The consequences of the coronavirus have been profound, but the politics of it have turned out to be remarkably trivial. That’s worrisome.
When the pandemic first landed in America, there was a momentousness that birthed a cottage industry for spouting clever predictions about how society would change forever. On the political front, a conflict quickly took shape between two basic groups: the ruling elite, who planned to do everything possible to blame the virus on Donald Trump and preserve the status quo, and the populists hoping to seize the moment and promote more salutary policies, like reductions in immigration and bringing manufacturing home.
The intervening weeks have eliminated not just any pretense of concord that at first flickered, but also, to a large extent, have crushed that sense of momentousness. It is possible that some fruitful recalibration will come out of tragedy, but the politics have been predictable so far, much to the relief of the establishment. Perhaps it is a credit to its institutional power and associated control of the political conversation.
America was vulnerable before the coronavirus appeared, but critical thinking about these vulnerabilities has been strictly forbidden. The hope of the ruling class is to impress upon Americans that the coronavirus and its devastation is the blunder of one man, rather than a national catastrophe that calls for a shift in the trajectory of failure our nation has been on for 50 years. The virus has become just another “get Trump” intrigue, with a new train of animal convulsions about “testing!,” which seems to be the new shorthand for “Orange man bad.” (Seriously, can they talk about anything else?)
Independent of Trump’s actual performance, the elite would like to hang the virus on Trump, and Trump alone, to bolster their aspirations of installing a maundering mummy in a Delaware basement named Joe in the Oval Office. A national crisis has been impeachment-fied.
That is the short-term plan, at least. The long-term one is more distressing.
That plan appears to be to convince Americans of the necessity of giving up what is left of their freedom and their dignity, and finally accept their status as serfs in a new America, where they are citizens in theory, but subjects—dare I say, test subjects—in practice.
Experiments in Control
The last few weeks have made it plain, if it wasn’t clear before, just how much America’s ruling elite hates America, its people, and their free institutions. With no consultation from the people themselves, the elite have shut down the country, wiped out the economy, placed millions of Americans under house arrest, and effectively have suspended the Constitution. Should anyone dare to contradict their edicts, they have a national propaganda campaign in effect to trash him.
Objectors have been met with showers of mockery and shame, from CNN to the pages of respectable newspapers, even from their own elected officials, for exercising their right to protest and demand answers from elected officials. This ostracism has drawn from a familiar well of contempt for conservatives and Trump supporters: anyone who questions the decisions of the powerful is imagined not just to be unhelpful, but stupid, selfish, and possibly racist, too.
In America, the people are supposed to be sovereign. But the crisis has exposed a gargantuan lust for power among many public officials and their hangers-on, who seem to think that it is they who rightfully rule. Protests have evinced not so much an impatience with uncooperative citizens but a powerful, vicious resentment that the masses still have pretensions to self-government. What could be more annoying to all-powerful rulers than a weak, but still loud, opposition?
Americans have been harassed, fined, and jailed for living their lives and trying to take care of their families. Many officials have been in no hurry to explain their decisions or clarify the timelines of draconian restrictions. A capricious, arbitrary spirit of contempt for the people has prevailed.
They Hate Us
The coronavirus has dispelled any illusions America’s ruling class does anything other than work against Americans, their rights, and their welfare. While covering for China and its cover-up—any criticism of China distracts from Trump’s exclusive blame—experts and their mouthpieces have ratified almost immediately even the most intrusive policies. At first, citizens were told to wash their hands and be mindful of others. After just a few short weeks, they were ordered to adjust to a permanent, creepy “new normal,” stay home, and accept the necessity of expansive new systems of Chinese-style mass surveillance.
By making the virus into a melodrama about Trump, the liberal elite have sought to subdue the masses and distract them from these manifold threats to their rights.
Meanwhile, the same leaders who sold the country out to China have not, of course, allowed a pandemic to change these priorities. Not even the worst unemployment crisis in generations is a good enough excuse, it turns out, to interrupt several decades of high-level Third World migration or outsourcing of American industry. President Trump’s immigration “moratorium”—which turned out to be a missed opportunity anyway, and nothing even close to what you would think from the hysterical reaction—with the usual screeching about xenophobia and racism. Stephen Miller, mused the New York Times, had once tried to “use disease” to control borders even before the coronavirus. The nerve.
For the ruling class, the rights of Americans are contingent or, even, meaningless. But the rights of “guest workers” to come here cannot be abridged, ever.
Submitting to Managerial Serfdom
Consider the last several weeks a test run for the Biden regency, a preview of what America might look like if, and when, rule by the “managers” becomes a permanent, irreversible fact, and democracy is part of the past.
For decades, the autonomy and self-confidence of the American people has diminished, as a new form of government—rule by experts who often don’t know what’s good for Americans, and largely don’t seem to care—took hold.
Joe Biden, the first presidential candidate in history who, everyone knows, would not actually be running the country, would herald the completion of America’s decline into a managerial state. His candidacy spells the obvious: the ruling elite are finished with keeping up appearances. They feel entitled to power.
What does the relatively muted opposition to government overreach mean for Biden’s prospects? Suppose that a hostile ruling elite has finally broken the spirit of the American people, pacified them, rendered them docile and subservient: which candidate benefits more in that scenario?
A resounding victory for Biden would ratify that Americans approve of their expert overlords that they’d rather be ruled than rule themselves.
Is that where America is headed?