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Arnold Ahlert / Mar. 26, 2020

Are We Sacrificing Liberty for Security?

We must evaluate the real price of the near-total economic shutdown.

“There are no solutions. There are only tradeoffs.” —Thomas Sowell

In the midst of the current China Virus pandemic — and the media-generated panic that greatly exacerbates it — the reality of the above quote remains immutable. And right now, the presumptive default position — for reasonable Americans, at least — is that government is operating in our best interests. One says reasonable because there will always be those incapable of transcending politics. What they’re afflicted with is far worse than coronavirus, because while viruses may be ultimately beaten back, rabid partisanship appears eternal. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (SC) privately told his Democrat Party members that a coronavirus bill supposedly aimed at giving relief to millions of unemployed and sick Americans was “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

What kinds of “tradeoffs” were Democrats seeking? Courtesy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who showed her true colors in time of crisis, a hard-left wish list of items wholly unrelated to helping a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. One suspects millions of Americans beset by a crushing combination of self-isolation, unemployment, impending bankruptcy, and fear of death or serious debilitation are appalled by “solutions” that included same-day voter registration, ballot harvesting, gender and racial diversity data requirements for corporations and the government, automatic extensions for nonimmigrant visas, more wind and solar tax credits, and requirements that an already reeling airline industry cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 50%.

Pelosi ultimately caved, but one hopes voters will remember such despicable self-interest next November. Yet that is a topic for another day.

The topic for today was best expressed by President Donald Trump in a tweet: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

It will be interesting to see if he has even that much time. While our media elites have already branded Trump’s since-revised assertion as a choice “between solidarity and barbarism” or called it an “astoundingly boneheaded idea,” there is either a stunning level of naiveté or monumental self-unawareness attached to such sentiments.

First, the difference between solidarity and barbarism is in the eye of the beholder: New Yorkers fleeing Manhattan and hunkering down at well-stocked beachfront mansions in the Hamptons are likely far more sanguine about self-isolation than a single mother forced to wait it out with her two kids in a tiny apartment in the projects. And again, it’s easier to be noble when one is blessed with recession-proof wherewithal rather than facing financial calamity. Moreover, some people can tolerate loneliness, isolation, and adversity; some cannot — not even for a week.

Second, while it is easy to focus on the mortality rate of the coronavirus wholly by itself, to ignore the potential morality rate associated with isolation-engendered drug and alcohol overdoses, accidents, suicide, or murder is a fool’s errand. In many cases, simply contemplating a future of enduring financial ruination may be enough to push someone over the edge.

Thus, to simply dismiss as barbarism or boneheadedness the idea of what may be best described as a more targeted approach to the dilemma — or, worse, to assume that such an approach is evil — is itself an indication that some types of solidarity are “more equal” than others.

At some point — utterly irrespective of the president’s hopes, expert advice, or a poisonous media thoroughly invested in sowing panic, discord, hatred, and hysteria — the pressure to reintegrate will become unbearable. It’s impossible to say where prolonged purposelessness ultimately leads, but to completely dismiss it as part of the equation is shortsighted.

Another factor? By self-isolating and social distancing, could we be kicking the proverbial can down the road and extending the timeline of the pandemic? We are told such measures are necessary to prevent overloading our healthcare system, but what happens to that same healthcare system when it must deal with a persistent level of coronavirus, coupled with the additional pathologies arising from the scourges of isolation and economic catastrophe? It’s worth remembering that the deaths arising from America’s opioid crisis — largely attributed to economic disruption exponentially less serious than what could happen now — outpaced those arising from car accidents. It’s also worth considering how many healthcare providers would be put out of business by an unprecedented economic catastrophe.

Moreover, when does “an abundance of caution” lead to an abundance of oppression? If it turns out coronavirus is only marginally more deadly than flu, what becomes the “standard” mortality rate for shutting down an entire nation, imposing draconian government controls, and essentially subverting the Constitution?

And not just for coronavirus, but any potential deadly disease going forward?

Already the Justice Department is asking Congress to expand its powers during a national emergency, including the ability to allow chief judges to permanently detain an individual without trial. As columnist Douglas MacKinnon reminds us, such “temporary” power, once given to government, “is rarely returned to the people and often abused.”

Moreover, do the people get a say in the matter? MacKinnon believes — and one suspects millions of other Americans do as well — that some sort of national referendum should be held. Let the people decide whether we continue indefinitely sheltering in place, or embrace a possible “herd immunity” strategy that incorporates a new set of social mores designed to provide safety to the nation’s most vulnerable people. One that can be effected without committing economic suicide.

Unthinkable? With regard to the seasonal flu, it’s a choice we’ve already made, even though millions will get it and thousands will die — year in, year out.

That such a longstanding choice has never been turned into a political issue is telling. There is little doubt that widespread panic is a great enabler of power consolidation, and once the crisis passes — or Americans decide to endure a certain level of risk to put it behind them — the necessity of a thorough review regarding who can essentially suspend constitutional rights “for emergency sake” is absolutely imperative. If we don’t review such power grabs, many Americans will wonder whether we were properly responding to a crisis — or creating a template for totalitarian governance.

And finally, the media. The one that makes a complete mockery of hope, largely because hope doesn’t accrue to its political sensibilities, even when hope may be the only thing keeping millions of Americans from losing their minds. Fueled by arrogance and condescension, the media’s unrelenting effort to divide America during its most dire crisis is the sorriest spectacle of rank self-interest this nation has ever witnessed. This is one American who fervently hopes this contemptible army of doomsayers, panic-mongers, propagandists, and outright liars gets the mother of all comeuppances, as they have proven themselves incapable of embracing simple decency when it matters most.

We certainly hope President Trump’s desire to reopen America by Easter Sunday can be realized. Two resurrections on the same day has a nice ring to it.

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