From the moment we first heard of the coronavirus, media have provided us with a daily presentation of the nature, threat, global progress, and for some, deadly effect of the pandemic.
With more than 119 million worldwide and about 30 million in the United States listed as confirmed cases and over 2.6 million deaths worldwide and over 535,000 deaths in the United States, clearly it is a virulent disease.
For much of year 2020 we heard the pandemic described as “unprecedented,” but while the coronavirus pandemic may be the greatest physical ailment to attack humanity in our lifetime, pandemics are really not unprecedented. Historically, whether the bubonic plague or the Spanish flu, great illnesses have periodically infected the human race.
Media, with many politicians as willing accomplices, has also treated us to a steady drumbeat of fear. In saying this, I’m not belittling people’s genuine anxieties or their legitimate concern for the elderly or other highly vulnerable loved ones. I’m simply saying media knows fear sells, so to speak, and knows it’s a good business plan for their channels to hype the threat. There’s no question this approach has heightened peoples’ mental stress. Extensive coverage of the pandemic on social media also increases people’s stress.
Meanwhile, overreaching government in the U.S. and around the world has leveraged the pandemic to increase political power, e.g., tapping into state emergency powers laws to introduce a steady string of “executive orders” that limited freedom, undermined civil liberties, curtailed dissent or silenced reporting all to reinforce “public safety.”
Politicians, especially executives, want to appear to be in charge. They and their supporters and to some extent the general public want them to “do something.” But what do they do in the face of a pandemic? They begin issuing a series of behavioral orders, ostensibly to “flatten the curve” or “save hospital beds” or “slow the spread” or “save lives”… In Michigan and California, for example, these orders became increasingly obtrusive and, because politicians are not omniscient, inevitably inconsistent, contradictory, and for some, lacking common sense. Why? Because governors and public health officials play God but can’t pull off the role.
Then there is the politics of COVID. Governments issued a string of propagandistic statements encouraging behaviors in the name of public health, like “We’re all in this together,” “Stay at home, save lives,” “Stay six feet apart,” “Wear a mask,” “Wash your hands,” “Hands, face, space.” There is nothing wrong with these statements per se. But they can become a problem when they’re promoted with religious zeal as a new unquestioned orthodoxy, about which if you disagree or act differently, you will reap some sort of dire condemnation. In this regard, these statements become big sticks to control the public.
Worse, officials in several states eventually were caught violating their own policies, as if somehow such rules were for the masses and not for them the philosopher-kings. Some visited restaurants (CA Governor Gavin Newsom; RI Governor Gina Raimondo), got their hair done in salons (Speaker Nancy Pelosi), traveled to other homes or events (MI Governor Gretchen Whitmer), held gatherings (White House Coordinator of COVID Response Dr. Deborah Birx), and more. This kind of hypocrisy only undermines public confidence.
Government leaders have acted as if their COVID restrictions—lockdowns, stay at home orders—occurred in a vacuum with no side-effects. Somehow, for example, governors seem to think they could require children to stay home from school to protect them from the virus yet not incur any other downsides. Actually, though, there are an enormous number of confounding variables (those that always exist but are not usually foreseen yet affect the independent and dependent variables in an experiment) and unintended consequences. We’re just now beginning to understand the huge personal, social, economic ripple effects COVID-19 lockdowns have unleashed. Some are calling these restrictions the biggest mistake in human history.
I say “unintended consequences” because I’m not accusing politicians of malicious behavior or purposefully malevolent actions. I’m just noting, again, that politicians are not omniscient, so what they do in their effort to create in essence planned economies do not work. Planned economies have never worked. Among the unintended consequences of government pandemic lockdowns are increases in:
- domestic, child abuse.
- mental health problems.
- drug and substance addiction.
- unemployment and underemployment.
In addition, children and youth have experiencing a year of lost education. And children are damaged by social isolation.
Another and I’d say the most serious impact of government response to the pandemic has been the repression of freedom of speech, including curtailing or silencing dissent, and threats to religious liberty, in the name of public safety. While this voracious virus, bad though it is, is short-term, the loss of liberties can be long-term and of much more significant impact upon the future of free societies.
And it hasn’t just been government politicians willingly using the virus to wield power. It’s been people willing to trade freedom for perceived security. This is a cultural trend that was well underway before the pandemic hit, but Year 2020 saw this writ large.
This is something the late Francis A. Schaeffer warned us about in the 1970s: “I believe the majority of the silent majority, young and old will sustain the loss of liberties without raising their voices as long as their own life-styles are not threatened. And since personal peace and affluence are so often the only values that count with the majority, politicians know that to be elected they must promise these things. Politics has largely become not a matter of ideals–increasingly men and women are not stirred by the values of liberty and truth–but of supplying a constituency with a frosting of personal peace and affluence. They know that voices will not be raised as long as people have these things, or at least an illusion of them.” Growing authoritarianism, he said, arises out of desperate people given to self-interest.
A related freedom issue is Big Tech’s selective censorship of any content it deemed “misinformation” or “dangerous” vis-à-vis the “prevailing acceptable narrative,” particularly concerning the pandemic. Big Tech has acted in a similar fashion re partisan and ideological politics, so this is also a cultural trend that’s bigger than the pandemic. But with its actions, Big Tech affirmed a kind of monolithic COVID orthodoxy that must not be questioned, thus curtailing the free exchange of ideas. Big Tech has also threatened religious liberty, not with anti-religious statements but in suppressing religious posts or videos a committee working with Facebook’s “Community Standards” (which are not all bad or wrong) decides is somehow unacceptable.
“The argument is made that First Amendment speech protections only pertain to government action, not private companies. But technology has enabled a concentration of private power not previously imagined. The Communications Decency Act could be amended such that speech on technology platforms receives the same protections as all speech protected by the First Amendment.”
“In no “free” society can mass censorship, by government or the private sector, be considered a positive trait. History teaches us that when censorship occurs, authoritarianism is not far behind.”
Some states are now finally beginning to push back. Let’s hope their efforts are the beginning of a trend to curtail the excesses of the Big Tech monopoly.
I don’t claim to have identified all the negative side-effects that have resulted from COVID politics in 2020-2021, only highlights. There are more that we’ll come to understand with the passing of time. Hopefully, we’ll consider them objectively.
But for now, chaos, confusion, irresponsible and hysterical media, opportunistic politicians, we’ve seen it all. The pandemic has brought out the best, the noble in some of us, and the worst, the ignoble in a lot of us, particularly among the ruling elite and the tech oligarchs of Silcon Valley.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, COVID-19 will pass as other plagues, afflictions, and pandemics before it have passed. But it remains to be seen if or when the steady increase of government power and consequent loss of individual freedom in the United States will be stopped or reversed. Pray that it will, for the future of this free society depends upon it.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2021
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact me or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com/, or connect with me at www.linkedin.com/in/rexmrogers.