The American Republic may be dying. The U.S. Constitution, federalism and freedoms we have too often taken for granted have all fallen victim to a virus from far off Wuhan and the panic of our leaders and people. The nation that survived two world wars, the Great Depression and defeated both Hitler and Stalin seems to be willingly surrendering the values that made all that possible in just a few weeks’ time.
There can be no doubt that the threat posed by the pandemic is serious and justifies some of what is being done, but the headlong rush to act regardless of our traditions and with little regard for future costs is troubling.
There were those in recent years who suggested the day would come when our leaders would cancel elections. They were dismissed as paranoid by the rest of us, but it’s happening today in the name of public health. There were those who suggested that government would like to spy on and track every citizen’s moves to “protect our national security” and to defeat terrorism.
The public fought back against the idea, but as I write this the government is working with high tech companies to devise ways to track our every move to make sure we maintain the “social distance” they believe so important to halting the spread of the coronavirus.
The president of the United States has, with the support of our fellow citizens, assumed quasi-dictatorial powers so that he might protect us or at least Wall Street from the economic consequences of the pandemic in which we find ourselves. He and our elected leadership at all levels are acting out of panic and see their acts as justified by the specter of millions of deaths they are pledged to prevent.
The dire predictions driving them may or may not turn out to be true; in 1919 during an earlier pandemic, the surgeon general of the United States predicted with grave certainty that the “Spanish Flu” would ultimately kill us all. It didn’t and the nation survived in part because our leaders at the time didn’t have access to the technology and power today’s wannabe saviors can tap into.
It may not have been Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but it is as good a definition as any. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both tried to “stimulate” the economy by in effect sending money like crazed Keynesians to every American consumer. It didn’t work for them, but President Trump is willing to do it yet again.
Still, we are told not to worry about the economic consequences of a regime that has decided to essentially close down the country and its economy in the name of public health because the government is going to print enough money to make all of us whole.
The Treasury will write checks running into the hundreds of billions of dollars to major corporations and individuals alike with no regard to either the total cost of doing so or the down-the-road consequences of putting deficit spending on steroids that will make past spending binges seem parsimonious. The war on the coronavirus is going to make the war on poverty look penny ante.’
“Self-quarantines” make sense as does the “social distancing” the experts are recommending to lessen the impact of the pandemic and save lives by either preventing or slowing its spread, but one wonders if much of what is being proposed and implemented will be looked back on a year or a decade from now as over-kill.
Only time will tell, but time will not repair the damage being done to the system envisioned by the nation’s Founders or to the safeguards they wrote into the Constitution to prevent politicians even with the best of motives from scrapping the rules in the name of expediency or the common good.
When liberal office seekers promise free university educational and health care for all will anyone after what is going on today be able to say “That might sound nice, but we can’t afford it.” It seems that all the old economic rules have been jettisoned and we can afford anything … and everything as long as it’ll be for the common good.
We’ll get through this, but as I watch the unfolding of the response, I can’t help but remember Peter Arnett quoting an unidentified infantryman during the Vietnam War in 1968 as telling him “We had to destroy the village to save it.”
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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