America has been known as a country of devout individualism since its foundation, with Alexis De Tocqueville commenting in 1835 in “Democracy In America” that the country breeds the dangers of “rugged individualism,” leading to majoritarian politics.
That individualism has become a core value to our nation’s social norms and our values with many positive aspects; however, as of late, the adverse effects of this individualism have been shown in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Our society’s individualism and distrust of government has grown worse, creating an atmosphere in which Department of Health mandates are seen as totalitarian attacks on freedom and liberty.
Across the country, protesters have come out to defend their “right to a haircut,” in the words of a protestor interviewed at a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, protest in April, believing the stay-at-home orders infringe upon their personal liberties.
Regardless of personal opinion on the constitutional extent of stay-at-home orders and capacity limitations on businesses, it is simply fact that a recognizable portion of our population views the stay-at-home orders as authoritarianism and massive government overreach. In a way, it appears many are appearing to defend their right to contract the virus, saying the government shouldn’t dictate their actions to prevent the spread of a global virus.
The argument against this is that the expression of one’s right to contract the virus does not just impact the one individual making a choice, but infringes on other’s ability to make that choice, otherwise this would be a much simpler debate.
This whole situation represents American society’s distrust of government at a time when trusting institutions is essential for a cohesive response.
Distrust in government has always been part of what makes America what it is, but public distrust has grown to a dangerous level, certainly worthy of being addressed.
COVID-19 has exposed a whole slew of problems within the American value system. A 2019 Pew Research Study found that 74% of Americans feel the country distrusts the federal government more than two years prior. That trend has continued to grow, according to the Gallup Historical Index.
This pandemic has caused man to turn against man and has fueled partisan debates, distrust in government and divided the nation in a time when we are in dire need of unification and a cohesive plan to address the pandemic and its economic fallout.
Yes, individualism is an essential component of the American Dream and is an important value leading to free choice and self-determination, but that individualism in today’s COVID-19 world has left person against person, a patch-work collection of health policies and procedures and a nation pitted against itself.
We need unity and cohesiveness in these challenging times of unprecedented government mistrust and rugged individualism to recover the economy, protect the vulnerable and move on in a post-pandemic world.
As the saying goes, united we stand; divided we fall.