April 5, 2021 Reading Time: 5 minutes

From the indispensable Lockdown Sceptics I learned recently of this job ad in Britain:

This is an exciting role for an experienced communications professional and offers the opportunity to work at the heart of the Department of Health. The role is a senior leadership role within the NHS Communications team and may offer the first step in developing a possible future career in a senior communication role in the Civil Service.

You will primarily be responsible for delivering a communications strategy to support the expansion of asymptomatic testing that normalises testing as part of everyday life. The role offers the opportunity to work with a wide variety of stakeholders across the public and private sector and provide communi-cations [sic] support to our marketing campaigns.

Note especially the words that I’ve bolded and italicized.

Because I was alerted to this ad by Lockdown Sceptics’s collection of links to Covid-19 developments, several of which are to news items about the coming regime of vaccine passports – and also because by now humanity has been subject to more than a year of the devilment unleashed by Covid Derangement Syndrome – this ad didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me, however, is my lack of surprise.

Had I encountered this ad any time before mid-March of 2020 I would have been stunned, stupefied, staggered. The revelation that British health authorities are seeking to make the testing of asymptomatic people a normal part of everyday life – and that an effort is underway to propagandize in support of this grotesque invasion of privacy and infringement of freedom – would have sent me first to Google to ensure that this ad isn’t a hoax. Discovering, to my horror, it to be genuine, I’d have then blasted out from my keyboard a furious protest.

But encountering the ad in early April of 2021 sparks no surprise at all. Such a violation of liberty is a predictable part of what David Hart calls the “hygiene socialism” that has descended upon much of humanity over the past 13 months.

How sad. How tragic.

Reading this ad makes me ask yet again: Where are the friends of freedom now? Why do so many remain silent in the face of this monstrous battering of liberty and civilization? I truly do not understand today’s muteness of so many once-reliable and eloquent voices for freedom – voices that in the past unfailingly warned of the preposterous pretenses of government officials, as well as of these officials’ perverse incentives.

I continue to believe that it’s not my place to pass judgment on other people’s silence. But I can avoid passing judgment while nevertheless seeking to understand this silence. Here’s what I suspect – I emphasize suspect – is going on in the minds of the many libertarians, classical liberals, and free-market conservatives who are quiet on Covid tyranny.

Association with Trump

In the Spring of 2020 the mainstream media and most elite voices were already primed by their aggressive hatred of Donald Trump to lay the blame for any amount of suffering from Covid squarely on Trump. In their minds, Trump’s failure to have the national government do even more than it did to restrict freedom in the name of fighting Covid is the major source of Covid’s spread among Americans.

The reality here doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that the U.S. President has no constitutional power to unilaterally lock down a country in any way similar to how Boris Johnson locked down Great Britain, or how Gov. Gretchen Whitmer locked down Michigan and how many other governors locked down their states. 

It doesn’t matter that Trump – foolishly, in my view – gave a prominent perch to pro-lockdowners Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx to convey out-of-context, and sometimes even intentionally false, information about the disease. It doesn’t matter that a great deal of evidence has been assembled showing that lockdowns have little or no impact on the spread of the coronavirus.

It doesn’t even matter that Trump did indeed issue a long series of truly idiotic claims about Covid. He was so despised that no matter what he did or said (short of “I resign immediately”), he was destined from the start to be cast as the villain upon whom the blame for Covid must be pinned.

Further fueling the Trump-is-to-blame narrative is the perceived association of people on the political right in general, and of Trumpians in particular, with hostility to science. This essay isn’t the place to explore the justice of this association; I here make only three summary points. First, what many people on the political left treat as settled science is, in fact, not. Second, many people on the political left are no less wont than are people on the political right to ignore science – especially, but not only, economic science – when doing so furthers their political ends. Third, what ultimately must determine how trade-offs are made is not, and cannot be, science; instead, it’s human value judgments. While public policy should be informed by science, public policy cannot possibly be determined by science. Anyone who says or suggests otherwise understands neither science nor society.

None of the above matters. What matters is only that Trump was associated, whether accurately or inaccurately, with opposition to lockdowns and other restrictions imposed in the name of combating Covid. This association is bolstered by the fact that there is more resistance to lockdowns and mandated mask-wearing in red states than in blue states. Because Trump and the Republican party today are also assumed to be at the “unscientific” pole of American politics and ideology, the illogical conclusion is drawn that Covid lockdowns and restrictions – perceived as being anti-Trumpian – must therefore be pro-science and, hence, rational and justified.

And so I suspect that many now-curiously-silent friends of liberty refrain from speaking out in opposition to lockdowns because these individuals fear that to do so would be to position themselves as Trumpians.

I suspect that many of these now-curiously-silent friends of liberty genuinely believe that right-wing opposition to lockdowns and to Covid hysteria is itself sufficient proof of the worthiness of Covid lockdowns and of intense fear of Covid. Others of these friends of liberty might harbor silent doubts about the lockdowns and Covid hysteria, but are reluctant to publicly express these doubts out of fear that they’ll be perceived as being Trumpian Neanderthals.

Of course, each now-curiously-silent friend of liberty has his or her own unique set of reasons for remaining mute in the face of the ongoing appalling assault on liberty. Undoubtedly, my ‘allergic-to-anything-Trumpian’ explanation offered here doesn’t explain the silence of everyone. Some silent individuals sincerely (if, in my mind, inexplicably) do believe that Covid-19 poses such a uniquely grave threat to humanity that we have no good alternative to allowing the state to lock us down, to mask us, and to otherwise restrict our activities for as long as the state determines is necessary – no questions asked.

Some other individuals might be drawn into silence for reasons that I can’t begin to guess.

But I worry that much of the silence today of many friends of liberty is rooted in nothing more solid than the tenuous identification of lockdown opposition with Trumpism. The detestation of Trump is so intense that it overrides the common-sense understanding that, as president, Trump did not possess powers of the sort that King Canute boasted. And the desire to distance oneself from Trump and his followers is so strong that it seemingly blinds many people to the inexcusable destruction of liberty and civilization now underway.

Do not infer from the above that I’m a fan of Trump. I most certainly am not. I’ve been highly critical of him from the start. But when one weighs whatever is the quantum of tyranny that might realistically be ascribed to Trump against the quanta of tyranny that infest and fuel Covid lockdowns, mask mandates, school closures, and the Covid hysteria still being stirred up by government officials, the tyranny of the Covidocracy is far, far greater than was the tyranny of Trump.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux is a Associate Senior Research Fellow with the American Institute for Economic Research and affiliated with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; a Mercatus Center Board Member; and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University. He is the author of the books The Essential Hayek, Globalization, Hypocrites and Half-Wits, and his articles appear in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, US News & World Report as well as numerous scholarly journals. He writes a blog called Cafe Hayek and a regular column on economics for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Boudreaux earned a PhD in economics from Auburn University and a law degree from the University of Virginia.

Get notified of new articles from Donald J. Boudreaux and AIER.