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In Federalist 26 Alexander Hamilton makes the case for the provision in the proposed new U.S. Constitution that every two years Congress bears responsibility for providing money for a standing military.

He contends that those who support restraining the legislative authority of Congress for this purpose have “a zeal for liberty more ardent than enlightened.”

By extension Hamilton was saying that zeal for liberty so fervent and intense as to be devoid of knowledge and information was endangering the future of the country by resisting the Constitution that would establish a central government that had real power.

To be honest, I find it stunning that the Constitution did actually get ratified. James Madison wrote in Federalist 10 that anti-Constitution “factions” as he called them because of their radical view on states-rights had to be defeated rather than persuaded to change their minds because they never would.

Therein is a lesson for us today as well.

But ratification did not eliminate the zeal for liberty so ardent as to be devoid of enlightened understanding. Throughout American history individuals have shown utter disregard for the common good in the name of their individual rights.

At various times we have paid a high price when they have been successful. Our nation’s failure to have sensible gun laws is a modern example. There is no rhyme or reason for a policy that allows an unrestrained and unmonitored sale of guns and assault weapons except to contribute to the United States being the most violent Westen nation on earth.

That same absence of rhyme or reason is at work in the virtually out of control spread of the coronavirus we are seeing that once again sets us apart in a very negative way from other Western countries. There is a reason the United States with its 330 million people has failed miserably in containing the virus while the European Union with its 443 million people has succeeded in bringing it under control.

It’s all about an ardent zeal for individual liberty bereft of knowledge and reason that puts it above concern for the community. That zeal is about “me” and nothing about “we.”

Trump is feeding this ardent zeal, but the problem is bigger than he is. It encompasses the entire modern Republican Party whose primary concern is personal freedom at the expense of the common good.

In May, for example, 73% of Democrats supported the government requiring masks, but only 59% of Republicans did (conducted by Gabriel R. Sanchez of the University of New Mexico and Edward D. Vargas of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University).

Republicans want wearing masks to be an individual choice, ignoring the empirical evidence that voluntary compliance has limited value precisely because those same Republicans won’t wear them. It also ignores another significant factor that evidence proves wearing masks slows down the virus’ spread, i.e., the European Union.

Minnesota has been reasonably successful in coping with the virus. We are currently in a stable position, but the governor is considering imposing a state-wide-mandatory masks policy if current trends continue that threaten to upend the progress we have made in controlling the virus.

He is concerned about places like the small suburb of Edina that had only 227 cases for a three-month period ending June 24, but in the last two weeks has already had 154, the dramatic increase mostly among Edina teenagers.

Before June 24 the median age of COVID-19 cases was 57. As of this writing, it is 20, and the cause for this stunning development is socializing. Contact tracing has found that kids are contracting the virus through house parties, bonfires, cabin trips, and organized sports.

They just want to have fun and believe they should have the right to do so. Of course, they should, except that in exercising their right to have fun they are putting their entire city and state at risk of another major outbreak of the virus that could kill more people.

A retired Edina physician commented that he doesn’t see much hope that these kids are going to change their habits. They are too young and immature to understand the threat they are posing, despite the warnings. Without an immediate change in their social behavior, he said quite bluntly, “until we get a vaccine a lot of us are going to die.”

The problem we are talking about is obviously not rocket science because Alexander Hamilton understood it in 1787. When zeal for liberty is more ardent than it is enlightened, you’re headed for trouble.

That’s exactly where we are as a country – in trouble, close to reaching the point of no return where a vaccine will be our only hope.

It’s not like we don’t know what we can do to turn things around. The European Union has. South Korea has. New Zealand has. Other countries have.

The United States is the laggard state.

And it is more than a little obvious why we are. Too many Republicans have an ardent zeal for individual liberty that puts itself above all other concerns.

For religious people like me, the issue is about being a good neighbor. The great irony is that evangelical Christians have embraced ardent zeal for liberty above being a good neighbor.

Turns out, they really don’t know much about the Bible after all, especially the part where Jesus says the whole law is summed up in two commandments – to love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-40: see also Galatians 5:14 and Romans 10:8-10).

No surprise, really, since evangelical Republicans are Republican first and Christian second. That is why they choose Trump’s focus on everyone’s individual liberty not to wear a mask over the teachings of Jesus.

There’s not much we can do about evangelicals or Republicans in general, of course. When Dr. Anthony Fauci reportedly said the other day, “I don’t know how to help you be a good neighbor,” he spoke for all of us.

It might help, though, if evangelical preachers would be more Christian and less Republican by actually preaching what Jesus said instead of Trump’s gospel.

In the meantime, all is not lost. Just this week the CDC chose the common good over ardent individual liberty when it reported to the President that it would not be revising its guidelines for school openings in the fall as he insisted.

Score one for the country, none for Trump.

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