Just when we need some comic relief – as if the president's daily briefings aren't enough – along comes the reincarnation of the Know-Nothing party.
But while the 1850s nativists took their name from a feigned ignorance, today's know-nothings actually embody the moniker.
Hence, what should have been called the "Rally to Kill More People" in Niagara Square on Monday.
Officially billed as "Gridlock Buffalo," it mimicked protests elsewhere against social isolation and its resulting economic impact, which is real.
But just as real are account after account of people dying agonizing deaths with tubes stuck down their throats, or moving on and off of ventilators before finally succumbing. Of loved ones unable to share last words or hold the person's hand, left only with the haunting memory of their relative dying alone without even a proper funeral, and the fear of who else that person might have infected.
Also just as real is scientist after scientist, doctor after doctor, warning what will happen if we open up society too soon before we've truly flattened the curve. The key metric – agreed to by even the conservative American Enterprise Institute – is two weeks of declining numbers and adequate testing to make sure the numbers are real. Models predict that Western New York is weeks away from its peak. In fact, Erie County had four straight days of increased hospitalizations through Tuesday, despite some recent encouraging results – which never meant that people had stopped dying, they were just dying at a slower rate.
So by all means, let's speed things up. And there they were, right on cue, at least 150 cars and pickup trucks spinning their wheels, horns blaring, literally going in circles – with their U.S. flags side by side with Confederate flags, as if the 1860s treason never happened.
And of course, there were signs.
"Free NYS, Don't Tread on Us," "Cuomo Open WNY, We Are Not NYC," "No Mo Cuomo" and "The Great PlanDEMic. The Dems Have Sold Us to China." That's just a sampling of the well-thought-out sentiments expressed by some of Buffalo Niagara's finest minds.
And what would a rally for ignorance be without Carl Paladino, bullhorn in hand while patrolling the perimeter and pausing for pictures. The failed gubernatorial candidate couldn't resist a photo with the cardboard cutout of New York State and the giant scissors cutting off upstate from New York City.
If only it were that easy. If only we could divide the state in two and let the know-nothings have their own little economy, isolated while freely passing the virus among one another like dollar bills until there is no one left to spend them.
But that's not how it works. When the protesters contract the virus, they will give it to their friends, relatives and business contacts, spreading it in stores and gas stations and potentially endangering the rest of us, not to mention the medical professionals who will have to take care of them.
All in the name of some faux notion of freedom.
But Patrick Henry never said "Give me liberty and give me death."
That, however, is what they're asking for, egged on by a president loath to acknowledge the pandemic and slower still to mobilize an adequate federal response. Still, the rally wouldn't have been complete without a "TRUMP. No More B....... 2020" flag, extolling the president who blames everyone but himself for the slow U.S. response while dumping responsibility on the states and giving new meaning to the phrase "leading from behind."
The Buffalo protest followed others around the nation, fomented online by right-wing provocateurs. Don't even be surprised if it turns out that the Russians are again playing a role. Amazed at what slow learners Americans are, they wouldn't even have to change the 2016 playbook. It's still just as easy to pit one group against another and get the Paladinos of the world to foam at the mouth – which is especially dangerous now.
Despite polls showing them in the minority, they and the Republican lawmakers backing them can have an effect because we've become a society that disdains knowledge and devalues expertise, exalting instead some folkloric common sense that makes no sense at all in the face of immutable facts.
Parents scrimp and save to put their kids through college and students graduate with boatloads of debt. And for what? Who needs an education when a gut reaction or a fool's intuition is all we need to make life and death decisions?
Rally organizer Rus Thompson complained that the lockdown treats residents like "children" unable to decide for themselves. How apropos that he would use that term. Children are all about instant gratification, unwilling to make short-term sacrifice to achieve long-term gains. That's why they have adults to guide them.
Our adults in the room – from federal officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci to local experts at the University at Buffalo, Erie County and area hospitals – are unanimous in their advice. They have laid out the metrics for when we can afford to ease the restrictions that have cost us dearly in economic terms. Yet Western New York is nowhere near meeting the thresholds.
And still we have people going in circles and yammering about intrusive government.
The proposition is clear: Open up society too soon, and too many more people will die.
And so is the question: Would you rather be laid off or would you rather be dead?