Ratfink America vs. You’re Not the Boss of Me! America

Protesters against the state’s extended stay-at-home order demonstrate at the Capitol building in Columbus, Ohio, April 20, 2020. (Seth Herald/Reuters)Quarantine busters gonna bust; quarantine snitches gonna snitch.

And thus have the kings of the earth stood up, and the Rulers have taken counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, as it is written. Therefore now the Lord that sitteth in heaven . . . poureth contempt upon Princes, by casting down and destroying of them, even by men that have been and are base and contemptible in their eyes. And thus the Lord is vexing of them, and will vex them in his sore displeasure, until he have destroyed them from off the earth: because they have vexed, persecuted, and shed the blood of his Saints, therefore he will give them blood to drink: for they are worthy.
     — Henry Haggar, No King But Jesus, 1652

People think of Texas as the land of  “wide open spaces,” but being home to four metropolitan areas with populations each exceeding 2 million, it is one of the most urban states, with five of the 15 largest cities in the country. The politics and social character of Houston and San Antonio have much more in common with Chicago and Los Angeles than they do with Alpine, Texas, which is even more remote from Houston than the 571 miles on the map would indicate.

Alpine is the seat of Brewster County, the gateway to the backcountry wilderness of West Texas. It is under an emergency COVID-19 order. But as of Tuesday afternoon, the latest New York Times data showed that Brewster County was home to not one of Texas’s 20,286 coronavirus cases. That is not surprising. A big part of the county is in Big Bend National Park, where you can spend days wandering around without seeing another living soul. With population density at 1.5 human beings per square mile, social distancing is the traditional way of life.

The South Bronx it isn’t.

New Yorkers are burning up the police hotlines to inform on their neighbors for violating social-distancing protocols — more than 14,000 calls already have been made to the NYPD, who have found it necessary to take no action in the majority of these cases. But it isn’t just New York. In Dallas, the police are dutifully trolling through old urban neighborhoods with on-street parking, putting “abandoned vehicle” tickets on the windshields of cars that are parked in front of their owners’ houses but haven’t been moved for a couple of weeks — there’s not much reason to drive.

Why? Because somebody complained.

The coronavirus epidemic has brought out the best in many Americans and the worst in others. It also has intensified one of the tribal fissures that run through practically every state and a great many counties in this country: Ratfink America vs. You’re Not the Boss of Me! America.

Ratfink America mostly lives in the urban metros, mostly has a progressive-secular cultural orientation, and mostly votes Democratic. Did you see that Harvard Magazine essay about Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard Law, who argued that we should prohibit homeschooling because it makes it harder for authorities to keep an eye on the domestic lives of unruly proles? That’s pure Ratfink America. Michael Bloomberg shoving his vain little snout into your soda? Ratfink America. The people who call CPS on mothers who smoke in front of their children? Ratfink Americans, one and all.

And the people who leave eleven-month-old babies locked up in the Nissan all night while they’re gambling in a New Jersey casino?

They’re the other kind.

You’re Not the Boss of Me! America is, in its raw and concentrated form, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. It’s Ammon Bundy and David Koresh. But it’s also Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, Civil Disobedience, and the Declaration of Independence. In the coronavirus context, it is Pentecostals in Florida and Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn defying social-distancing mandates.

You might think the blue-nosed busybodies who are always up in everybody else’s business would be found in the churches, but that is not the case in America Anno Domini 2020. Traditional religious believers of many different faiths are at the center of the collective soul of You’re Not the Boss of Me! America. These are our modern Levellers, determined to have “No King But Jesus.”

You’re Not the Boss of Me! America is forever hearing footsteps in the night, expecting the jackboot on the front door at any minute. That mentality used to be a more natural fit for the Left, which in the days of the Sixties counterculture understood itself to be the target of the homogenizing and disciplining forces of institutions from church to state to college to corporation. They may have been listening to the Who, but they were the Whom.

After the Left’s Long March through the institutions, the tables have turned. Progressives enjoy power in the bureaucracies, in the universities, in the corporations, etc. There is a slight complication at the moment owing to the fact that the cultural mascot of You’re Not the Boss of Me! America happens to be president, and believes that he is indeed the boss of us all. (He is not.) As Charles C. W. Cooke has noted, the Left has criticized Trump for acting like a dictator and then complained that in the response to the epidemic he has not acted in a sufficiently dictatorial fashion.

You can be confident that the partisans and theorists of Ratfink America will give up “Resistance!” just as soon as the next Democrat is elected president, and then we’ll go back to having media Democrats explain to us that opposing the president is sedition and demanding we put Rush Limbaugh on trial. Or that we arrest people with naughty views on climate change.

The divide in our culture is Left and Right. But it is also town and country, farm and pharma, institutionalist and dissident, who and whom, Prius and F-150, kale and Mountain Dew. It is Ratfink America and You’re Not the Boss of Me! America.

Like professional wrestling, it is the same fight over and over again in a hundred different arenas — and no less hokey and fake.

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