Editorial: Paranoia


People get angry about government and its regulations and interference in their lives. Sometimes they’re justified. But more often, they don’t know the facts and they concoct heinous conspiracy theories to explain why they were targeted and why sinister forces operating in the shadows were able to use the power of government to oppress them.

Thanks mostly to fake news and our country’s intensely divisive and paranoid politics, more and more people across the country have come to the conclusion that the federal government is their mortal enemy. That’s a problem. A republic cannot stand when hated by more than a few of its citizens.

Distrust of government is a problem on the local level too, maybe more so at this time of year, when the heat, crowding and bad behavior make everyone touchy and prone to think the worst of everyone. Politicians who must parry their conspiracy theories end up too busy defending themselves from attack, maneuvering to eclipse opponents, putting out fake brush fires and playing to the galleries for favor to get much of anything real done.

Two recent examples come to mind. In one case, a Southampton Village resident told the Town Board last month that traffic control officers were harassing people at Sagg Main Beach in Sagaponack by ticketing them in order to suppress attendance at the free drum performance given on the beach by Escola de Samba every Monday evening in summer. She was appalled that the town’s police power would be deployed to disrupt something so benign and beneficial as a terrific drum concert.

It’s absolutely true that town TCOs visit Sagg Main Beach on Monday evenings to ticket cars without parking permits. Some years ago, the town changed it rules to require permits beyond 6 p.m. at that beach precisely because of a serious overcrowding problem caused by the popularity of those drum performances. For the same reason, the Village of Sagaponack imposed parking limits along Sagg Main Street. Sagaponack contracts with Southampton Town Police for its code enforcement so there is nothing dark and sinister about coming by every Monday to enforce the rules.

More ominous is the utterly baseless charge against East Hampton Town that its elected officials and its airport management suspended use of the “Sierra” south shore noise abatement route for helicopters last month to placate billionaires who live along the beach.

First of all, there is no political or practical mechanism to implement such a conspiracy: the routes are negotiated principally by the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council and tower personnel. Their interest is survival of the airport, which spreading out the noise may support, and safety.

Secondly, it is the airport tower chief who stunned everyone when he declared at an Airport Management Committee meeting on July 20 that there was too much traffic on the Sierra route mixing with fixed-wing traffic south of the airport for his controllers to handle safely, given the tower’s blocked view in that direction. Why did it happen when it did, after all these years? Airport traffic is up 20 percent this year, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc has disclosed. That heavier workload put the controllers at the breaking point.

The Southampton woman’s concern about Sagg Main Beach parking enforcement is understandable. But it is appalling to hear someone get up at a public meeting with absolutely no evidence and accuse the town board of colluding with big shots whose homes line the beach to impose more helicopter noise on Noyac and Northwest Woods. It’s exactly the same kind of destructive demagoguery that Donald Trump employs in the White House that is creating so many waves of distrust in the first place.