A good deal of scathing commentary has been heaped on Emily Oster’s terrible piece in the far-Left Atlantic on COVID amnesty, so I won’t spend more time on the fundamental lunacy and—as our own Ned Ryun aptly puts it—the chutzpah of this old-new leftist idea: That you have to let everyone off the hook for the terrible things they did because they had no way of knowing at the time that it was terrible. (“I’m sorry I bashed your head in! I thought it was in the best interests of society!”)
Instead, I want to ask the Osters of the world a question of perspective: Why do you suppose it is, if there were “mistakes” on all sides, that 100 percent of the pandemic “errors in judgment” went against individual freedom and liberty? If this were an honest back-and-forth situation, where everyone was getting it wrong some of the time, you’d expect to see some big mistakes in the other direction—in the direction of not enough precaution, not enough restraint. Instead, Oster would like us to believe, we flipped a hundred coins, and every single one came up tails.
I grant you that Oster may be hysterical and totally lacking in common sense—most tenure committees consider that a prerequisite. But “mistakes” like this don’t just happen, one after the other and all tending in the same direction, unless the people guiding society have a fundamental conviction under everything else that people cannot be trusted and that the biggest threat to good order and “progress” is the people themselves.
Keep a weather-eye on the Republican Party as soon as the elections are over. Don’t expect them to rush head over heels to represent your views or actually do what you wanted them to. Trump did what the voters wanted and look what they did to him—and by “they” I mean the Republicans as much as the Democrats: You can serve the people or you can serve the government, but you can’t do both. Guess which side the GOP leadership is on?
If a new Republican caucus were serious about its duties to the voters, it would fire Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy today. No more nonsense about how good they are at maneuvering through the minutiae of procedure in Washington. It’s not that these men are incompetent; in fact they’re very good at what they do. It’s just that they’re playing for the wrong team. They’ve been the leaders of a party we didn’t vote for, elected under false pretenses by paying us lip-service every two years. They get elected by pretending to offer us an alternative to Democrats. Gotta keep that old illusion alive—it keeps everyone paying their taxes.
Mitch McConnell must not become majority leader in the Senate. Kevin McCarthy must not become majority leader in the House.
But they will.
Many people have written about the uniparty, but unfortunately the problem is more sinister than that. You may wonder why the American government seemed more bent on cooperating with the Chinese government than with Americans during the pandemic. You may wonder why ostensible democracies like England and Australia gave us sudden flashes of fascism, locking the potentially infected in concentration camps and having the police threaten people who came out of their houses.
It’s not just that the Republicans have more in common with the Democrats than they do with their voters. It’s that governments—all over the globe—have more in common with each other than they do with their people. We’re not just living in a uniparty country. We’re living in a unigovernment world.
Your elected representatives, the ones who have been in Washington for a couple of decades, have closer ties with Xi Jingping than they have with you. The top-level officers in our military have more in common with their opposite numbers in China than they have with you. Or with their enlisted men. (Remember when General Mark Milley actually bragged in public testimony that he’d promised to warn rather than attack the People’s Liberation Army.)
Governments of the world, be they communist or fascist or even nominally democratic, all agree about one thing—they agree that people are dangerous. Our lives need to be run and controlled. And they are the boys for the job. Governments agree on so much, they may even agree it can be mutually beneficial to go to war with each other from time to time. There’s nothing that transfers power and wealth from people to governments so quickly and efficiently as a nice little war.
So when you look at a thoroughly confusing global situation and have trouble understanding which country benefits from insanities like the war in Ukraine, it’s because you’re asking the wrong question: You imagine that, just because countries seem to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, or even on opposite sides of a military conflict, that those governments must be fighting against one another. In reality, those governments are fighting together against you: Stealing your life and your labor and your money to pay their own way.
Fortunately, America is uniquely positioned among all the nations in the world with a safety valve—albeit one we’ve forgotten about: We have states. We have states that are supposed to operate as a counterbalance to federal power. Before the Civil War, individual states (and groups of states) were forces to be reckoned with—and that meant Washington had to pay them, and their citizens, due consideration and respect. It couldn’t treat the nation as a monolith, a single network of local government offices, all singing from the same sheet of music, reliably enforcing federal dogma. The Civil War, whatever else it achieved, notched a huge victory in the belt of unigovernment when it destroyed the power of the states. But in fact that power is still there, in potential. It is simply dormant, unclaimed: Rusty, but still sharp underneath.
We need imaginative and courageous governors to remember that they are, in their way, as important as the president. We need state legislatures to remember that their duty is not simply to attend to local matters but to sit on the other end of the balance against the national legislature. And when Americans, en masse, begin to get the sense that the federal government is representing its own interests rather than our own, it is the responsibility of the states to say, “Not so fast, there: I think you’ve forgotten about us.”