By Ian Pattison

This is an updated version of a column that appeared in the print edition and on the website Jan. 16.

A conversation somewhere in Ontario:

“So, we’re in a state of emergency. What’s it meant for you?”

“Um, I’m not sure. I can still do pretty much what I did before. They’re telling me to stay home except for essential trips outside.”

“Any idea what’s ‘essential’?”

“No, they haven’t really spelled it out. Premier Ford said his stay-at-home order is the law and will be enforced. But I can still go shopping in the big box store at the mall. I can go out for a walk. I can go to work unless my employer thinks I need to work from home -- it’s up to them.”

What a complete and utter abdication of government responsibility at such a dangerous point in this pandemic. As the Toronto Star said in an editorial on Wednesday, “The province seems to just be hoping it can throw out some dramatic-sounding statements and scare people into doing the right thing and stay home.”

Look at how well Ford’s earlier pleadings to stay home went during the holidays. His own finance minister flew off to the beaches of St. Barts, one of scores of public officials who ignored the sound advice to stay put. A Leger poll found that half of all Canadians visited with others at Christmas.

In answer to news that even some public officials are confused by this new state of emergency, Ford said testily, “Folks, there is no confusion here, it’s very simple. Stay home. Stay home. That’s it.”

Except for essentials. OK, so what’s “essential” mean?

“The Government of Ontario cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province.”

Is it any surprise that even with the pandemic worsening a third of Ontarians aren’t listening to the rules?

Which is not to say all the rules make sense. Outdoor exercise is more important than ever for our minds as well as for our bodies. But for some reason, ski hills have been ordered closed. Would it not make sense to merely order one person per chair on lifts and close clubhouses except for takeout lunches?

Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Judith Monteith-Farrell has written to sport minister Lisa McLeod on behalf of the operators of Mount Baldy and Loch Lomond to ask for the rationale behind this order. The city’s sliding hills are open but private ski hills are closed. And that's OK?

Clearly, though, governments in this country are afraid to do what is necessary to slow the spread of a pandemic that has health authorities openly scared. Worldwide deaths just topped 2 million and the faster-spreading variant is poised to become the dominant strain.

Governments need to order a lockdown that is devoid of all but the actual essentials -- groceries (and that means roping off the rest of places like Walmart and Superstore), prescriptions (with numbers in drug stores strictly controlled) and medical appointments that doctors say cannot be delayed. No mask, no entry. That’s it. Then governments need to work -- together -- to speed up testing, tracing and vaccinations. They’ve had a year to perfect a plan. Ontario still doesn’t have one that inspires confidence or hope.

* * *

IMAGINE that you are a Trumper. At last count there were more than 70 million of them but weed out those who finally understand Trump’s true nature after inciting last week’s incredible assault on the U.S. Capitol and you’re left with the ones who’d follow him no matter what.

For four-plus years he’s told you that the United States is under attack from without and within, that only he stands between you and ruination.

He launched his presidential bid in 2015 by telling Americans that outgoing president Barack Obama was actually a Muslim which of course resurrected the spectre of 9/11. Thus began a concerted campaign to denigrate Blacks and anyone else of colour.

He said Mexicans coming north to chase the American dream were criminals and so began a prolonged attack on immigrants.

He called the news media which began fact-checking his daily lies “the enemy of the people” and it wasn’t long before mainstream reporters were fair game. Conspiracy-minded journalists began exploiting Trumpism to prey upon the worst instincts of the human mind -- and make a lot of money. Fox News’ caustic show host Sean Hannity’s net worth is about $80 million..

Trump casually disparaged women and even the disabled. Anyone who showed up at his rallies to protest was dangerously singled out. “Beat the crap out of them, would you?” “I’d like to punch him in the face.” Physical violence thus became perfectly acceptable in Trump world.

By early 2016 he was so sure of his base of support that he said he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Gun violence had a new champion.

By that summer, “Lock her up” became a common cry at Trump rallies after presidential opponent Hilllary Clinton criticized him in her convention speech. And so respect for political points of view that didn’t match Trump’s became unacceptable.

On it went, this continual stoking of violence in response to anyone who dared question Trump’s view of America and the world and of his sole self-appointed role as the saviour of all -- except those who disagreed with him.

Fast forward to the rancorous speech to an agitated crowd that gathered in Washington Jan. 6, primed over four years to do what Trump now told them to do -- stop the confirmation of Joe Biden.

The president did what he does best. He fed the mob the red meat of an election stolen by a socialist horde who his vice-president had better arrange to defeat or else. Now, let’s march. And you saw what happened. No surprise but plenty of shock as rioters stormed the Capitol, some looking to capture and kill Pence and any other politician thought to oppose the insurrection.

In the end, only 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives dared to risk the enmity of Trump’s disciples to vote in favour of his impeachment. The rest offered some version of ‘We need to heal this divided country’ and spare Trump his due. Still, the House gave him the distinction he’ll detest for the rest of his life -- the first president to be impeached a second time.

The case now moves to a Senate trial later this month where Republicans will have to perform logistical gymnastics to defend Trump’s criminal behaviour. You can bet that Canadian-born Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who covets Trump’s base to carry him to the next Republican presidential nomination, will give it a go. He’ll hope to energize GOP colleagues who know better but fear for their political futures and, in some cases, their safety if they defy the Trumpers.

Is the United States not governed by the rule of law -- “the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced?”

That it is, and what is law? “The system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.”

If Trump escapes penalties for crimes including trying to steal an election by stealth and then by force, the signal it will send will be far more grave than if he walks away unscathed. The private prosecutions that lie in wait for him may well be his undoing. But the public’s verdict, reached within its seat of government, is the one that really counts.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.