Of all the losses experienced in 2020, the greatest was the certainty as Americans that our civil liberties are strong enough to withstand any challenge.
In just a matter of days last March, and without any debate or weighing of consequences, the basic rights we’ve enjoyed for nearly 230 years were stripped away or severely curtailed in the name of fighting a viral enemy.
With little evidence to support the theory that saving our lives required forfeiting our freedoms, we suddenly found ourselves living under martial law.
We were locked in our homes and out of our churches. Severe limits were placed on our freedom to assemble. Even the sanctity of our homes was invaded. We were told who could come through our doors, and how many.
Education became a luxury. Those with technological means could assure their children continued to grow and learn; those without fell further behind.
Families were forced to endure long separations, and our loved ones were allowed to die in hospitals and nursing homes without the comfort of kin in their final moments.
Commerce was shut down by government fiat; thousands lost their businesses and jobs to severe economic shutdowns arbitrarily and inconsistently applied, without the bother of justification.
Our government assumed we were too stubborn or too frivolous to protect ourselves, so it placed us under its thumb.
Representative democracy was suspended indefinitely by governors who unilaterally seized dictatorial powers, shredding constitutional checks and balances aimed at preventing tyranny.
Police and regulators were empowered to harshly enforce capricious executive orders issued without the approval of lawmakers, heaping further pain on those desperate few who dared defy them.
That precious space carved out by the Bill of Rights for the individual to stand safe from a powerful government all but disappeared.
In a nation that has faced numerous existential threats in its history, this loss of liberty was unprecedented.
Even after 9/11, when Americans willingly chucked their rights on the bonfire to fight terrorism, the casualty list of freedoms was not this great.
Questions about whether such an extreme affront to the Constitution was necessary, or actually worked, were shouted down with one word: Science. This fickle new deity replaced nature’s God as the author of our rights.
We assume the arrival of the new year and the promise of a vaccine will soon restore our ability to decide for ourselves how we live.
There’s no guarantee. Already, the incoming president is talking about booting federalism to the curb and imposing broad protective mandates from Washington, and the frightened mob is clamoring for him to do so.
Even should COVID-19 disappear before this new year is out, “normal” is not a place we may ever return to in terms of civil liberties. A precedent has been set that will make freedom expendable whenever there’s a perceived threat to safety and security.
The pandemic has caused our nation a lot of damage. Most destructive has been the acceptance that our rights are no longer unalienable.
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