Redington-Fairview General Hospital held a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Skowhegan State Fair in August. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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An old tale, written by Hans Christian Andersen, tells the story of a foolish emperor who is swindled into believing that he wears the finest garment, visible only to the wise. But he really strides naked on parade. Nobody risks telling him they see nothing until an innocent child blurts out, “The emperor has no clothes.”

That declaration has come to describe a clear fact that many people insistently get wrong. It means, “What you claim is obviously incorrect. Here is the naked truth.”

Here are some of today’s naked truths.

Vaccination against COVID-19 works. Maine provides the best possible proof of that truth.

The counties with the lowest new case rates have the highest percentage of vaccinated people. Most people in counties that are now nearly the worst in the country have chosen not to get shots. They risk their own health and may spread the virus to others.

The term “herd immunity” was meant to convey the idea that, when only a few people remain unvaxxed, the virus won’t easily spread. In the counties with high case rates, we can see the reverse — herd vulnerability.

Many possible explanations exist for abstaining, including partisan politics and misinformation, intentional or not. It may be a matter of mindset. Maine health expert Dr. Dora Anne Mills has said, “We very strongly need people from conservative circles — religious, faith and business — to really stand up and promote vaccination.”

There’s another truth that causes harm if ignored. Voting matters. And serious voting matters seriously.

On this truth, Maine takes comfort because it comes close to leading the country in voter participation. The U.S. in 2020 had a high rate of two-thirds of eligible voters; Maine had 76 percent participation. So what’s the problem?

Nationally, a third of eligible voters did not vote. Joe Biden received 51.3 percent of the votes cast. That means the president was elected by a third of the possible number of voters. While the high turnout may feel good, it’s important to look at those who did not vote. In effect, they “voted” for Biden by not voting for anybody else.

Voting in the 2020 elections influenced decisions on matters such as whose vote will count next time, the future make-up of the Supreme Court, and Biden’s legislative program. In U.S. Senate races, the GOP margin in North Carolina and the Democratic margin in Arizona were small. If either had flipped, you would never have heard of Sen. Joe Manchin’s swing vote power.

Casual voting on the basis of personality or a wedge issue cannot achieve the full value of each vote. Who paid attention to the fate of the child tax credit when they voted for senator? If you care, voting seriously takes thought.

Some politicians have become blind to the truth that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” They justify dubious actions on the grounds that their opponents did the same thing, excusing themselves even while implicitly admitting their actions were wrong.

This refusal to recognize the truth is a major cause of the spiral to the bottom in American politics, made even worse when the supposed action by the other party is fabricated. When Donald Trump was impeached for pressuring the Ukraine to help his campaign, his backers excused him by claiming, without any evidence, that Barack Obama had done the same thing.

This ploy may help explain why many eligible voters stay home. Hearing the claim that both sides have gone wrong, they can conclude there’s no real difference between the parties. So why bother voting?

Another obvious truth is ignored by government, business and individuals in the computer age.  There’s a widespread belief that voting and personal privacy can be made secure from hacking.  Not so. The situation is growing worse.

The “emperor’s new clothes” answer is that complete computer security is impossible. Election systems are always in danger and our personal lives are always at risk of public exposure. Still, computer experts keep trying to get technology to solve its own problems. In the end, though, the “cloud” is just somebody else’s hackable computer.

The truth may be that we have to go backward. Back up everything with vital stuff like election ballots and electric grid operating manuals on paper. When somebody makes us a “great offer,” it should be on paper so we can read the fine print.

To reduce electronic security issues, from government to individuals, we should apply the old ways of doing things on paper now, even if it takes some work, to prevent problems later. Otherwise, it could be a case of “sin in haste, repent at leisure.”

Too often, we believe we can see the emperor’s new clothes, while ignoring the naked truth.  Unlike the foolish emperor, we may be harming others as much as ourselves.

Andersen’s amusing Danish kid’s story remains a cautionary tale for everybody.


Gordon Weil, Opinion contributor

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.