It’s been a year since federal and state governments together with the nation’s health care bureaucracy locked down America.
With it we caught a glimpse of authoritarianism in the land of the free. The popular narrative is that the pandemic changed America forever. It’s a fundamentally dangerous notion since those changes would mean limits on constitutional freedoms.
At first, we took it all in stride. The vast majority of us wore masks, bought hand sanitizer by the gallon and accepted that for a short time we might have to sacrifice for the greater good.
There were triumphs like Operation Warp Speed, unprecedented inter-governmental coordination and adaptations by the private sector to meet critical needs. The courage of health care workers and first responders was a source of strength in the face of great uncertainty.
But the failures were wretched and presented themselves early. They exposed dangers inherent in the argument that government has the competency to manage society to the extent the left imagines it should.
First, we were woefully unprepared. National stockpiles of medical supplies that were depleted during the Obama administration had not been replenished. States like New York, though warned they were ill-equipped, had virtually no resources. Local officials across the country had few protocols to handle a major public health crisis, despite calls to prepare by the Bush administration after the H1N1 scare.
Then the pandemic turned political. The medical science that should have informed decision-making and public information was willfully manipulated by partisans in government and the press in a naked attempt to frustrate President Trump’s reelection chances.
Left-wing media downplayed the more than 99.7% survival rate, heaped praise on feckless liberal governors and turned the flipflopping Dr. Anthony Fauci into a demigod. Questioning Dr. Fauci got you canceled, fired and ridiculed despite his record of ever-changing assertions, irresponsible prognostications and reliance on dubious data.
Mr. Trump for his part didn’t help matters, turning COVID-19 task force briefings into rambling assaults on the media rather than opportunities for compassion and reassuring the public.
We watched the power of misinformation and propaganda in the public imagination. Public health orders which led to the deaths of tens of thousands in nursing homes didn’t stop the government from tightening its grip. New surveillance regimes sprung up like weeds.
Government told us kids couldn’t enter a classroom yet going to the supermarket, Walmart, even the mall was just fine. States called liquor stores and abortion clinics essential businesses, but churches were deemed dangerous. Restaurants remained locked down even after the data showed they were not vectors for mass infection.
Leftist groups like the nation’s teachers’ unions used the pandemic to squeeze taxpayers and drive a far-left agenda that had nothing to do with educating kids.
The lockdown damage has been extraordinary. Estimates place lost wages at more than $1.3 trillion and the highest month-to-month increase in long-term unemployment in history. More than 110,000 restaurants and bars have permanently closed.
People died in isolation. Millions of families were cruelly forced to mourn alone.
Lockdowns gave us the highest number of drug overdose fatalities in history. More than half of Americans reported adverse impacts to mental health in the last year, with over 25% of 18- to 24-year-olds contemplating suicide. Deferred cancer treatments and other health care disruptions have had an incalculably high cost on human life.
Government used the lockdowns as an excuse for approximately $6 trillion in new spending, explosive growth of the welfare state and a launchpad for increasing federal power. As a result, our debt to GDP ratio is the highest since World War II.
We will indeed win the battle against the virus, but the war to prevent it from changing this country is raging. If we live paralyzed by media-driven hysteria masquerading as medical advice and Twitter science, we will lose that war. The left will steamroll freedom and China will laugh all the way to global hegemony.
Freedom is fragile. Government lacks the competency or in many cases the desire to protect it. If we’ve learned nothing in the last year, let it be that.
• Tom Basile, host of Newsmax Television’s “America Right Now,” is an author and adjunct professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he teaches earned media strategy.