Six weeks ago, when thousands around the nation took to state capitols to protest the human rights abuses inflicted by coerced "stay-at-home orders," lockdown supporters reacted with sanctimonious outrage.
Declaring the protestors to be "covidiots" who failed to appreciate the virtue and necessity of police-enforced lockdowns, news outlets and lockdown advocates on social media declared the protests would cause outbreaks of disease, and nurses declared the protests were "a slap in the face" to those trying to treat the disease. One political cartoon featured an image of an emergency room nurse saying "see you soon" to anti-lockdown protestors.
Now, with far larger numbers of protestors amassing in larger groups, we hear none of the lofty moralism coming from the media or lockdown enthusiasts in social media. Yes, there are still some token attempts to express worry over how the riots and protests of recent days might spread the disease. But the tone is quite different. Concerned over COVID-19 are now phrased in the formula of " if you protest, take these measures to minimize risk. " It's all very polite and deferential to the protestors.
Politicians like Kamala Harris have even joined the protestors in the streets, thus doing what she demanded other avoid just a few weeks earlier. Where are the nurses denouncing these protests as a "slap in the face"? They're nowhere to be seen.
Of course, those who support the current protests, but oppose last month's protests, claim there is no equivalence. Many would likely say "we're now protesting against people being killed in the streets!" followed by "those other protestors just wanted haircuts!"
The reality, of course, was far different. Most of those who oppose the COVID lockdowns are well aware that the lockdowns kill. They lead to severe child abuse, to more suicide, and to more drug overdoses. They lead to denial of medical care because lockdown edicts have ridiculously labeled many necessary medical procedures to be "elective." Lockdowns have rendered tens of millions of Americans unemployed while robbing people of their social support from family and community groups. Lockdowns increased police abuse and harassment of innocent people who were guilty of no crime but leaving their homes or trying to earn a living.
Lockdown advocates, however, declared all of this to be "worth it" and demanded that their ideological opponents just shut up and "#stayhome."
Lockdowns for Thee, But Not For Me
But now the current spate of protests and riots have made it clear that lockdowns and social distancing are all very optional so long as the protestors are favored by a leftwing narrative.
While the pro-lockdown/anti-lockdown conflict can't be defined by any neat left-right divide, it is nonetheless largely true that the most enthusiastic advocates of COVID lockdowns are found on the left side of the spectrum.
And that's why things have now gotten so interesting. It was easy for the pro-lockdown left to oppose protests when those protest were seen as a rightwing phenomenon. But now that the protests are favored by the left, then it's all perfectly fine outside of a handful of politely expressed "concerns" that protests might spread disease.
The left's about-face on the sacredness of social distancing will have significant effects on the future enforcement of stay-at-home orders and social distancing laws.
After all, on what grounds will governors, mayors, and law enforcement officers justify continued attacks on religious groups who seek to assemble in the usual fashion? If one group of people are allowed to gather by the hundreds to express one set of beliefs, why are other groups not allowed the same?
Politicians will no doubt soon invent new rationales for this inconsistency. Indeed, we already have one case. New York mayor Bill DeBlasio has come right out and said people who protest racism are allowed to assemble. DeBlasio likes them. But how about religious gatherings? DeBlasio doesn't like those, so they're still prohibited.
The Moral Authority of the Lockdown Advocates Is Gone
The current riots and protests have accelerated this sort of disregard for coerced social distancing, although things were already headed in this direction anyway.
The lockdowns initially were imposed with so little resistance because the legacy media and government bureaucrats managed to convince a sizable portion of the public that virtually everyone was in grave danger of death of serious disability from COVID-19. Many people believed these experts.
By May, however, it had become clear the doomsday scenarios predicted by the official technocrats greatly overstated the reality. Certainly, there were many vulnerable groups, and many died of complications from disease, just as many died during the pandemics of 1958 and 1969. But there's a difference between a spike in total deaths, and a civilization-stopping plague. The experts promised the latter. We got the former. And we would have gotten the former even without lockdowns. Those jurisdictions that imposed no general lockdowns — such as Sweden — never experienced the sort of apocalyptic death predicted by lockdown advocates. Yes, they had excess deaths, but Sweden's hospitals never even went into "emergency mode." In the US, those states that imposed limited lockdowns for only a short period never experienced overloaded hospitals and overflowing morgues and was claimed would happen.
Could this yet happen in the future? It's certainly possible, but how will we know? The lockdown advocates have already been so wrong about masks, about fatality rates, about the models, and about so much more, that we have no way of knowing if we should believe them the next time they show up and swear "this time, the situation is truly dire!"
But we're not out of the lockdown woods yet. This fall, politicians and other lockdown advocates are likely to start up again with demands that new laws be passed requiring people to stay home, shut down their businesses, and otherwise put life on hold in the name of stopping COVID-19.
But it's unlikely the public will fall for the same routine twice in a row. At least not to the same extent. The reaction of many will likely be "we've heard this song and dance before. Besides, social distancing didn't matter to these experts very much back during the riots. Why should we believe them now?"
It's a good question.
Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.