Contrarians have always been a part of American history | Sean P. Quinlan

December 11, 2020 6:30 am

George Washington (© eugene –

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

~Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1777

It’s been 243 years since a chastened, rag-tag contingent found themselves crouched desperately on the edge at Valley Forge. They were exposed, hungry and sick. There was little to protect them as they huddled against the howling winter wind – thin canvas tents, if you were lucky. Valley Forge wasn’t a planned stop. These men were on the run. There was no base. No fortified embattlement. No stores of grain or ammunition. It’s where the Colonial militia ended up having retreated from British regulars time and time again. A trail of blood marked their path in the snow from exposed feet bereft of socks and boots. Meanwhile, their well-fed, well-funded redcoat foes were warm and sheltered in Philadelphia.

Sean P. Quinlan (Capital-Star file photo)

The Colonials had no money. You see there was no U.S. Treasury. They had no reinforcements. There was no standing army. Washington himself begged the men to stay. He paid them from his own pocket that bitter winter. 

It would do us well then to recall that fully a third of the population of Colonial America at the time were conservative Tories who had no sympathy for the forsaken, frozen upstart militia. They were quite well aware that there was a war on. That they were taxed with no representation in the houses of Parliament. They may not have agreed with much of British policy but they were British subjects, loyal to King and country – no matter what. The Boston Massacre, the battle at Breed’s Hill in Boston (Bunker Hill), Kip’s Bay, the bloody retreat from Manhattan Island  – “Hey, you asked for it, suckers. We’re with the King.”

It’s important that we understand something. They’ve always been here. The contrarians. The doubters. King George was their guy in Parliament as far as they were concerned. Washington and his militia were traitors. Years later, Abraham Lincoln? To them, he was a murderous dictator. 

And they’re here now. For example: global warming is good for you and the planet – “drill, baby drill!” A classroom full of machine gun-slain children is the price of freedom. A vast conspiracy involving the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, every court in the country, Republican Secretaries of State, China, Venezuela, dead Hugo Chavez and North Korea – all plotted to rob Donald Trump of an election victory in 2020.  And the COVID virus is a hoax and if it’s not a hoax, you get it from wearing a mask

See what I mean? 

As of the time of this writing COVID-19 is the number one cause of death in the United States. There are six new cases every second and two COVID deaths per minute – over three thousand dead Americans per day. More per day than died on September 11, 2001. Every single day. At current trends, it is expected that we’ll be losing close to four thousand Americans per day by Christmas Eve. The CDC is warning that the next three months will be the most difficult in the public health history in the United States. Not the last seven or eight months. The next three. All this while the economy continues to shed three quarters of a million jobs a week as it has nearly every week since mid-March.

Where is our fearless leader in the midst of this national calamity? Aside from personally committing clear acts of sedition all across the country, he spent Pearl Harbor day not saying a word about Pearl Harbor. Not a single syllable. He took credit for winning an election he clearly lost. He lauded a wrestler. And unveiled a tennis pavilion his wife built. 

Friends, if the last fifteen years of school and mass shootings have taught us nothing else, have learned this: there is no body count the GOP death cult can’t minimize. As we fast approach a third of a million COVID dead, that’s the course their standard bearer has chosen in this our hour of tumult. “It’s not real. It’s not happening. Let them play tennis.”

Are we not as frightened, doubtful and divided country as ever we have been in the intervening two and a half centuries since Valley Forge? We would do well to think of our healthcare workers, teachers, essential workers and the like when we reflect on Mr. Paine’s thoughts when he writes: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of this country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” 

Everyone knows exactly what’s at stake now and yet they persevere in service to their communities. Fully of a third of the country doubted the soldiers’ cause in the winter of 1777-1778. Fully a third may doubt the cause now. But it is to us, those that believe in common sense, science and yes, in one another, to wear a mask, wash our hands and stay the heck away from each other until this storm blows over. But I would argue that that’s not enough. 

Unlike the fledgling Colonial army that had no backup and no real government, we have massive government resources at our disposal. It just refuses to act. Those resources are being lavished on those that need it least. 

Which is worse, no government at all or one that watches passively as a desperate ship of state founders? As the locals in and around Valley Forge smuggled food, clothes, boots, firewood and the like to those soldiers in the field because they had to, similarly we suffer a shortage of PPE filled by local in-home stitchers. As demand for food and clothing spikes, it’s the people that can least afford it sacrificing and filling the need at local food banks and homeless shelters. 

Meanwhile, as fully a fifth of Pennsylvanians are on the cusp of foreclosure and/or eviction, their state representatives are urgently holding hearings and rushing aid – to Donald Trump.

When this is all over, it is to us to remember who was there in the battle, and who in government watched on while we, the people, fought, struggled and died.

Opinion contributor Sean Quinlan, an attorney, writes from Camp Hill, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Follow him on Twitter @SPQ_ESQ.

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Sean P. Quinlan
Sean P. Quinlan

Pennsylvania Capital-Star Opinion contributor Sean P. Quinlan, of Camp Hill, Pa., is an attorney and former Democratic candidate for the 87th House District. His work appears biweekly.