March 24, 2021 Reading Time: 6 minutes

Over the past year, Americans’ rights and liberties have been ravaged worse than almost anyone expected at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Fearmongering quickly proved the ticket for politicians to seize almost unlimited power. But heavy-handed government decrees were more effective at wrecking lives than at vanquishing a virus. 

My first attack on Covid hysteria came out last March 24 in the Daily Caller. “Pandemic Security Theater Is Self-Destructive, And Won’t Make Us Safer” scoffed at President Trump’s proclamations that “we are at war with an invisible enemy,” and “I’m a wartime president.” In Washington, wartime presidents are usually exalted as if they personally received a mission from God. “The pandemic threatens to open authoritarian Pandora’s Boxes. Permitting governments to seize almost unlimited power based on shaky extrapolations of infection rates will doom our republic,” the piece concluded. 

After the Covid-19 pandemic began, politicians tightened tourniquets that would supposedly vanquish the virus by cutting off the economy’s blood supply. Governors in state after state effectively placed hundreds of millions of citizens under house arrest – dictates that former Attorney General Bill Barr aptly compared to “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties” since the end of slavery. The New York Times set the tone for media coverage when it announced that the task for government was to “learn how to frighten [citizens] into acting for the common good.”

The American Institute for Economic Research was in the forefront of denouncing pointless, oppressive restrictions from the start. In May, my old friend AIER editorial director Jeffrey Tucker contacted me and the result was my first AIER piece, “Will the Political Class Be Held Liable For What They’ve Done?” That article lambasted politicians for responding “to Covid-19 by dropping the equivalent of a Reverse Neutron Bomb – something which destroys the economy while supposedly leaving human beings unharmed…. Shutting down entire states, including vast uninfected rural swaths, is the economic equivalent of burning witches or sacrificing virgins to appease angry viral gods.”

In a Fourth of July-themed AIER piece, “Independence Day in the Midst of Dictatorship,” I lamented that the holiday was “occurring under the most dictatorial restrictions of the modern era. Anyone who values their liberty must recognize” the mockery of the Spirit of 1776. Many locales banned crowds from gathering to watch fireworks but that was the least of the problems in a year in which governors proved “that the Bill of Rights is a parchment barrier that can be easily shredded by invoking their emergency powers.”

A few weeks later, in a piece headlined “Sham Bailout Statistics Shroud Shutdown Tyranny,” I noted that “politicians have entitled themselves to inflict unlimited economic damage as long as they also shovel out almost unlimited handouts.” After taunting the Small Business Administration’s for its “spending so fast we can’t explain what we are doing” fiascos, I warned, “The biggest mistake Americans could make would be to permit politicians to absolve themselves now by giving away more of other people’s money.”

In an August 7 AIER piece on perverse pandemic policies in Maryland, I noted, “Across the nation, politicians and bureaucrats have invoked the Covid pandemic to seize dictatorial power to ban activities they disapprove.” I castigated how Covid shutdowns and lockdowns are scored: “[p]oliticians are applauded for everything they ban while enjoying zero liability for the vast collateral damage they inflict.” 

The following month, in a piece pegged to the 9/11 anniversary, I predicted, “Like the endless War on Terror, the Covid shutdowns will likely be viewed as one of the greatest political debacles in modern American history. But many politicians still believe that there is no problem that cannot be solved by a bigger federal iron fist.” I noted that “stunning debacles are no impediment to politicians pirouetting as saviors,” and then kindly plugged Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

In an AIER piece the week before the election, I lamented that most of the media “cheered almost every arbitrary restriction imposed by any government official in the name of fighting Covid.” The presidential race had blighted my idealistic hopes: “Rather than campaigning against Trump’s abuses of power, Biden and the Democrats are condemning Trump for not seizing far more power to pretend to keep everyone safe from everything. A virus with a 99.9% survival rate has spawned a 100% presumption in favor of despotism.”

On December 30, in a piece headlined, “The Year in which Comforting American Myths Were Ravaged,” I noted that “the casualty list for 2020 must also include many of the political myths that shape Americans’ lives,” such as the Rule of Law, “the consent of the governed,” and even minimal competence of federal agencies. “Perhaps the saddest casualty of 2020 is the myth that average Americans cherish their personal freedom.” Though politicians continually shifted the rationale for lockdowns, “most people submitted without a fight, and usually without even a whimper.” 

In a March 10 AIER roundup, Lockdowns Wrecked Democracy around the World,” I detailed how pandemic-spurred crackdowns have devastated democracy around the world. Emergency proclamations have entitled presidents and other government officials to seize vast new powers previously forbidden to them.” The political exploitation of the pandemic could threaten freedom for decades to come. But “the world doesn’t need any more Cage Keeper Democracies where citizens’ ballots merely designate who will place them under house arrest.”

Throughout the past year, shutdown advocates flaunted claims of science “like righteous priests invoking God and the Bible to sanctify scourging enemies.” But the “science” was often farcically unreliable. The World Health Organization catapulted catastrophic policies with a Covid mortality forecast that was 50 times higher than the rate the U.S. experienced. Hysteria was also fueled by vast numbers of false Covid positive test results based on WHO scoring – an error that the WHO delayed correcting until Joe Biden’s inauguration day. School shutdowns blighted the lives of millions of children in part because the Centers for Disease Control proclaimed that six feet of “social distancing” was necessary to avoid contagion – an arbitrary standard pulled out of thin air that was recently denounced by former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb

Perhaps the biggest pseudo-science charade involved masks. High rates of compliance with mask mandates utterly failed to prevent second and third waves of Covid infections. Regardless, politicians and bureaucrats fanned mass fears which quickly ripened into hatred of anyone who did not comply with the latest edict. One California mayor declared that anyone not wearing a mask in public was guilty of “an act of domestic terrorism.” Government officials proclaimed heavy fines for anyone not wearing a mask – and then urged people to only wear unreliable masks so that medical personnel could have all of the surgical and N95 masks. But mandating wearing unreliable masks was on par with wearing dunce caps inscribed, “Save me, Big Brother!” Biden “ran for the White House as the mask candidate,” as USA Today noted, and demanded that Americans wear masks for “100 days” after he took office. 

He also issued a mandate requiring people to wear masks in national parks (perhaps in perpetuity?), while his wife sought to shame people into wearing a mask when they walk their dog alone. The primary justification for such mandates is that many Biden supporters are spooked by seeing anyone outside not wearing a mask.  

Late last year, I wrote, “Thus far, politicians have paid no price for their constitutional demolitions.” But the tide may be turning as more Americans recognized the wreckage their rulers have inflicted. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of the most zealous lockdowners, is dodging a recall election sparked in part by his Covid hypocrisy. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under criminal investigation for covering up mass Covid deaths due to his nursing home policy. But will the backlash make it to the White House? In his recent televised speech, President Biden declared that, if people obey government decrees, “there’s a good chance you, your families and friends, will be [permitted] to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.” When did presidents become BBQ Czars? And who invited this killjoy?

While politicians and pundits have ridiculed lockdown opponents as unwashed deplorables, many pandemic policies were simply Political Science 101, using deceit and demagoguery to seize more power. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito declared late last year, “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” Unfortunately, unless there is a stark ruling from the Supreme Court, shutdowns could return whenever politicians can panic enough citizens with some new threat. But in the long run, people have more to fear from politicians than from viruses.

James Bovard

James Bovard

James Bovard is the author of ten books, including Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications. He is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a frequent contributor to The Hill, and a contributing editor for American Conservative

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