Opinion: CJ Opinion

COVID numbers improving, but Cooper’s failure to lead divides us even further

Man reads mask sign posted on Raleigh store. File photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal
Man reads mask sign posted on Raleigh store. File photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

Emergency orders, local mask mandates, and COVID restrictions at large have gone from nonsensical to outrageous. 

This is not to argue on the efficacy of masks or their use in the throes of the nascent pandemic some 18 months ago. Instead, this is to make a common-sense case showing the so-called leaders purporting to care about public safety have morphed from overbearing parents to hysterical toddlers upset they’re being told “no.”

Like toddlers, the antics and fits often pound a wedge between parents and siblings, as well as judgy onlookers. How to react, to respond. To punish or cajole? With words kind or assertive? Pick a side.

The idea of masking and mask mandates has transcended politics and evolved into a tool of division and discord. In North Carolina, the blame falls hard at Gov. Roy Cooper’s feet, even as, in public comments, he continues to shift responsibility and transfer blame.

He did it again in a recent news conference. 

Keep in mind, too, that Cooper has kept North Carolina under an unconstitutional state of emergency since March 2020. He recently vetoed a move by lawmakers to rein in his powers, as well as those held by future governors. The order, he has said, provides a path for more federal money. Cooper won’t give that up, nor will he loosen his grip on the power to govern unilaterally, sans neither legislative or Council of State concurrence.

Cooper on Wednesday, Oct. 27 talked about the dropping rate of infections and hospitalizations because of COVID. We’re doing so well, he said. Cohen flashed her graphs and charts to show as much. Yay, team!

A reporter, doing his job, challenged Cooper on his perpetual emergency order. Cooper, before Wednesday, hadn’t held a COVID conference for about a month. Doesn’t sound like an emergency, the reporter told Cooper. What gives?

“We don’t have statewide mandates in place,” Cooper responded, “however, we are still using the emergency order to allow health care providers to do things they otherwise could not do under the law in helping us draw down funds so that still an important part of the process.”

This is how Cooper is getting around those pesky “laws,” which are passed as part of an often messy process replete with debates, arguments, cajoling, and compromise. Why mess with that, Cooper figures, when he can simply abuse emergency powers given to him to deal, primarily, with natural disasters and the like?

So, local officials, often elected by slim margins by relatively few voters, flout what powers they have across towns, cities, and counties throughout North Carolina. The arbitrary rules are based on partisan leanings and followed faithfully by people unwilling or incapable of thinking for themselves.

Consider the silliness in Wake County, which refuses to lift its mask mandate. Raleigh, too, refuses to budge on masking. But head a few miles west to Cary or Apex and it’s OK to take off the mask. No mandates there. But go from Cary to Morrisville, which run into each other, and put that mask back on because that’s the rule. In some rural parts of the state, people couldn’t find a mask if their lives depended on it. In Wilmington and Boone, for example, businesses would rather lose customers than defy government edicts.

The emergency order will never end, showing Cooper’s reluctance to lead in a way that actually shows we’ve cleared the worst of the pandemic. Pandering to his base and pushing the rest of us further away. Dividing the state to its core, to counties, towns, communities, and schools.

An abject failure to lead.

Democrats were quick to criticize former President Trump and other Republicans for failing to act decisively in the early days of COVID. Their decisions, or lack thereof, the Democrats said, cost lives and further divided an already fractured country.

What Cooper — and President Biden, too — is doing, I would argue, is markedly worse. Cooper, in touting the improving COVID numbers, talked about “a renewed sense of hope” for North Carolina.

If that were only the case.

John Trump is managing editor of Carolina Journal and author of “Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.”