Over the past month, we’ve had a national experience that has been part medical crisis, part unintentional social experiment. It’s been a bit surreal for almost everyone, I think.
Things that don’t make sense invite speculation. Some conspiracy-minded folk have attributed the Wuhan virus to nefarious forces, such as a Chinese economic weapon unleashed to devastate the West. Others focus on the domestic scene, and presume that those who seem to be reveling in the collective misery (whether leftist journalists or the little tin gods of our bureaucratic infrastructure) must have had some part in bringing it about.
Nobody choreographed the virus. Never blame the buzzards for the roadkill! Nobody stage-managed the crisis, and only a relative few have shamelessly turned it into a political opportunity.
Still, we can be sure that leaders and “influencers,” from every political and cultural faction, are observing keenly. As a nation, we need to teach our “ruling class” the right lessons.
The greatest crisis of the 20th century, World War II, is remembered as a golden age of American unity, when we all pulled together to defeat a common foe. Everyone made sacrifices, across partisan lines, because we saw both the magnitude and urgency of the threat. To a considerable degree, the economy was centrally controlled because our common goal of winning the war temporarily trumped the motive of mere profit. And, unforgettably for the Left, everyone willingly took orders from a Democrat.
Ever since that war, there has been a political quest for some similarly unifying event, often cast as a “war on” something or other, in a none-too-subtle attempt to recreate that harmonious and romanticized magic.
And it’s always failed. Poverty was not the new Axis; drugs were not the new Hitler. Environmental concerns, no matter how alarmingly portrayed, could not frighten or anger Americans enough to put them in a sacrificial defensive posture, or militant submission to authority. “This is our World War II!,” we’ve heard about the environment, but it hasn’t even been our Mexican Punitive Expedition.
Then came the novel coronavirus.
We’ve reacted militantly, and we aren’t wrong to do so. Our elderly citizens, as we’ve understood it, have been held more or less hostage to our good anti-virus behavior. In consequence, a national population which largely scorns the free, annual flu shots has radically modified its routines and briefly canceled economic activities. As an example of Americans pulling together, it’s been heart-warming.
But to those rubbing their hands in glee at how submissive we’ve been to authority during this crisis, it’s been something more—it’s been an inspiration. The virus has been what the other leftist bogeymen have failed to be: a threat that captured Americans’ imaginations, mobilized our resources, and secured our obedience.
And it will continue to do so, a bit longer.
With the end of the crisis, however, must come a recalibration, an assertion that (as with World War II) we voluntarily suspended some of our liberties, for a while, to protect all of them and to return to the status quo ante. We may not be at the beginning of the end of the war on COVID-19—but we’re well past the end of the beginning, and probably even in the middle of the middle.
So it’s time to consider the post-COVID-19 world.
This is not the “new normal.” “Normal” is individuals making their own decisions, free of government coercion, about how much risk of infection they are willing to endure. Your frail uncle might still prefer the elbow bump to a handshake, because of his realistic concern about infection at his age; your portly, jolly cousin is going to go back to hugging indiscriminately. Each to his own best judgment! Yes, you will touch doorknobs and stand in lines without a six-foot distance. And the masks will come off.
That is, the anti-germ masks will come off. But while the COVID-19 masks were being worn by the population at large, some other masks slipped. Some ominously benevolent officials, elected and appointed, reveled a bit too much in their power and acted as if the suspension of liberty was not an unfortunate temporary measure, but a feature of the bug. They were watching us.
Well, we were watching them, too. Come November, let’s let them draw some unemployment for a while.