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April 25, 2020

Open America Now (!) (?) (EP.225)

Open America Now (!) (?) (EP.225)
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The question about when and how to open America back up is not about the Constitution vs autocratic politicians. And it is not about supposed medical sanity vs COVID deniers. There are only these two questions here. 

Today’s Key Point:

  • Can there be crises, COVID-19 or else, that legitimately prompt governments at the various levels to move to limit personal freedoms?
  • Are the various governments permitted under the Constitution to restrict those freedoms?

That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode. 


I’ll start with my answers; yes to both. And not only are governments allowed to limit personal freedoms in crises, but they must–they have an affirmative obligation here. The key is whether or not the authorities at the different levels will want to keep the power they took temporarily, or keep it forever. A sniff of power can be intoxicating. As in Orwell’s book,1984, a dystopian totalitarian warning, governments that want to seize and keep power must have an existential threat enemy they can point to. And if one does not exist, they will invent one–because they must in order to stay in power. 

The question of whether issues like climate change and COVID-19 rise to the level of credible existential crises is quite legitimate. I have done podcasts onclimate changein the past, so I will leave that subject alone for now. Here we are talking about the novel coronavirus and re-opening America.

Most of what I see and hear in private and public conversations in the corona world focuses on either medical issues and life and death, or Constitutional freedoms–as if either conversation can be held without the other. It is important not to conflate those two issues. Issue 1, does COVID-19 post a threat sufficient to warrant involuntary limits on personal freedoms? Issue 2, does the Constitution allow government to restrict our personal freedoms?

It is important not to conflate the two questions. Open America protesters seem to be assuming the corona danger is mostly made up, and focus on only restoring their personal freedoms. Many of the demonstrators ignore social distancing, and face masks are quite rare. Here’s an idea, instead of simply waving oversized copies of the Constitution and placards talking about freedoms, how about mixing in some scientific and medical arguments about how this is a trumped up (pun intended) crisis in the first place. And “This is just the flu!” is a claim, not a sound argument.

Let’s take a look at the woman holding the “Give me liberty or give me COVID-19” sign in today’s episode image. She is trying to evoke the patriotic image of Patrick Henry’s famous, “Give me liberty or give me death.” A noble sentiment, and one that was not shared by at least the 50% of the colonists who were pro-British. But Henry was making the decision only for himself. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and if she gets it, likely others will as well. Her sign should read, “Give ME liberty or give me and OTHERS  COVID 19.” 

Conversely, those opposed to the Open America Now movement love to sling accusations like “COVID-denier” around, while hinting that any violence at a demonstration is Trump’s fault. If you have a case that opening America prematurely is dangerous, make it. Don’t just sling insults. 

Note to both sides. Grow up. Make your case if you have one, but don’t rely on basically calling the other side fascists or1984-like, or from the other perspective, saying that people you disagree with are just another flavor of deplorables. 

And remember to keep the two questions separate, and not conflate them–out of either convenience or ignorance. 

The Questions repeated:

  • Can there be crises, COVID-19 or else, that legitimately prompt governments at the various levels to move to limit personal freedoms?
  • Are the various governments permitted under the Constitution to restrict those freedoms?

In JamesMichener’sbook,Sayonara, one of the characters recalls his father, who he remembered as having the ability to see the string that connects each one of us to God. If each one of us could see those strings, ours and others’, how many government mandates would we need to wear face masks, stay 6 feet apart, and be consistent with other simple, if inconvenient, health-related practices? And if all of us did that all of the time, wouldn’t the corona crisis, existential or not, quietly go away, never to return? 

And our actions affect more than ourselves and those immediately around us. The concept of six degrees of separation is real; we are no more than six connections away from anyone else on earth. What we touch in the grocery store can easily be touched by someone who will be a hundred miles away before dinner. And what they touch, or who they breathe water droplets on, will mingle with still others. In other words, like it or not, we are indeed all in this together. Let’s act like it. 

Oh, the question of the Constitution and the restriction of personal freedoms in a crisis. See WWII, for one example. Was the draft unconstitutional? (Speaking of restricting freedoms.) How about registering your tires in order to get gas coupons? And required blackouts in certain areas–enforced by uniformed officials on patrol? Yes, the government has the right, and the obligation, to restrict our liberties in certain–temporary–circumstances. 

Here are a few parting thoughts:

  • Whether or not we are cooperating with government mandates, restricting our freedoms to help others is not akin to bowing to autocratic, communist-like governments. It is being ourBrother’s Keeper
  • When criticizing protesters, tell them and the world where they are wrong, and help us all to see the truth and benefit of your position. Make their arguments wrong; do not make them wrong as people. 
  • George Washington left after his second term as President, despite the pleas to have him stay–with many wanting him to be the new King. Washington ruled his Army with an iron hand, and had a tight grip on the reins as President. But when the crisis was over, he relinquished all power. All politicians and bureaucrats at all levels of government must do the same. And if they don’t–and if they don’t–we the people must hold them accountable. Caution. We must check and limit their power even if they are using it to get things done that we agree with. That’s where we have to hold ourselves accountable. 


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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.