Why can’t we get it right? This response to COVID-19, I mean.

Leadership has failed, on myriad levels, and for myriad reasons. 

So be it. 

We have free will. We shouldn’t need government, except to protect our civil liberties and our borders.

We adapt, we adjust, and we move on. We’re capitalists and entrepreneurs. At our core pioneers, trudging on beyond impediments or obstacles. 

Many of us, anyway. 

But what the pandemic has made clear is relying on the government to influence our thoughts and actions is dangerous at the least and catastrophic — apocalyptic, even — at the worst. Politicians and bureaucrats telling us what to think and what to do. How to act and react. 

Thing is, we don’t always have to listen.

We choose — within the boundaries of the law and respective of the rights of others  — who to follow and what to accept. That’s how it should work. But we’ve become inextricably divided — by politics and by the media.

We’ve lost faith in each other. We’ve lost trust. 

So, using the pandemic as an example, we’ve fallen into one of, let’s say three, disparate camps, each dubious of the others. One camp mostly believes the virus is a hoax concocted by political operatives to create a crisis. That’s not true. COVID-19 is real, but more on that in a second. 

On the opposite polar cap are those deathly afraid of infection, and some have valid reasons — age, underlying conditions, etc. But among that group are people who have taken government orders and edicts and twisted them to the extreme. People who eschew human contact from any distance. Who “mask-up” for a trip to the mailbox and get defensive at the slightest hint of trouble. Who, Sanjay Gupta ringing in their heads, become tattletales and snitches.

A friend this week told me about a hike on the Appalachian Trail. She came upon another hiker so covered up it appeared as though he was sent — to the middle of nowhere, no less — to retrieve some kind of toxic waste. In another example, after I finished a three-mile run a man stopped me on a sidewalk, thinking I’d submit to a lecture on “breathable” masks.

I’m part of the third of these groups, huddled somewhere near a metaphorical equator.  

The people of reason. The responsible and the rational. The free thinkers and lovers of liberty. We want to stay safe, and we want to protect others. We also want theaters, restaurants, and bars open. We want live music. We want our children in schools. Need them in schools.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, closed North Carolina in March and has reopened in splintered steps, truncated phases replete with broken promises. Broken hopes and bankruptcies. Temporarily closures made permanent, on precarious legal grounds. Decisions based on “science and data,” which is still mostly a mystery, still mostly vague and obscure. The percentage of positive tests, for the past couple of weeks, has hovered at or below the magical 5%, yet the targets keep moving like a kindergartener’s swing.

Cooper took a flawed federal response and took political advantage. He grabbed power and ran with it, reluctant to lead and refusing to return power to its rightful place — to lawmakers, to the people. Distracting, obfuscating, litigating. Further dividing.

In his 2004 book, The Great Influenza, author John Barry teaches us, in repulsive detail, about the 1918 pandemic. It’s possible, he says, that as many as 100 million people died worldwide. Dogs shot in the street. Sick people lying with the dead. Bodies drug from homes, stacked like cordwood. Arrests for irresponsible spitting, coughing, or sneezing. 

That pandemic and the current one aren’t without parallels, maybe most important an initial denial at the federal levels. Though, in 1918 we were at war, and President Wilson’s attention was on Kaiser Germany. 

And with the focus on the war, the general feeling, fueled by the media, was that this spreading sickness was nothing more than the simple flu, a case of the old “grip.” Follow the three Cs, officials said — clean skin, clean mouths, clean clothes. Skip down the alphabet and find the three Ws of today.

Eventually, in the earlier pandemic, fear reigned — primarily because people were dying — settling “over the nation like a frozen blanket,” Barry writes.

Fear because of a president with nationalistic tendencies, who had little regard for the First Amendment and individual liberties. Because of withered leadership, more divisive than unifying. Then it was war, and a pandemic. Now it’s violent rioting, racial divides, a sinking economy, and a pandemic.

This is not to compare Wilson with Cooper. That’s a ridiculous exercise and makes little contextual sense. But Wilson, rather than persuade and unite, used the power of the office to intimidate and to coerce. 

Cooper, rather than persuade and unite, lectures us like a college professor. Fussy and monotonous. Pandering to his base: The risk averse and the unions. The progressives and the academics. Cheerleaders for big government and corporate cronyism.

A governor who refuses to speak to anyone beyond that base, leaving the three North Carolina encampments impossibly divided. 

Cooper won’t bring us together, if only to acknowledge our free will and encourage personal responsibility. Our common sense.

Not because he can’t, but because he won’t. It’s up to us.