The following is another guest post from my "youthful correspondent," who now has a name: Wyatt. His previous contribution was "The Coronavirus Crisis: A Youthful Perspective." If Porter doesn't use too much of Wyatt's computer time allowance playing games, and his parents don't assign too much of his other time to school and chores, I expect to hear more from him in the future. That's why "Guest Posts" is a new blog category.
The Coronavirus has had the effect of frightening us all, and there have been many disparate measures taken to fight it. In some places the danger is all too real, as in New York City. In other places, like the Dakotas, it is hardly a presence. There are 47 states in between, and they all have different levels of severity. Stress brings out the best and the worst in people; we have seen that in every state, and at the highest levels of government. People are afraid and they want to vest more power in the government to deal with their fears and to feel safe again. The unfortunate issue is that, once the government gets power, it rarely lets it go.
Perhaps the scariest thing that has come about from this is that the government wants to track people who get Coronavirus by their phones. I don’t think that if the government got this power, they would give it up. I was not alive at 9/11, so I can’t claim to know what it was like. However, I imagine that people were scared, perhaps in a way comparable to now. When people were scared the Patriot Act came into effect, and this infringed greatly on people’s right to privacy. It passed unanimously without much thought being put into it, because people were scared. The same thing happened with the stimulus bill that just got passed. Everyone getting money across the board is hardly efficient. There were people like my family, who received a decent chunk of cash, even though we have yet to lose any work. My dad teaches kids in China, so he actually saw a boost in his amount of work when the Coronavirus hit China, because kids were stuck inside. My mom manages condominium associations, so she won’t stop being paid unless they go bankrupt. I would say that we hardly need the money, though we won’t refuse it on principle. So, although President Trump said that he would bring down the deficit, it continues to skyrocket.
This is not to say that the president had a whole lot of better options. To give people money with a bunch of red tape would be significantly worse than giving it to nobody, since the money wouldn’t arrive until the time period it was crafted for was long since over. The only other option was to simply let people deal with it themselves. Indeed, who would have thought that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave would be under house arrest and be living on checks sent to them by the Federal Government? I doubt that things will ever go back to normal, not after people have experienced this shutdown. Either people will be disgusted with what governments do with their power, or they will be impressed by how well the government handled it. This will determine whether the level of government involvement goes up or down.
Of course, our rights are not under attack everywhere. In my home in New Hampshire, everything has been done by suggestion for the common people. Non-essential stores have still been forcibly shut down, but the average Joe can still do what he wants. My family has been in self-imposed isolation since late March, but our neighbors had three or four cars come over for Easter dinner, with people sitting next to each other talking outside. This is an admirable practice in normal times, but rather irresponsible now. But their right to freely associate with people is left uninfringed.
In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio wants to permanently shut down religious groups who refuse to shut down public worship. Whatever one’s personal views, this is an abominable violation of the First Amendment. President Trump himself had a moment where he said that he had absolute power over the states. These political figures are under a lot of stress. Both have not followed through with their statements, as DeBlasio has yet to shut down a religious institution, and Trump has just turned the decision basically over to the states with his “guidelines” on when to reopen. However, this forebodes a darker time when these threats could become realities. If we get a second wave, for example, I am sure that restrictions will only be heavier, and the abuse of power only more widespread. The best that we can do is to keep calm, and do our best to keep ourselves safe.
It is a tough situation. It is rights vs. life. If Governor X orders storekeeper A to close his store, then the hypothetical person B is not going to get sick and die because he goes to storekeeper A’s store. All it takes is the suspension of person A’s rights. But if rights can be suspended whenever peoples’ lives are in danger, are rights worth anything? Let’s perform a reductio ad absurdum on the issue. If person A insults person B, it could drive person B to suicide. Person B’s life is thus in danger. Therefore, no one should be allowed to insult anyone. This would of course be in gross violation of the right to free speech, although almost everyone thinks the world would be better if there were no insults. Where is the line drawn?
Consider a real life example of where the government’s power to restrain anyone’s rights would be used to deadly effect. There are many people who suggest that fossil fuels will bring Armageddon to society. Such people do exist; several of them ran for president this year. They assume that, not only will millions die, but the whole human race will become extinct, if global warming continues. Thus, the rights of the fossil fuel companies would not be respected. Nor would the rights of anyone who tried to speak out against it. What price are some people’s rights compared to the saving of the human species? Now, perhaps if the human race was in danger of extinction, it would be worth it to remove rights. But the issue is that the choice comes down to a select few people, and human judgement has a terrible track record. It is a decision that the country needs to come to terms with, and soon. The current administration’s task is similar. They must decide how dangerous the Coronavirus is, and act accordingly. So, the next time the president snaps at a reporter, we can remember that he is under more stress than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, or perhaps Nixon during Watergate.
The ultimate conclusion is that the government has been given a lot of power, and it has done some good and some bad with it. However, if the government does not subsequently relinquish this power, which I doubt it will, worse things will happen. The national debt is rising like the tide, and I don’t think that this tide is going to recede anytime soon. Eventually it is going to reach our beach hut, if we don’t push it back. No one, no matter who wins the election, is going to get us through these waters easily.
I will end with a bright note, however. The American people don’t like having their rights taken away. There have been greater protests in Michigan over confinement then there have been in Italy, and I think that Americans are not quite ready to lose their rights yet. And—for now—the American people can bring their government to heel at election time.