During one recent restless night, an aphorism dating back two millennia planted itself in my head. I have struggled since to dislodge it: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
COVID-19 is more than a historic event for its health and economic implications. We are also in the midst of one of liberty’s biggest inflection points. The 13th century’s Magna Carta and the 18th century’s Declaration of Independence shaped humanity’s relationship with government. COVID-19 threatens to undo what has taken generations of patriots to achieve. If we are not careful, the mountains of debt and associated tax increases we incur will be the least of our worries.
We may be left with a command and control economy and a surveillance state as insidious as the rise of socialism and communism. Even now, millions of Americans find themselves for the first time in their lives entirely dependent on the government: forced to collect welfare checks and told to await permission to go back to work.
Allowing governments to shutter businesses, confine people to their homes for extended periods, and insist people mustn’t interact is unamerican. I argue that it violates our constitutionally-protected pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. It lets public servants superimpose their will, imperfectly so, over everyone within their reach, with predictably bad results. No longer are we permitted to choose right from wrong, good from bad. Government does it for us, because we cannot be trusted to form an appropriate opinion or take a proper course of action. You may agree or disagree with a mom’s decision to take her kids to a playground. But up until now, it was always hers to make.
Yet the government gets it wrong, too. Badly wrong. All of us at one time or another have puzzled over how state officials ordered churches closed, yet Sundays at metro-area hardware stores are as frenetic and packed to the rafters as I’ve ever seen. We’re supposed to accept that hair salons are closed but dog groomers are open. A clothing store must close, but a grocery store that sells clothing can continue operating. It makes as much sense as the old congressional ethics rules that parsed whether offering food to a member of Congress was a criminal act based on whether guests are sitting or standing and how well shrimp fits onto toothpicks.
By not allowing people to choose right from wrong, to use our individual talents and knowledge to adapt to these unique circumstances, we are stuck with the aftereffects of bureaucratic unilateralism.
While the use of government force to freeze the economy may “crush the curve,” government directives intended to save lives also have deleterious consequences that are now cascading throughout our communities.
Businesses on the verge of collapse are now told by Gov. Brad Little that re-opening may not occur until late this summer, virtually ensuring their demise. Health problems due to isolation, an uptick in domestic violence cases, and reports of suicide can all be connected to the government’s actions. All because elected officials don’t trust people to absorb information, make their own decisions, and adapt to new realities.
We may never pass this way again. This is our one moment to inspire and encourage a new generation of Americans to unite in the name of liberty: business owners, baristas, gardeners, welders, farmers, doctors, mechanics, accountants— just ordinary people turned patriots reclaiming their heritage by getting back to work and living their lives. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?