By James Bovard
Thanks in large part to Covid lockdowns, this year has left vast wreckage in its wake, with ten million jobs lost, more than 100,000 businesses and dozens of national chains bankrupted or closed. Up to 40 million people could face eviction in the coming months for failing to pay rent, and Americans report that their mental health is at record low levels. But the casualty list for 2020 must also include many of the political myths that shape Americans’ lives.
Perhaps the biggest myth to die this year was that Americans’ constitutional rights are safeguarded by the Bill of Rights. After the Covid-19 pandemic began, governors in state after state effectively placed scores of millions of citizens under house arrest – dictates that former Attorney General Bill Barr aptly compared to “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties” since the end of slavery. Politicians and government officials merely had to issue decrees, which were endlessly amended, in order to destroy citizens’ freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of choice in daily life. Los Angeles earlier this month banned almost all walking and bicycling in the city, ordering four million people to “to remain in their homes” in a futile effort to banish a virus.
The Rule of Law is another myth impaled by 2020’s dire developments. Courts have repeatedly struck down sweeping restrictions. Federal judge William Stickman IV invalidated some of Pennsylvania’s restrictions in a September ruling: “Broad population-wide lockdowns are such a dramatic inversion of the concept of liberty in a free society as to be nearly presumptively unconstitutional.” After the Michigan Supreme Court effectively labeled Governor Gretchen Whitmer a lawless dictator, she responded by issuing “new COVID-19 emergency orders that are nearly identical to her invalidated emergency orders,” as the Mackinac Center noted. How many governors and mayors have you seen on the television news being led away in handcuffs after their arrest for violating citizens’ rights this year? None.
The Centers for Disease Control utterly botched the initial testing regime, sending out bogus tests to state and local health departments and taking a month and a half to do what the Thai government achieved in one day. The Food and Drug Administration helped turn the coronavirus from a deadly peril into a national catastrophe. Long after foreign nations had been ravaged and many cases had been detected in America, the FDA continued blocking private testing. The FDA continued forcing the nation’s most innovative firms to submit to its command-and-control approach, notwithstanding the pandemic.
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The benevolence and compassion of public school teachers was another myth that 2020 obliterated. Teacher unions helped barricade school doors the same way that segregationist governors in the 1950s and 1960s refused to obey federal court orders to admit black students. The Chicago Teachers Union proclaimed: “The push to reopen schools is based in sexism, racism, and misogyny.”
Black and Hispanic students suffered much larger learning losses due to school shutdowns, leading former Education Secretary John King to warn of a “lost generation of students.” Despite a deluge of studies that showed that schools posed little risk of fueling the pandemic, teachers insisted that they were entitled to both their salaries and to stay at home as long as they considered necessary.
This was part of the collapse of the broader myth that the rulers and ruled have common interests. Among other splits, the response to the pandemic divided Americans into those who work for a living, and those who “work” for the government. Government employees in most states and at the federal level have been the Untouchables, continuing to draw full pay even when they were no longer even required to show up for work. One exception to this trend is government tax collectors, who continue commandeering as much as ever from citizens and property owners regardless of the collapse in public services in many places this year.
Another myth that perished in 2020 was that social media and the Internet could be a powerful propellant of free information. Instead, the biggest players pulled the most strings to suppress criticisms or dissent from the latest Covid policies promulgated by officialdom. On March 18, Twitter announced that, in response to Covid-19, it would ban tweets guilty of “denial of expert guidance” or “misleading content purporting to be from experts or authorities.”
The World Health Organization initially overestimated the Covid fatality rate by 50-fold but they remain Twitter-approved. Facebook recently launched far more aggressive policies, including directly contacting anyone who liked or commented on a piece that was later ruled erroneous by Facebook guardians and is refusing any ads that discourages people from getting vaccinations. Will they ban WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan for declaring on Monday that there was “no evidence to be confident [vaccine] shots prevent transmission” of Covid? Google sought to suppress any doubts about lockdowns: “Most users in English-speaking countries, when they google ‘Great Barrington Declaration’, will not be directed to the declaration itself but to articles that are critical of the declaration,” a Spiked-Online analysis noted.
This year’s presidential election put a helluva dent in the credo that politicians rule with the “consent of the governed.” The pandemic provided the pretext to radically change voting procedures, spurring 65 million mostly unverified mail-in ballots. The New York Times warned in 2012 that “fraud in voting by mail is… vastly more prevalent than the in-person voting fraud that has attracted far more attention.” Many states solved that problem by “defining down fraud” and expunging the verification procedures previously used to routinely invalidate 20% or more of mailed-in ballots. The controversies around mail-in ballots, questionable software, ballot harvesting and other practices mean that a record number of Americans will doubt Joe Biden’s legitimacy even before he takes his oath of office.
Perhaps the saddest casualty of 2020 is the myth that average Americans cherish their personal freedom. Politicians continually shifted the rationale for lockdowns – from flattening the curve, to ending “community spread,” to reducing cases to near zero. Regardless of the proclaimed rationale, most people submitted without a fight, and usually without even a whimper. Politicians and bureaucrats fanned mass fears which quickly ripened into hatred of anyone who did not comply with the latest edict.
States and cities across the country set up snitch lines that were soon deluged with complaints of people outside without a mask, meeting friends, or having more visitors in their homes than could fit in a phone booth. Many, if not most, people quickly acquiesced to the “new normal” where any government hack who recited the phrase “science and data” became entitled to rule their lives with an iron fist.
As the Harvard International Review warned, “The very methods that liberal democracies are currently using to effectively fight the virus are the same tactics that authoritarian leaders use to dominate their people. The tools that have been temporarily deployed in the fight against a once-in-a-lifetime disease may become permanent.” That was written on May 23, more than 15 million Covid cases ago – proof of the failure of lockdowns and pervasive restrictions to make Covid-19 vanish. But the miserable batting average of officialdom will vanish into the Memory Hole if politicians launch a campaign to make Covid vaccinations mandatory, complete with boundless vilification of anyone who balks at the injection.
Perhaps it has long been a myth that we live in a self-governing republic rather than a Leviathan Democracy where citizens merely make cameo appearances every few years at the voting booth. It is still possible that the catastrophic and pointless losses imposed by Covid crackdowns will finally awaken enough people to their growing subjugation. But the most dangerous myth is that Americans will finally become safe after they cease making any efforts to leash their rulers.
James Bovard is the author of ten books, including Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications. He is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a frequent contributor to The Hill, and a contributing editor for American Conservative
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