The initial reaction of a free people to reports that Governor Gina Raimondo has been managing to have her hair styled, even as she presides over the expanding closure of hairdressers and barbers for the masses, might be: Of course! In dictatorships (like the one we’re developing), as in aristocracies (like the one we already had), the rules never apply to the rule-makers.
Gina’s got big, important things to do, so of course she can decide to take some precautions and a little bit of risk to look her best. It’s like guns. Of course important people must be allowed to hire armed security to keep them safe from the unwashed masses. But you lower-class people can’t be trusted to have weapons to protect yourselves. I mean, who really cares how you look, and who would actually care about you enough to do you harm, anyway?
However, the most disturbing part of the Gina’s coiffeuse story isn’t the class distinction. It’s this (emphasis added):
“I would not expect hairdressers, barbers, and ‘close-in-contact businesses’ to be among the first to come back. Those are among the most difficult and dangerous,” she said. “We’re thinking through right now what would be safer. Would it be safe to allow hairdressers to make appointments and go to people’s homes? Or would it be safer to keep them in a more controlled environment, but with a very limited work schedule with new regulations and mask-wearing and temperature taking?”
“I’m not sure — it’s top of mind for me. But just a reminder — hairdressers, barbers, gig economy workers, you are eligible for benefits you’re usually not [entitled to],” she said. “Until I can find a way to get you open safely…please file.”
Yup, it’s all on her. As I wrote in my model update, yesterday, she is going to find a way. She is going to tell you when you can work again. There’s no public discussion of a legislature, or even deliberation of a regulatory agency. Forget about public discussion and appeals by different constituencies. The queen will spend some quiet time pondering on her throne and come up with something… or not, which means our hair stylists will have to continue to live on the welfare she throws at them (at others’ expense) as men learn to trim their own hair with $30 razors and women get in the habit of at-home styling.
Religious services are another inalienable right that is apparently under the governor’s discretion, at this time:
During a conference call with reporters Tuesday… Raimondo expressed reservations about how quickly religious services can resume so long as coronavirus remains a threat.
“Those are all the questions that we’re trying to figure out,” she said. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“It’s a great thing to hope for, and certainly I share that hope, too,” Raimondo, a practicing Catholic, continued. “The hardest thing to bring back are going to be congregations, particularly congregations that might involve people over 70 years old. … We’re working on it. I share the hope. We’ll have to figure it out together.”
Take note that, at one and the same time, “‘close-in-contact businesses’ … are among the most difficult and dangerous,” and gathering together in a big open space is going “the hardest thing to bring back.” In close contact or spread out in a big room, the only standard appears to be the governor’s feelings.
At least in this case, she makes a passing reference to cooperation, but given the Shakespearean “I don’t know. I don’t know,” one gets the sense that “figuring it out together” actually means you masses who want your Masses have to persuade her highness that you’re mature enough for the responsibility.
You’d never know it from Ted Nesi’s reporting, but in the United States we have this thing called the Bill of Rights, which guarantees that the government can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That means the governor simply does not have the authority to determine whether religious services can resume, especially if she’s evaluating them according to some special standard that doesn’t apply across the board of our society (like the type of people who might choose to attend them).
The only way the governor can even pretend to have the authority she’s claiming is if the rest of us pretend along with her. In that case…
… shame on the General Assembly for hiding from their responsibilities, sending out glossy self-promotions from their political bunkers.
… shame on religious authorities for their failure to see that being a “good citizen” includes standing up for the religious rights of their coreligionists. (Asserting their own authority at the lead of institutions independent from the government isn’t “divisive”; it’s merely firm.)
… shame on journalists for neglecting their responsibility to make the boundaries of the governor’s legitimate authority part of the ongoing story of this crisis.
… and shame on the rest of us for watching it all happen.
None of these shames requires a particular conclusion. The General Assembly doesn’t have to contradict the governor’s suggestions, but merely to deliberate over them. Religious authorities don’t have to push their believers toward unjustified risk, but only to maintain their right to make that judgment based on their own standards and beliefs. Journalists don’t have to become civil rights advocates in conflict with the governor, but only to acknowledge a very real part of the story. And the rest of us don’t have to agree or disagree with the actions of any of the above, but merely to insist that the rule of law and our rights as sovereign individuals are maintained.
Working together collectively to avert disaster doesn’t mean being compliant. It means working together, which implies equality among adults, not subordination to a single person who is not necessarily smarter than any of the rest of us and who has no special information, at least that she is willing to share with the public.