than toward forever school closings, vaccinated people wearing masks, and draconian lockdowns.
The biggest challenge all along was never getting through the pandemic but finding a way to end the terrified, cringing bunker mentality that it produced; being talked off the ledge was necessary at some point and DeSantis and Abbott showed great political courage and took great political risks to show us how to do it, and the rest of the nation is now poised to benefit from their examples.
It turns out that our fate is not to become craven, fearful creatures obsessed with "safety" at all cost and at the expense of all other values.
A remarkable shift in public perceptions has consequently occurred--those who were once unjustly pilloried by our left-leaning media (DeSantis and Abbott) are now justly praised, while those who were once unjustly praised (Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and especially New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo) are now justly pilloried.
As the dust settles the one time villains have become the heroes and the one time heroes the villains.
Whatever understandable uncertainty existed regarding the virus a year ago, we now know that lockdowns devastated economies without significantly reducing rates of transmission or fatality rates, that outdoor transmission is exceedingly rare (hence the silly masked joggers), that the virus very seldom spreads from surfaces (hence a lot of wasted spraying and wiping) and that young children are both at minimal risk from and hardly ever transmit it (hence no reason, other than teachers' unions' political muscle, for schools to have remained closed for so long).
And we now even have a growing pile of (admittedly circumstantial) evidence that the virus escaped from a lab rather than some scaly anteater carcass in a wet market, and that the Chinese commies have done throughout what commies always do best, which is lie and deceive.
Throughout our vacation, however, one thought kept penetrating--that we were profoundly grateful to live in "flyover country," where common sense rather than fear and hysteria had prevailed.
And that those of us fortunate to be in Arkansas rather than New York or Illinois or California in times like these should have also acquired a greater appreciation for the genius of American federalism.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.