Another round of COVID insanity is upon us, and the totalitarian impulse among the ruling class is getting worse.
The spike in cases is undeniable. For this, it appears several important facts have converged. The early hope for herd immunity has turned out to be a chimera. The authorities assumed herd immunity would happen through the spread of disease or immunity through the help of vaccines or both. But the Delta and now the Lambda variants have undone old assumptions. Neither vaccines, nor prior infections, appear to offer much protection from these (although vaccines may prevent severe disease, the jury is out).
We also know the lockdowns, masks, social distancing, and other high-cost measures to stop the disease did little to accomplish that end. But they did ruin our lives.
In the good news department, deaths are mostly decoupled from this recent case spike. So this is becoming an endemic disease, like the common cold or the flu. This is a typical progression. The 1918, 1957, and 1968 flus all became manageable facts of life by becoming endemic, each one displaced by the later arrivals.
The case for new restrictions depends on assumptions about the effectiveness of these restrictions and the magnitude of the risk. The assumptions currently in play do not match the facts.
The Ruling Class’ New Toy
What’s driving the current push for new restrictions, shutdowns, and forced vaccinations are not the facts or good public health practices, but other priorities for the people in power. While these measures are costly and unpopular, they also reinforce the normality of these new powers and the justifications for using them. When people comply, they tend to align their beliefs with their practice, reinforcing the necessity of these emergency measures and the perceived competence of the ruling class.
The COVID restrictions have proven profoundly versatile. They let the authorities rearrange the economy, pick winners and losers, diminish long-established rights, and rig elections. They also keep everyone on edge and habituate some of the public to following stringent demands, such as taking an experimental vaccine. These emergency measures offer the ruling class the means to short-circuit the normal give and take of political life, and exercise dominance.
This approach also has a spiritual component; it lets the ruling faction reconceive that their lives and this epoch are meaningful. This cannot be dismissed too lightly. Avoidance of COVID has become a near-religious experience for some, with sacraments, sacrifices, priests, and a sharp distinction between the elect and the unelect.
The subordinate parts of the regime know the score. This is why the military is about to mandate COVID vaccinations. This is also why large parts of corporate America are doing the same. The fact that clinical trials are still incomplete, the control group was thrown out, and the current Delta variant appears to be unresponsive to (or perhaps even enhanced by) the vaccine is of little moment. Support for the restrictions and vaccine shaming demonstrate loyalty to the regime.
While I have described the various restrictions as unpopular, it is probably more accurate to say they are controversial. Some people hate them, others love them, and there is not much in between. It’s clear that the decision makers at the federal level, as well as in states like California and Illinois, are indifferent to the opposition. They believe what they see on CNN and blithely dismiss mask and vaccine skeptics as brainwashed losers. (Incidentally, Ph.D.s have the highest rate of vaccine hesitancy.)
Modes of Resistance
Renewed calls for restrictions are meeting some strong resistance, particularly here in Florida. While the state has taken a more relaxed, freedom-friendly approach, its results have not deviated widely from other states. Its COVID death rate is far lower than New York’s and New Jersey’s and those of dozens of other states. Lately, it has been unfairly vilified, even though its high vaccination rate of 50 percent is barely behind California’s, and the numbers of COVID deaths here and nationally are a fraction of what they were during earlier waves last spring, last summer, and last winter.
Much of the heat and the credit for Florida’s approach accrues to Governor DeSantis, a charismatic champion of common sense and freedom during this nationwide nervous breakdown. While this is smart politics in a state so dependent on tourism and the service industries, it won’t stop the crackdowns from running amuck elsewhere, nor will it easily stop federal mandates in areas where the federal government has control or simply assumes control, as in the eviction moratorium.
With lockdowns and renewed mask mandates, most people I meet talk about renewed restrictions with a mixture of dread and resignation. One thing that hasn’t happened is the kind of resistance and large demonstrations we see now in Europe, including Great Britain, Germany, and France.
This is unfortunate. The vague hope of most normal people that this is all coming to an end does not mean it is true. By way of analogy, there has been no reprieve from the racial and trans-rights hysteria unleashed in the latter part of the Obama years.
We have to face reality. The notion of a political pendulum is a complete myth. Once it has a hold of something, the Left escalates its efforts, then pulverizes its opposition. And today, the Left has nearly fully consolidated its grip on all of the nodes of societal power.
This is not going to end quickly, as there are too many stakeholders in the current insanity, and too much of their political capital is tied up in it. It also won’t end because these measures do not work. While it seems a fast path to an unpopular presidency and mediocre economy for Joe Biden, it’s also a path to tailoring elections, the economy, and the criminal justice system to the whims of the ruling class. The Left plays a long game.
While the motives are manifest, there is also a question of costs. The biggest reason the overreaction continues is that there are almost no consequences for any of the decision makers. Not only are there no protests or boycotts of note, but the companies and government officials responsible for this atrocity are perfectly content, secure in their privileges and prestige. Anthony Fauci is not in jail, and neither is CDC director Rochelle Walensky. Barack Obama still had his big birthday celebration. Overseas, China continues to increase its economic and military power, in spite of its substantial responsibility for the coronavirus.
Similarly, the corporate titans are living on the cloud, far away from the people they are hurting. The only ones who may have outkicked their coverage are the military’s generals. Orders or no orders, thousands of soldiers would rather get run out on a medical board or receive an “other than honorable” discharge than take an experimental vaccine. Imagine a lieutenant colonel or master sergeant two years from retirement getting shafted out of a pension, repeated thousands of times over. It would be like disbanding the Iraqi Army.
These tens of millions of passive resisters are the weak links in the system. The system can’t realistically force anything in the face of this scale of passive resistance, and their proposed blandishments—like restrictions on international travel or eating at chain restaurants—are bearable costs for the people of “flyover country.”
More important, the perpetrators have names, addresses, and comfortable lives, insulated from the kinds of pressure an aroused public can deliver. To succeed, pro-freedom COVID politics has to go beyond the efforts of a single state’s governor. Serious pressure and interference must be brought to bear on those who are responsible for this. As Maxine Waters once said, “get in their faces.”
Everyone knows that abusers don’t stop until you make them stop.