Independence Day is a celebration of the sacrifices that forged a nation. The American founders we honor for courage and inspired leadership — but not for their varying degrees of acceptance of slavery — put everything on the line in the pursuit of freedom from colonial rule. If the revolution had failed, revered men like George Washington and John Adams would have been hanged.
Subsequent generations of Americans have preserved our freedom time and time again by honoring the U.S. social contract — perhaps most significantly when men and women of every color and background joined together to defeat the fascist Axis Powers in World War II.
It’s worth taking a moment to remind ourselves what the “social contract” is. In a purely “dictionary” sense, it is the unspoken agreement to mutually support one another, placing a higher priority on national wellbeing than on total individual autonomy. We aren’t free agents. We pay taxes, obey duly enacted laws, some of us serve in the military or police, and in other ways give of ourselves in the service of the American ideal as defined by President Abraham Lincoln.
“Lincoln affirmed the ideals of America — freedom, justice, equality for all — and the personal ideals of honesty, integrity, command of facts, common sense and service to a greater good,” Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks observed in 2018. “It’s a big, noisy country. We will never have full consensus on every issue. But, unless we remember and keep faith in the American ideal and vote for leaders who embrace it, that ideal will crumble into nothing.”
Big, noisy July 4 celebrations on area beaches are affirmations of our shared confidence in one another. Though unpopular with many locals who rightfully object to explosions, litter, pollution and congestion, these annual revelries are without a doubt enthusiastic expressions of personal freedom.
This year, in the midst of a dangerous pandemic that is only marginally under control in most of Washington and Oregon, it both violated the social contract and represented a significant official error to throw Pacific and Clatsop county beaches open to unconstrained parties. Experience elsewhere in the nation and world indicates we’ll see resulting community spread of the coronavirus, with a likely surge in positive test results later this month.
We know that infections only sometimes cause serious illness, and even more rarely, death. In the absence of much illness or mortality — our counties have been lucky so far — it’s hard holding the line and resisting the pull back toward people being people. It’s certain every business needs every dollar we can make, while keeping our employees, our customers and ourselves safe. While waiting to see how much virus landed among us last weekend, it’s vital that we all redouble efforts to wear our protective gear, wash our hands and watch our distance.
Keeping this virus from spreading is a new part of our American social contract. If too many fail to act as responsible grownups, we all will pay a heavier price.
Acting on order from the governor, Washington state agencies are starting to impose unpaid furloughs on employees. In the past couple days, furlough announcements have come from the Departments of Commerce and Fish and Wildlife. Others will come soon. These cuts in employee hours will impact customer service, while loss of pay will filter down through our economy. Government payrolls are key sources of consumer spending throughout the state, supporting local stores, landlords and service providers.
Rollbacks in state, county and local government spending are only the start. Massive outlays for unemployment insurance and pandemic response, coupled with drastic declines in tax revenue, will be hitting hard in coming months and could reverberate for years.
It’s astounding that the governor and legislators haven’t seen a need for a special session to act on cuts in a more deliberate manner. Washington state Treasurer Duane Davidson recently said, “I contend that a call for an emergency legislative session should take place as soon as possible to see what the Legislature can do. This type of severe budget reduction traditionally derives from legislative action rather than such unprecedented executive order as we are seeing now.”
By neglecting to act before the new fiscal year began on July 1 “and enacting savings over a 12-month period, the current budget plan in the state appears to be spending down the reserves and trying to cram all the savings into the remaining six to three months of the budget. Or, massively increase taxes (yet again),” Jason Mercier of the right-leaning Center for Government Reform wrote July 3.
Coupled with the failure by Congress to act on additional pandemic relief before leaving on vacation until July 20, the decision to not conduct a special state legislative session distinctly smacks of fiddling while the nation and state burn with fever and its economic impacts.
Lastly for now on the subject of civic duty, Pacific County once again lags in participation in the federal census that the Constitution requires every 10 years.
As you will read elsewhere in this week’s Chinook Observer, there are some understandable reasons for this, including the fact many of us don’t get our mail at street addresses.
Census results determine important matters for each coming decade, from distribution of state and federal dollars, to where lines are drawn for legislative and congressional districts. An accurate count of everyone who lives here — including undocumented immigrants — can make a huge difference in community health.
If you haven’t yet, take five minutes to answer the simple questions at 2020census.gov. A 12-digit census ID number isn’t necessary. If for whatever reason it’s inconvenient to respond online, please answer your door when a census taker comes by later this summer; covid precautions will be taken into account.