October 26, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Didn’t we all agree that governments can’t constitutionally oppress minorities or blame victims? And that private persons or organizations that do so are rightly called by the name of a stinky body part that we all possess?

Yet every new minority group that comes along suffers. The latest people to feel the wrath of government and the unthinking stinky members of society are Covid-19 survivors, individuals who tested positive and lived. With the recent spike in cases and ever higher survivorship rates, their ranks swell daily, but their oppression remains palpable.

While everyone has lamented the 225,000 or so deaths with/from Covid in America so far, the 8 million plus survivors reside in a sort of Limbo betwixt the Heaven of normalcy and the Hell inhabited by the rest of us. (Those who have not yet been infected, or, like myself, suspect infection but cannot prove it because they became ill before widespread testing was available, or because they remained asymptomatic or nearly so, constitute yet a different minority.)

Alarmist claims to the contrary, the vast majority of Covid-19 survivors will not contract the virus again, any time soon anyway, and will not pass it on to others. They are more heroes than anything else but the (m)ass media treats them as pariahs — literally, as most hail from our lower, serf-like castes composed of apparently inessential people doing essential tasks on behalf of their putative superiors.

But our political caste is not done with them yet. Out of mere expedience, social distancing mandates apply to Covid-19 survivors as well as the great masses of those as yet (putatively) uncleansed by a bout of the malady.

The whole policy battle between the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration and the John Snow thing aside, there is no justice in forcing innocent yutes and heroic survivors of the worst pandemic in half a century to wear a mask or forgo drinking, face-to-face education, live music, sports, and theater and what not. It is clearly unconstitutional. I think the whole lockdown approach is unconstitutional but any differences of interpretation there do not apply to those who cannot get sick or spread the dang virus!

You might think, “I haven’t gotten the virus so I don’t care that the rights of 8 million Americans are being trampled upon.” Well you should care because the precedent being set right now is one where governments can force business closures and enforce sumptuary (consumption, including dress) laws with no public health pretext whatsoever. They do not want to admit to this right now, but in the future, perhaps not so distant, some government official will justify an arbitrary act by pointing to the treatment of Covid-19 survivors in this pandemic. “Well we [some euphemism for stripping the civil liberties of people] who posed no health risk in 2020, so why can’t we do it now? There is precedent.”

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think oppressing Covid-19 heroes is about setting that precedent; it is about mere expediency. Allowing freedom to some while denying it to others would fracture the increasingly tentative grip our most authoritarian leaders have on power. Some citizens would respond by flaunting social distancing rules, arguing that “If he can go without a mask (go to a bar, etc.), so can I.” Others would deliberately get Covid-19 so they can regain their liberty lawfully after surviving, as almost all who are not ancient or obese do. I do not see a problem with such voluntary actions. Some will lose the lottery and die, the biggest heroes of all, but clearly the follies of March are behind us and even most of those hospitalized will survive, especially if not placed on the death machines, a.k.a. respirators, that doctors and politicians once claimed were desperately needed.

And rest assured, Covid-19 survivors do have constitutional rights but as a small minority everywhere they are not a voting bloc this Fall, so no politician gives a dang about them. For that reason, I must admit that I am not as big a fan of James Madison’s famous Federalist #10 as I once was. That was the one where Jemmy argued that a bigger republic could fend off faction and tyrannical majorities more easily than a smaller republic, ceteris paribus of course. 

This claim appears particularly laughable today:

“In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.”

If half of the mud that U.S. Senate candidates David Perdue (Elephant) and Jon Ossoff (Donkey) have slung at each other on the public airwaves is true, Georgians ought to take both of them “out back of the barn” and save themselves the embarrassment of having either of those miscreants represent them in DC! Many other “races” also pit candidates of dubious merit against each other. No matter which candidate wins any given election, the American people lose because they come to be led by knaves instead of statesmen. 

Madison was right that “a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it.” But what happens when an improper and wicked project does consume large parts of the country? Many of the checks that Madison and the other Framers built into the Constitution have become frail, if not worthless.

As the power of politicians has waxed, the power to restrain them has waned. The two lines crossed in 2020 and a rapid disintegration of some important remaining checks appears imminent. With ballots no longer secret (and hence again alienable) in many states, the Electoral College under siege, and the independence of the Supreme Court threatened, minorities tremble with trepidation. Barring disunion or a return to states rights, the only real question now is, who shall be the next minority? Besides our heroic Covid-19 survivors that is.

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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