By Jamie Bishop, Contributing Writer
This is an opposing piece in response to Julia Poole’s article, “The U.S. Government Has Failed to Act Under Pressure of Coronavirus.”
As reported coronavirus (COVID-19) hospitalization cases start to drop and treatments underway, we as Americans, in the midst of a government shutdown, need to think about what this means for the principles of our country and what a post-coronavirus world order will look like.
Given that the world has had no modern experience and preparedness in dealing with such a far-reaching disease, looking for answers in history will only set us backward. But in the enormous size and unparalleled nature of this pandemic, the United States has done a terrific job in mobilizing government, human, and capital resources as quickly as possible to prevent immediate catastrophe.
However, on a state-to-state basis, the lockdown has proven to be a major threat to the standing principles of our nation. The government banned travel, shut down borders, disbanded public gatherings, put mask-wearing policies into effect, and closed all “non-essential” businesses. As a result, gun sales halted, schools closed prematurely, grocery stores rationed food and house staples, and citizens faced arrest due to what normally would be thought of as common outdoor activities. The pre-existing social dynamic as we knew it has vanished entirely. As an 18-year old coming into my politically and socially aware self, I can’t help but think about what this means for the strength and validity of the founding ideals of the United States, as well as future standards of dealing with crises. For, if America doesn’t uphold the provisions of the Constitution during a time of crisis, then it is in far greater trouble than anyone could have imagined.
The government is meant to protect our natural and inherent rights — those of life, liberty, and property. Today, in an effort to combat the challenges of COVID-19, the response reflects a dismissal of our inherent rights and rather perceiving them as if licenses granted by the government. State governments actively violate our rights to do business as we please, assemble peacefully, and respectfully utilize our freedom of speech. Here are a few examples:
Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio declared music stores to be essential, yet claimed churches, mosques, and synagogues to be nonessential — even worse, threatening to permanently close places of worship — directly violating the constitutional clause of the First Amendment that disallows government from interfering with religion. On April 28, following a public funeral of a beloved rabbi, de Blasio tweeted, “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summon or even arrest those who gather in large groups.” The same day, hundreds of people jammed together at Waterfront Parks to watch the Blue Angels fly over New York City. However, there was no condemnation on behalf of the mayor. Aside from the hypocrisy, what’s most important is his will to readily dismiss religious activities and groups, no matter the unity they may preserve.
Thankfully, United States Attorney General William Barr issued a statement on April 27, “directing each of our United States Attorneys to also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties for individual citizens.” He claimed that “even in times of emergency… the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.” While other orders discriminate against speech and interfere with the economy, Barr rightfully states that “if a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court.”
As citizens continue to protest strict guidelines, Michigan barred many gardening stores and nurseries from selling fruit and vegetable seeds, presumably so that people cannot be self-reliant in growing their own food, rather pushing them to buy locally sourced food and support restaurants. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s governor, issued this rule alongside a broader executive order made clear by a press conference on April 13. Six Congress members expressed official concerns in a letter to Whitmer regarding her latest Executive Order 2020-42, deeming it “arbitrary” and “internally inconsistent.” This, in part, relates to the rule that the governor allowed some stores to stay open while sections within stores are closed off — those containing planting seeds and other individual goods are deemed non-essential. These measures ignited an online recall petition that has collected over 320,000 signatures from Michigan residents as of this writing.
Although gun sales skyrocketed prior to the lockdown in the United States, many states, including California and New York, have designated gun stores to be non-essential businesses. The NRA and other pro-gun organizations have filed a lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom to protect their Second Amendment rights as safety issues continue to arise. Particularly alarming is the decision of several states to release inmates from prison who pose a “lesser threat” to communities in order to reduce the fast spread of COVID-19 in crowded facilities. Barr released a statement that ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to implement a two-week home quarantine for at-risk and non-violent inmates. However, advocates argue this is not enough. California announced it would release 3,500 non-violent inmates in the next two months while de Blasio announced New York City had already released 900 prisoners.
These are very bold decisions on behalf of state governments that pose an added threat to the safety of Americans who can no longer purchase guns. Suddenly, prisoners who had their rights taken away are now given their freedom “in order for the broader safety of Americans.” The paradox is nearly laughable. Who says guns are a non-essential good? In fact, isn’t every business “essential” for those that financially rely on them?
I sincerely question the integrity of our government leaders during a time of crisis to put their own partisan agenda ahead of our constitutional rights. As history has made clear, autocrats love emergencies and it is the single best time to push what is considered politically favorable for their party, especially when they can disguise it under an unquestionable cloak that is “for greater good of American health and safety.” We must assess very closely the moves of leaders as emergency acts broaden their powers.
Still, unfamiliarity and uncertainty continue to lead to overly broad lockdown policies. In order to regain a durable world order, we must equally consider the consequences of lockdown policies that are dangerous to millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck. At the time of writing, 33.3 million people in the United States filed for unemployment in the past six weeks as a result of the coronavirus and strict lockdown policies. By contrast, around half a million people lost their jobs per week during the Great Depression. To pretend that the risk is equivalent for all demographics is very ill-considerate. There continues to be a failure to understand the nature of the virus that is resulting in potentially unnecessary quarantine measures that restrict even the healthy and unsusceptible from working and learning as normal. Basing state-wide policies on the highest potential risk for COVID-19 only sustains the consequential disasters in every sector of the economy and societal well being.
As American people, we have forsaken the constitutional freedoms that make our country one of the greatest places to live. Whether our method of mandated lockdowns and non-essential activity shutdowns to flatten the curve is better, than say Sweden’s herd immunity approach, is another discussion. But to ignore the fact that state governments put our civil liberties on hold, with the result of economic disaster and mass unemployment, is highly irresponsible. With lockdowns continuing, we must hold politicians accountable for their ignorance of our freedoms in order to make sure the standards for dealing with future crises will not spiral out of bounds.
In conclusion, there is no question that COVID-19 will forever change our world order. The challenges our nation has been through to combat the pandemic are unprecedented. In order to deal with the problems in the unforeseeable future, the public must continue to use common sense and reason as we integrate back into our normal lives, while the government must be held responsible to find a balance between protecting our constitutional rights and protecting those most vulnerable to the virus.