April 17, 2021 Reading Time: 5 minutes

On 31 December 2020, AIER’s Lou Eastman and Micha Gartz published a smart piece warning that the behaviors of lockdown-happy governments parallel those of domestic abusers. From “dismissing your opinions” to punishing you for “breaking” unclear or ever-changing rules, the 15 signs that you might be in an abusive relationship published by the Workplace Mental Health Institute, they showed, tracked almost perfectly with various federal and state Covid policies.

The 15 signs, though, are only potential indicators. How do you know when someone is definitely in an abusive relationship, be it with a lover or a government?

Researchers have identified behaviors that abused people use to try to cope with their abuse. They are definitive signs that abuse is occurring and many Americans exhibit all six of them:

  1. Tiptoeing: Many Americans no longer behave as they wish but rather self-censor to avoid the wrath of government or its minions. That might mean wearing a mask even though they know that it doesn’t help to slow the spread of Covid and may even be harmful. Or it may mean telling a political pollster that they are undecided even when they know they will support a controversial candidate or position.
  2. Excessive apologizing: Abused Americans say they are sorry for sundry policies past and present even though they may know nothing about the policies, which may have been implemented before they were born or remained so arcane they are virtually unknown to anyone, even inside the government. A few even support a second round of slavery reparations (the first being LBJ’s Great Society) even though their ancestors came to America after passage of the 13th Amendment.
  3. Clamming up: Abused Americans do not vigorously or even vociferously oppose even obviously flawed or partisan policies like DC statehood or court packing, in part because they are unsure what to believe in a world where rioting becomes “mostly peaceful protests” and a mostly peaceful protest becomes an “insurrection.” They have little self-confidence and reflexively do as authorities dictate out of fear of retribution.
  4. Abuse of others: Americans abused by their governments even become abusers themselves, trying to enforce social distancing mandates on mountain hiking trails, beaches, and other places where the enforcement attempts actually defeat the putative goal of limiting social interaction. They also viciously “cancel” anyone who doesn’t follow the latest “Woke” mandate.
  5. Defense of abuser: Those abused often defend their abuser, or even in extreme cases come to identify with him or her. Only the Stockholm Syndrome explains how anyone still listens to Dr. Fauci. Although The Faucian Bargain is a bestseller, and many people have read Phil Magness’s careful deconstruction of Fauci’s self-serving lies and half-truths, too many other Americans have coped with Fauci’s abuse by lionizing him.
  6. Profession of continued love: Abused Ameicans blare “God Bless America” and otherwise behave with patriotic zeal partly due to the Stockholm Syndrome but also partly because they feel they must justify continuing their abusive relationship with the government, which has convinced them that they cannot possibly live without it. The abused must really love America to have stayed with it this long, they “reason.”

But that last justification is really just an expression of the sunk cost fallacy. Most relationships that have progressed through the 15 signs discussed by Lou and Micha and the 6 behaviors described above will escalate into physical violence and, indeed, this already happened on 6 January 2021 when an American citizen was shot and killed during the Capitol riot. The name of the shooter has not been released and neither have the precise circumstances under which she was killed, although the investigation has been closed with assurances that her civil rights were not violated. Abusers are, of course, always in the right.

The abuser claims that the abused are a threat and, in a sense, they are. Enslavers quivered in fear at the thought that those enslaved would one day say enough and end their abuse by ending their abuser. But just as slaveholders held most of the power, so, too, does the federal government now hold most of the power in their relationship with the American people.

Nevertheless, the party in power feels vulnerable and hence attempts to consolidate its abusive control through pending federal voting and zoning laws, SCOTUS reform, and further restrictions on firearms ownership. Like an abusive lover, it isn’t honest about its motivations (or it is incredibly stupid) and when it meets resistance it doesn’t compromise but rather finds new levers of control.

The most important of those new levers are corporations. As noted elsewhere, corporate regulations and taxes have grown so abusive that the federal government can now bend corporations to its will. Corporations are now akin to powerful in-laws who always take the side of the abuser, further isolating the abused. That is why hundreds of corporations recently attacked Georgia’s new voting law, which neutral observers believe is necessary to promote confidence in election integrity but which the Biden administration labelled a 21st century Jim Crow law. Apparently, President Biden has learned to stop calling his constituents Neanderthals but a Democrat with a spotty record on race shouldn’t be invoking Jim Crow voting restrictions.

Speaking of voting restrictions, even if stockholders want their corporations to desist (which isn’t likely given the cost-imposing tools at the government’s disposal), they cannot force a leadership change because, ironically enough, corporate voting is far from democratic. It isn’t just that votes are weighted by shares owned, it’s that managers automatically receive the votes of shareholders who choose not to vote, which entrenches them in power. Were that not enough, most corporate elections are not secret, so managers know who voted against them, virtually ensuring that all employee-owned shares are cast in their favor. Little wonder that corporations eagerly kowtow to the authoritarian regimes of certain large, modestly wealthy nations while using their money muscles to influence legislation that is, frankly, none of their business.

One hopes that Americans can pull themselves back from the brink of a fatally abusive relationship but the fact that under the current system Democrats will almost certainly lose control of the House and Senate in early 2023 means that they have an incentive to strike hard and fast. Unlike in a marriage, which can follow long “cycles” of rising tensions, incidences of physical abuse, reconciliations, and periods of calm, the political cycle is short, and the abuser knows it. It must prevail completely or risk permanent divorce, or at least a long period of political losses, like that which occurred the last time the Democratic Party tried, and failed, to dominate part of the country. (Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress most years from the Civil War until the New Deal.) 

The difficulties of Democrats at the polls during their long hiatus from power were, of course, a leading cause of the party’s efforts to suppress Republican voters, black and white. They have since learned that it sounds better to support voting access than to seem to restrict it but of course every illegal vote cast by a dead person, a non-citizen, or a vote harvester essentially negates the vote of a legal voter. Balance is needed so that all who may legally vote can do so at the lowest possible cost consistent with a rapid and accurate tally. Most Americans are probably smart enough to realize that, but they may be too cowed by their abuser and its numerous and powerful minions to resist.

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic ReviewBusiness History ReviewIndependent ReviewJournal of Private EnterpriseReview of Finance, and Southern Economic Review. Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997. Robert E. Wright was formerly a Senior Research Faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research.

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