The coronavirus pandemic has been called “unprecedented,” but it really is not. Pandemics have ravaged humanity periodically since the dawn of time.
What’s unprecedented is the media-stoked public panic and consequent pandemonium we’ve witnessed worldwide, including in the United States, followed by the equally unprecedented trampling of Americans’ civil liberties by US Governors, Mayors, and even County Commissioners.
No question the coronavirus is virulent. Reasonable and responsible precautions are clearly warranted and should be practiced, especially by individuals with physical conditions placing them at higher risk.
No one wants disease. No one wants people to suffer. No one wants people to die. So of course, responsible precautions that can reduce the number of exposures, infections, and death should be adopted. But there are no actions and certainly no guarantees against what we’re now being told is “preventable death.”
Unilateral executive branch decisions that have virtually stopped the American economy in its tracks are based upon science, so most officials have claimed, but for some this means the worst-case pandemic modeling, which are already being called into question. For others, the root of their decision-making authority is mysterious, with no scientific evidence provided.
Another problem is the goal posts keep being moved. First, we were told mitigation measures like shelter-in-place were necessary to “flatten the curve.” Second, it was to avoid overloading hospitals. Now it’s “when we have a vaccine” or “No one’s safe until everybody’s safe.” In other words, government executives and bureaucrats can go on “mitigating” our lives indefinitely.
Meanwhile, one glaring fact seems to be ignored. Ongoing, mandated, statewide “non-essential” business shutdowns and stay-at-home “orders” do not happen in a controlled or sealed environment. While such decisions are presented as if the only issues involved are the virus and public health, yet these decisions are not without what researchers call “extraneous variables,” the uncontrollable circumstances of life—ripple effects, unintended consequences, even collateral damage like “deaths of despair” due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
Nor is the decision a binary one like media and officials keep presenting it. No evidence suggests we must adopt strict, stay-at-home orders or succumb to mass death, a fatal zero-sum used to leverage overreaching policies.
Nor are there truly defensible reasons we must apply a one-size-fits-all approach to responding to the virus, i.e., because a few counties/states should take more aggressive action to stop the spread of the virus than all counties/states must do exactly the same. Despite what public officials and celebrities are now claiming, there is no Stay-at-Home/Wear-a-Mask vs. You-are-Selfish equation or that anyone not wearing a mask in public is “the enemy.” And by the way, don't protest government policies, for this is ipso facto "selfish."
We continue to work with inverted logic. In early May 2020, about 1.3 million C-19 cases have been recorded in the US, with about 78,000 deaths. At the same time, 20+ million have lost jobs since February—some economists saying 40% of these jobs won’t come back—which will result in greater personal and societal suffering.
Many unemployed haven’t seen a nickel of unemployment benefits or federal relief funds. And this says nothing about delayed “non-essential” medical care. All the while, we’re talking about a virus, though virulent, which individuals have only a 1-2% chance of catching and a 98% chance of expected recovery.
If lives matter, what about the 20+ million unemployed and the other tens of millions negatively affected by shutdowns? Why is no one running models predicting future social and economic crises?
US Governors, Mayors, and the President are politicians—including also the public health “experts” working for government. Experts is in quotes not to demean these individuals, most of whom we hope are well-intentioned, but to note that experts can be found to say anything, interpret the same data differently, and argue vigorously about what’s right, best, or good. Just look at the experts hired by both the defense and the prosecution in any given murder trial. Same here for medical health experts. Which expert is the unbiased expert? Which pied piper do you follow?
Additionally, back to politicians, it is not too difficult to surmise that they (Democrat and Republican) enjoy their daily press conferences, the degree to which the pandemic puts them (rare in their career) front and center, and the new, assumed political and administrative clout they’ve claimed via “emergency powers” and “executive orders,” in the name of protecting lives. This is not to suggest that politicians are plotting to perpetuate the pandemic (though some are offering conspiracy theories including that some noted public health officials are or will profit from certain kinds of treatments for which they hold patents or shares) but to say the media attention these politicians are garnering day in and day out is difficult for them to decline, much less reduce or stop.
Government executives assert legal justification for their actions based not on the national or state constitutions (because they cannot) but via various dusty legislatively developed disaster laws enacted in view of wartime or potential pandemic developments. Problem here is that these laws envisioned short-term executive action, not open-ended ones, and certainly not ones permitting the executive branch to supersede or suspend civil liberties.
It’s been amazing, disheartening, and downright scary to watch how easily Americans’ civil liberties have been trampled by Governors and Mayors in just a few weeks. Governors and Mayors have engaged in unnecessary overreach and unconstitutional actions in the name of public health. They've done this “to keep people safe” as several have put it, so perhaps their motives are worthy, but they’ve also done it for power and to appear powerful, and they've been able to do it because media-stoked fear in the populace has given them cover.
So innumerable executive orders have listed “essential” and “non-essential” businesses and activities and Governors or Mayors have shared their decisions in breathless, sometimes combative, daily or Friday press conferences. One activity after another of everyday American life has been shut down in the name of safety. Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives; Six Feet Saves; Stay Home, Stay Healthy; Stay Home, Save Lives; along with similar mantra, is the new prime directive of American life.
Meanwhile, the extraneous variables of life and the inevitable unintended consequences are now happening. The problem is, no government official is omniscient, so no essential/non-essential policy can be written that’s not laced with inequities and eventual collateral damage.
Churches are deemed non-essential and forced to close, yet marijuana, liquor, and hardware stores, along with abortion clinics and lotto operations, are considered essential and remain open. People can travel across state lines but not within their own state to go to their own properties. They can row a boat but not sail a motor boat. Certain medical procedures are designated non-essential and, ironically, in the midst of a pandemic, hospital staff are being laid off. People are arrested walking alone on a beach, pushing a stroller in a park, paddle boating alone on the ocean. So it goes.
This has always been the problem with planned economies and why the free market should be trusted to let people determine by their buying habits what is non-essential. And by the way, a business deemed non-essential by government is essential to the ones who own it or who work there. Essential or non-essential is in the eye of the beholder.
Job losses and ongoing unemployment with reduction of income can result in a different kind of fear. Poverty and hunger can be exacerbated. In turn there can be social unrest, which almost inevitably creates a context for violence. All of this is predictable. None of this is good.
Civil liberties have been blithely set aside including religious liberty, assembly, and believe it or not, speech. It’s unreal to see American corporations acting like philosopher-kings who know best, censoring disagreement, all the while, along with celebrities, claiming a moral high ground.
Things have happened in the United States in the weeks since February that never should have occurred, clear violations of the ideals-most-dear upon which this country was built.
I don't agree with statewide lockdowns, stay-at-home, and shelter-in-place "orders" that may or may not save lives but certainly are destroying jobs, the economy, and people’s dreams and ability to care for themselves. I don’t agree with orders undermining civil liberties and shuttering churches.
Of course, I agree the virus can be deadly and people need to take special precautions, like we always do with illnesses. I agree social distancing may help and commonsense washing hands and good hygiene helps. I just don’t think government officials should be the ones dictating to us what we must do, or rather what we cannot do.
Unprecedented social change is afoot that bodes more ill than the virus.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2020
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