As Montana copes with another deadly fire season, local communities are expressing their appreciation, gratitude, and respect for wildland firefighters. These hard-working heroes endure dangerous and unhealthy working conditions while trying to save other people’s lives and property. Thank you for your efforts and sacrifice.
Now imagine other people threatening and harassing the firefighters who are doing their jobs. People coming from out of state to illegally enter fire zones, fly drones, recreate in closed areas, or even shoot at planes and water trucks. Would such behavior be tolerated in the midst of an emergency? Not likely.
So why do people tolerate similar behavior during a public health emergency? Why were health professionals such as doctors and nurses threatened and harassed during the Covid pandemic? Cities such as Kalispel couldn’t even keep a qualified public health officer on the payroll during the pandemic due to such harassment.
Good people doing good work should be protected from harassment and intimidation. Teachers, librarians, election workers, EMTs, and public health officers should all be exalted for their positive contributions. The Ridge Fire and Niarada Fires are not Democratic hoaxes or Chinese conspiracies. They are serious natural threats to our community, just as Covid was a serious threat to our community. But in the case of Covid, too many good people were negatively impacted by rightwing extremism and conspiracy theorists.
America lost over 1 million people (and still counting) due to Covid. Why are these deaths being overlooked by politicians jockeying their way into public office? If public health officers advocate for wearing masks and avoiding crowds, why should politicians offer contradictory advice and incite violence against public servants? Why did Republican politicians promote Ivermectin and express disdain for wearing masks? Such acts are comparable to cutting fire hoses and starting new fires.
Donald Trump has anointed himself as the Arsonist-in-Chief. Orchestrated attacks by his followers have contributed to the immense toll inflicted by Covid. But the spot fires of Trumpism have spread beyond public health and are now burning through our schools, hospitals, election offices and military. Local papers have carried stories about library directors and school superintendents being hired for positions for which they are clearly not qualified. In Idaho, the Teacher of the Year has left that state due to harassment. OB-GYN services are no longer available across much of the Idaho panhandle because of extremist attacks. North Idaho College recently hired the “least qualified” candidate from a group of four lawyers to represent their college due solely to his extremist background. Teachers in Florida and Texas face dismissal and jail for teaching factual information or literary classics that have been standard curricula for generations.
It’s truly unfortunate that elected leaders such as Steve Daines, Matt Rosendale and Ryan Zinke have all aligned themselves with cultural arson. The extremist agenda can best be summarized by the chant of “burn baby, burn.” I only hope Montanans will come to their senses next election and tamp out the fires of extremism by supporting moderate and reasonable candidates.
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