Alyssa Ahlgren: Government Power in the Era of COVID-19

It’s when the people are at their most vulnerable you can make them the most dependent. It’s when the people are at their most panicked you can justify taking away rights for perceived safety. 

Expansion of national power at the expense of our individual liberties has been at play since the establishment of our Republic; sometimes against our will and sometimes out of our complacency. There are moments in American history that stand out when it comes to government tightening the chokehold on our freedoms for the “common good.” Now is one of those times. 

We saw the largest expansion of government power in the history of our nation when FDR implemented the New Deal. This disastrous overreach of power integrated government in virtually every aspect of our lives that was previously unknown to the average American; not to mention the vast collection of programs extended the Great Depression by seven years according to Stanford economists. At the behest of the people, government intervention and dependency became the new normal.

When tragedy struck on September 11, 2001, we saw the dynamic of our liberties alter again in the form of our privacy. The Patriot Act and Department of Homeland Security Act were passed, expanding the government’s surveillance powers and creating a new paradigm of criminal law. We as a society accepted that TSA could pat us down for having a granola bar and a laptop too close to each other in a backpack (natural compounds mixed with electronics can get flagged as materials for a bomb), we have accepted that domestic spying was now a purview of our federal government, and we have accepted that we had to give up aspects of our privacy for the sake of safety and security. At the will of the people, government oversight and domestic surveillance became the new normal. 

Every single time government has a chance to expand its authority, it takes it. We have never seen a time where government backtracked on its power. The COVID-19 pandemic will go down as the first time the United States of America put the “rights” of the government completely and totally above the rights of the people – the building block for socialistic authoritarianism. Police are forcibly pulling people off buses and kicking people out of stores for not wearing masks. Civilians are being arrested and fined for running on the beach, for playing in the park, or for privately gathering in tiny groups. People are being barred from visiting family members, traveling to their own cabins, purchasing certain goods and services, attending drive-in church services, and exercising their First Amendment rights unless it’s deemed “essential.” People have lost their jobs, security, their livelihoods and are being told it’s for their safety.

And as to not waste a good national crisis, Democratic politicians are calling for widespread mail-in voting and ballet harvesting, eliminating voter ID laws, and attempting to resurrect policies of the Green New Deal. Temporary relief has turned into permanent restructuring of our Republic. “We the people” has turned into “we the bureaucracy.” We’ve gone from self-governance and unparalleled individual liberty to asking the government if we can go outside again.

The kicker here is, these “solutions” don’t fit the problem. If you could argue that there is a direct correlation between shutting down the economy, locking down states, eliminating liberty and a decrease in COVID-19 cases and deaths, then I’d say there is a discussion to be had. But no such correlation exists. The variances of lockdown restrictions and COVID cases from state to state and even country to country are too inconsistent to be conclusive. In fact, epidemiology scholar Dr. Knut Wittkowski argues that shelter-in-place orders are regressive towards efforts to combatting the disease. Forcibly cramming people indoors instead of allowing voluntary social distancing in public works against herd immunity – a necessary weapon against any virus. It should also be noted that isolating indoors has adverse effects to an individual’s immune system as a whole. Social isolation leads to heightened anxiety which hinders the immune system, along with lack of Vitamin D from the sun. Locking the population indoors is weakening society’s immune system in the middle of a pandemic.

As time in quarantine goes on, as the models continue to be exposed as wildly exaggerated, and as our hospitals remain in-tact and able to sustain the level of COVID patients it receives we are seeing a ramp-up in lockdown executive orders instead of a plan to ease them and reopen. Government officials have gotten a taste of control they’ve never experienced – the unconstitutional power to shut down commerce and behavior. It’s when the people are at their most vulnerable you can make them the most dependent. It’s when the people are at their most panicked you can justify taking away rights for perceived safety. 

The abuse of power, the tyranny, the overreach, the ulterior motives and agendas, and the blatant disregard for our Constitutional rights has no home in America. The moves we are seeing politicians make in the midst of a tumultuous time are not rooted in data, science, or morality. They are rooted in power. We are still a Republic, we are still built upon principles of democracy, and we are still a government for and by the people. History has shown us that government is merciless in its extension of authority, but history has also shown us that we don’t have to take it.