Two scenes: Men with semiautomatic weapons strike a pose of protest in front of a state capitol. A masked health-care worker in scrubs blocks a protester’s car in Denver.

These two frames will be among the lasting images of the covid-19 pandemic in America, reminding us of the juxtaposition of life and death that plagued our nation in 2020. The protesters, who oppose government quarantine orders, want to return to “normal” life as it was before the virus came ashore — as though they’re the only ones. The nurse, symbolizing the nation’s brave, dedicated medical professionals, stands athwart civil disobedience — for the sake of survival.

For now, protesters enjoy the luxury of being disease-free — at least as far as they know. Estimates are that 1 in 4 infected people could be asymptomatic, thus some could be contagious without being sick. While protesters play revolutionary in the springtime air, nurses, doctors and medical staff spin the chamber in a game of Russian roulette as they try to heal the sick and comfort the dying.

There’s hardly a soul on the planet who doesn’t wish for a return to regular duty — to go to work, earn a paycheck, dine out with friends, or go to a movie, concert or sports event — though some may want to tweak normal somewhat to accommodate the revelations of sequestration. But we’ll all return to work and play more quickly if everyone abides by the rules.

It’s as simple as that, if not at all easy.

To law-abiding citizens who may be just as frustrated and angry, the protesters are reckless in the extreme. What does this make President Trump, who is encouraging this defiance, in the transparent hope that governors will reopen their states’ economies earlier, thus possibly increasing the likelihood of his reelection.

“They seem to be very responsible people to me,” said Trump of the demonstrators around the country waving guns and flags, in protest, it must be said, of his own government’s guidelines. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” he tweeted to his comrades in arms.

I suppose that protesting government orders has a certain allure. Rescuing America from government overreach, depending upon one’s perspective, provides a mission and purpose lost to the disease that, in some states, seems less a threat to life than to livelihood. Job-loss reserves are dwindling quickly. In West Palm Beach, Fla., cars filled an outlet mall parking lot with people hoping to be among the 800 families who would receive a week’s worth of groceries. Tuesday’s lead headline everywhere was historic: Oil dropped below $0.

The protesters, in other words, have a point. But it’s not close to strong enough to persuade the nurse to step aside.

We know, too, that the mobs gathering in states such as Michigan, Colorado, South Carolina and Virginia didn’t arise organically but were organized by a variety of right-wing groups and the usual array of anger specialists, otherwise known as the Trump base. These include small-government groups, gun rights activists and anti-science, anti-vaccine advocates.

Meanwhile, doctors and nurses soldier on, despite a deplorable lack of personal protection equipment, or PPE. An online survey created by a grass-roots group of doctors found that almost all of the 978 facilities responding from 47 states and the District had no supplies remaining of at least one form of PPE. Thirty-six percent had no face shields; 34 percent had no thermometers; 19 percent had no gowns left.

Whatever one’s situation, and recognizing the disparate impact of the pandemic, it is both unseemly and unfair to the sick and grieving, as well as to the healers, to display petulance over rules intended to keep people safe.

Somehow, we have to hang together — but I hope not for much longer. The tunnel of doom is beginning to brighten, as we await more testing and lower rates of death and infection. Meanwhile, it’s disappointing and, frankly, dangerous that Trump encourages what is essentially political wilding, and primarily in his own interest. He’s right to fear that a foundering economy will be the death knell for his presidency. But what about the nation’s soul?

We came close, didn’t we? For a moment, it felt as though we were all on the same team, all striving together toward kindness and safety. Now, like virus particles attaching to host cells, some are set on injecting the country with political toxins. Who wins, as Trump would want to know? Where do you stand?

Two scenes: Anti-science and gun rights protesters recycle Patrick Henry’s liberty-or-death cri du coeur, without a hint of irony. A nurse steels his gaze and stands his ground against a horn-honking mob.

Thus far, nearly 9,300 U.S. health workers have contracted covid-19, and 27 have died in the line of duty. The least we can do is try to stay well.

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