Today a group of my fellow Americans will travel to the nation’s capital, gather in large numbers, refuse to wear masks, and infect one another with COVID-19. That’s my nightmare, but it’s also a plausible reality. Outside is much safer than inside, but in close enough quarters, transmission of the disease is still possible, and a new, ultra-contagious strain is in circulation now. I fear the protesters will catch the disease, whether in the course of travel or protest; unknowingly carry it back to to their scattered towns; spread it to their friends and family; and suffer mightily thereafter, whether from their own sickness or death, or the knowledge that, by attending what they were warned would be a super-spreader event, they contributed to the suffering and death of a parent or a spouse or a flight attendant or an ER doctor or the very ICU nurse who inserted a breathing tube down their throat…

This isn’t a campaign rally that, whatever its risks, could change the fate of an election. Americans already braved a pandemic to cast their votes as democratic citizens. This is postelection venting that will achieve no more than stoking a lame duck’s ego at a terrible cost to many.

Counterprotesters may gather too. They may diligently don masks, and take more care with the lives of those around them than misguided anti-maskers who wrongly associate pandemic face coverings with tyranny. Still, these counterprotesters may underestimate the risk they are taking, partly because of public-health authorities’ imprudent endorsements of the Black Lives Matter mass protests this summer.