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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Protesters are not who they think they are

Protesters gather outside of the Ohio State House

Protesters gather outside of the Ohio State House in Columbus, Ohio on April 19, 2020, to protest the stay home order that is in effect until May 1. Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

The ideal libertarians, those perfect American icons upon whom none ought to tread, would have practically no idea that the coronavirus had led to restrictions on how they conduct their movements and how they spend their moments. Living on land they own and farm, pulling their own teeth and dyeing their own hair, making their own artisanal beer and everything bagels, doctoring their own wounds and darning their own socks, caring for their own animals and creating their own music and shoes and sonnets and high-grade marijuana.

These folks get to don the "Don't Tread On Me" T-shirt they made themselves, but they only feel the need when politicians try to raise taxes or fees unfairly, or storm their homestead to confiscate their deliciously sticky skunk weed, or maybe ban the latest issue of Hustler they've been awaiting so eagerly.

That's because ideal libertarians are either farmers living in the United States 225 years ago, or modern people living so much like most Americans did back then that they can make a reasonable claim of self-sufficiency and tell the rest of society to leave them be.

Such people don't infringe on the liberty or safety of others. That's the price of admission of ethical libertarianism. And hardly anyone demanding the lifting of restrictions imposed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and flying the Gadsden Flag in protest is paying that price.

Most of us are so interdependent now that the modern slogan must be “Let us not tread on one another.” And a good citizen worries first about how he or she harms others via the exercise of freedom, not how he or she is harmed.

Police officers have a right to be able to do their jobs as safely as they possibly can. So do nurses and doctors. So do grocery store employees and paramedics, and train conductors and all the other front-line employees working so hard during this crisis.

And our fellow shoppers have a right to the reasonable protections the government has supported. So do our fellow mass transit riders and pedestrians.

Whose freedom am I impinging on by refusing to follow or support rules that scientists say give us the best chance of stopping the spread of a deadly pandemic? Practically everybody’s.

In order to reasonably support rugged individualism, you must first be a rugged individualist. Many people, early in the life of our nation, were, which is why libertarianism has resonance. They lived in rural areas, and provided almost exclusively for their own limited needs.

They didn’t shop at Costco, or get weekly manis and pedis, or go to O'Hoolibees for happy hour or ride on trains and subways. And when they got sick, they didn’t go to hospitals, because there were hardly any hospitals. Their business was largely their own. They had a right to live as they wished. How many do that now?

It's mostly not fair to attack the people storming our state capitals and blockading roads to protest restrictions keeping them from work, because many are hurting. They need to provide for their families and hold on to whatever stability they have, and the restrictions and inaccesibility of government aid make that difficult or impossible. But they are not modern day "Rosa Parks," as economist Stephen Moore has disgustingly suggested in comments President Donald Trump has supported.

They are people who are putting rights that don't exist over responsibilities toward others they won't honor.

And that's not libertarianism, or conservatism, or freedom fighting. It's just selfishness dressed up in a sloganed T-shirt.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.