Letter: What would a modern Thomas Paine say?

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To the editor

These last few weeks of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak have impacted us all in a big way and will no doubt leave indelible marks on the future of our great country. My sense is that the word “crisis” has been used more often in recent days than in my whole life before now.

As an American patriot and a lover of history, what comes to mind immediately when I hear “crisis,” or even more specifically “an American crisis,” is the work of one of America’s less appreciated founding fathers, Thomas Paine. Paine was an imperfect character (as we all are) and many would argue he miscalculated many of his life decisions. Nonetheless, he should still be regarded as one of the key heroes and instigators of the American Revolution. John Adams said of him, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

I read something recently that suggested that every 80 years, America faces a crisis that requires a new hero generation.

This immediately made me wonder who the heroes and patriots of this American crisis might be. It is a different type of crisis but with some striking similarities. The American Revolution was not about a virus but rather an awakening of the human spirit as a result of oppressive rule. The British colonists were a special breed, pioneers and their descendants — people with a passion for freedom, individual strength of resolve, and a potentially enhanced predisposition for rebellion.

King George provoked their independent nature with his repeated disregard for the individual British colonists, failing to respond to their desire to pass laws to govern the colonies, cutting off trade, imposing punitive taxes, and ultimately committing acts “which may define a tyrant.”  In response to that tyranny, the spirit of freedom, as a fire, swelled from mere sparks to a blaze. The rest of course, is our history.

Our nation was founded on beautiful and amazing principles. Freedom is the defining element of moral character for mankind, and the engine of success that gave us the greatest prosperity and quality of life in all history. And, in order to ensure our future greatness as individuals and a nation, our government must remain limited, and responsible to the people.

Throughout our history, there has been a constant tug of war between keeping these principles and the growth of the government power. We all can see that the government has indeed grown in size, cost and power. This is a natural result of time and human nature, and even our own success. As our affluence and comfort have increased, our demands for accountability and autonomy have declined, and the knowledge and memory of history and its lessons forgotten.

Worse, and even more sinister, those seeking power from within our government have used their positions to influence policy for their own benefit, redistributing wealth, catering to special interests, and essentially determining winners and losers.

Today’s “crisis” is not the virus itself but the place we find ourselves in as American citizens; once again struggling to understand the proper role of our government.

How much power should our government have? Must we sacrifice freedom for health and safety — and for how long?

We are told that we must choose between one-size-fits-all draconian solutions — mandated business closures, contact tracing, and even fines for walking in the park — or face unthinkable death and destruction.

I believe this is a false choice.

Is it possible that we are smarter than that? Do people need the government to tell them to practice social distancing? Could businesses still operate and take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus? Are solutions only as far away as the opportunity to create them?

What would a modern Thomas Paine have to say?

Rob Sampson

Wolcott

The writer is a Republican state senator representing Connecticut’s 16th Senatorial District.