I have watched with fascination and, more and more frequently, outrage at the way Kaci Hickox, the nurse who had ventured to Sierra Leone to help treat Ebola patients and has now returned to the U.S., has been treated by the governments of New Jersey and Maine and by what appears to be a majority of the American public. At the risk of sounding like the stereotypical crotchety old guy (which I guess I am at this point of my life), what the hell has happened to America and Americans? When did we let fear shrivel us to this point? Kaci Hickox has demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, the traits that I grew up believing embodied the best of America, and is being pilloried for it.
What makes an ideal American? What are the attributes that go into why the vast majority of our citizens, if you ask them, consider America "exceptional"? Consider just a few: courage, compassion for others, independence, a refusal to be bullied by the state (or anyone else). Kaci Hickox voluntarily went to one of the most dangerous places in the world right now, where health care workers like her are dying at alarming rates. I don't know what she got paid to do so, but I guarantee you it wasn't enough to convince me or most of you to do the same. She did so to help other people--to help them live. The word "hero" gets thrown around far too often these days. Well, Kaci Hickox and the people who are putting their lives on the line in order to try and stop Ebola from becoming a pandemic are heroes. So, courage? Check. Compassion for others? Check.
After doing all this, Kaci Hickox returns home. You know, to "the land of the free and the home of the brave". And didn't find much of either. She did the responsible thing, and told authorities that she was returning from West Africa and had been there helping treat Ebola patients. And the freakout commenced. Despite being completely asymptomatic, she was immediately treated as one of the unclean. Let's pause here for a second. If you are unwilling to accept the opinions of the experts that Ebola is not airborne and that a person with Ebola is only contagious when they are exhibiting symptoms, then just stop reading. It is better that you and I don't waste each other's time. The current American penchant for ignoring science is equally disturbing, but you cannot have a rational discussion of Ebola and ignore the doctors because you're scared. Professional bully Chris Christie then tried to make himself look like a man of action (don't get me started on Andrew Cuomo) and locked Hickox up. No, that is not an overstatement. That's what a quarantine is. Your 1st Amendment rights to assemble and travel, your 4th Amendment right to due process, arguably your 8th Amendment right to be free of excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment are all summarily taken away. But, but, the public health,you say! I repeat, she is completely asymptomatic. There is not a shred of evidence that she has the disease, even in latent form. But Chris Christie being Chris Christie, bullied forward. And Kaci Hickox called him out. As Hickox's boyfriend said, "he messed with the wrong redhead". She contacted Norm Siegel, one of the better civil rights lawyers in the country and said she was going to sue. And, in the true way of all bullies, Christie caved while maintaining that he hadn't. Hickox then returned home to rural Maine, where she was met with more bullying by the equally blustering governor of that state, Paul LePage, who has threatened her with men with guns if she doesn't kowtow. But she hasn't, and I suspect she won't.
Now, I fully expect the Chris Christies and Paul LePages of the world to try and score cheap political points by being posturing blowhards at every opportunity. What I didn't expect was the public response. What I didn't expect was the vitriol being spewed at Hickox. What I didn't expect was the immediate willingness of what seems to be the majority of the American public to give in to unsubstantiated and groundless fear. But maybe I should have. In response to 9/11, we allowed the Patriot Act, and continue to allow its renewal. We allowed people to be locked up indefinitely, with no charges, no lawyer, and no hope of ever getting out. We tortured people. America seems to be afraid of everything and everyone anymore, and we don't care what we do as long as it makes that fear go away for a little bit. We let Chris Christies (and, yes, Andrew Cuomos, this is not intended to be a partisan rant) ignore the basic rights that, in fact, are what DOES make America exceptional. And we say and write hateful things about someone who should be a shining example of what America is supposed to be about.