Editorial: United we stand; divided we fall — to the coronavirus

Danny Lopez of Chino Hills and his date Frances Pluma of Norwalk stroll on in Huntington Beach
Danny Lopez of Chino Hills and his date Frances Pluma of Norwalk wear face coverings as they stroll on the pier in Huntington Beach on June 26, 2020.
(Raul Roa/Times Community News)

We stand with Hugo’s Tacos.

On Sunday, the Los Angeles business took the extreme measure of temporarily closing its two locations, in Studio City and Atwater Village, to give employees “a break” from verbal and physical abuse by customers outraged that employees were enforcing the law requiring face coverings.

During the closure, the staff will strategize ways to reopen in a way that complies with rules to limit spread of COVID-19 as well as insulates employees from having to endure the misplaced hostility of defiant patrons.

It was the responsible, if economically difficult, choice but it’s a situation that no business should be forced into. People who don’t like the laws made by county and state officials to control spread of infection should not take it out on workers just trying to earn a living.


Sadly, this is no isolated incident. Even as coronavirus cases are rebounding in many U.S. states, this same conflict is playing out in grocery stores, in restaurants, on busy streets and in other public places as people confronted for violating rules regarding wearing face masks or social distancing protocols lash out with unusual vitriol.

A store owner in rural California summed up the sentiment behind this defiance of scientifically sound measures and disregard for civic responsibility: “The deal is, you have no right to tell me I have to wear a mask. I’m an American. ... I refuse to bow to anybody.”

He’s wrong about that. Authorities do have the right, not to mention the responsibility, to require that Americans refrain from actions that endanger the lives of others. Some people may enjoy driving while drunk, and feel it is their God-given right to do so, but because so many drunk drivers have caused injury and death to others it is not permitted.

But more importantly, he is wrong about refusing to bow down to others. That’s a crude way to put it, but being an American is not an excuse. It is the reason he should observe the laws and help others. That’s just part of the deal of living in a modern civil society.

If the U.S. ever needed a reminder of the importance of the social contract that binds us to one other, it is now, as a new virus is raging through the land and civil discourse is so raw and ugly that there is open defiance of even the most simple protective measures. How hard is it to wear a face covering while ordering tacos, especially if it might save the life of a neighbor?

America’s deep-seated spirit of rugged individualism seems to have metastasized into a cultural cancer that promotes distrust of any type of authority and disdain for fellow humans. And it may well doom the U.S. to a longer, deadlier and more economically destructive outbreak than we’ve already endured. There are signs of that already as several governors have stated backtracking on reopening plans as infection rates rise.


The Republican governors of Texas and Florida, who resisted shutting down businesses in the early days of the pandemic, closed bars and other businesses last week after record rates of new coronavirus cases. In California, one of the states where COVID-19 cases are spiking, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, ordered bars closed in seven counties including Los Angeles. If things get worse, more counties and more types of businesses might be shut down. That’s not just harmful for the people who get sick; it harms the economic stability of communities and, by extension, the entire nation.

In his inaugural address in 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a call to public service and sacrifice. “My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” That message of putting the public good ahead of one’s own personal desires has never resonated more strongly.

And as we head into a holiday weekend when people may be tempted to proclaim their individual freedom to throw off the uncomfortable mask and revel in a crowd of strangers, we hope they will imagine what Kennedy, or someone of equal stature, might have said if he were president today: United we can stand against the virus. Divided we all fall.