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Trying to Understand the Silence

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(Don Boudreaux)


In my most-recent column for AIER I speculate – I emphasize, speculate – about why so many prominent voices for liberty are remaining silent amidst the awful assault on liberty now underway by the Covidocracy. A slice:

In the Spring of 2020 the mainstream media and most elite voices were already primed by their aggressive hatred of Donald Trump to lay the blame for any amount of suffering from Covid squarely on Trump. In their minds, Trump’s failure to have the national government do even more than it did to restrict freedom in the name of fighting Covid is the major source of Covid’s spread among Americans.

The reality here doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that the U.S. President has no constitutional power to unilaterally lock down a country in any way similar to how Boris Johnson locked down Great Britain, or how Gov. Gretchen Whitmer locked down Michigan and how many other governors locked down their states.

It doesn’t matter that Trump – foolishly, in my view – gave a prominent perch to pro-lockdowners Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx to convey out-of-context, and sometimes even intentionally false, information about the disease. It doesn’t matter that a great deal of evidence has been assembled showing that lockdowns have little or no impact on the spread of the coronavirus.

It doesn’t even matter that Trump did indeed issue a long series of truly idiotic claims about Covid. He was so despised that no matter what he did or said (short of “I resign immediately”), he was destined from the start to be cast as the villain upon whom the blame for Covid must be pinned.

Further fueling the Trump-is-to-blame narrative is the perceived association of people on the political right in general, and of Trumpians in particular, with hostility to science. This essay isn’t the place to explore the justice of this association; I here make only three summary points. First, what many people on the political left treat as settled science is, in fact, not. Second, many people on the political left are no less wont than are people on the political right to ignore science – especially, but not only, economic science – when doing so furthers their political ends. Third, what ultimately must determine how trade-offs are made is not, and cannot be, science; instead, it’s human value judgments. While public policy should be informed by science, public policy cannot possibly be determined by science. Anyone who says or suggests otherwise understands neither science nor society.

None of the above matters. What matters is only that Trump was associated, whether accurately or inaccurately, with opposition to lockdowns and other restrictions imposed in the name of combating Covid. This association is bolstered by the fact that there is more resistance to lockdowns and mandated mask-wearing in red states than in blue states. Because Trump and the Republican party today are also assumed to be at the “unscientific” pole of American politics and ideology, the illogical conclusion is drawn that Covid lockdowns and restrictions – perceived as being anti-Trumpian – must therefore be pro-science and, hence, rational and justified.

And so I suspect that many now-curiously-silent friends of liberty refrain from speaking out in opposition to lockdowns because these individuals fear that to do so would be to position themselves as Trumpians.

I suspect that many of these now-curiously-silent friends of liberty genuinely believe that right-wing opposition to lockdowns and to Covid hysteria is itself sufficient proof of the worthiness of Covid lockdowns and of intense fear of Covid. Others of these friends of liberty might harbor silent doubts about the lockdowns and Covid hysteria, but are reluctant to publicly express these doubts out of fear that they’ll be perceived as being Trumpian Neanderthals.

Of course, each now-curiously-silent friend of liberty has his or her own unique set of reasons for remaining mute in the face of the ongoing appalling assault on liberty. Undoubtedly, my ‘allergic-to-anything-Trumpian’ explanation offered here doesn’t explain the silence of everyone. Some silent individuals sincerely (if, in my mind, inexplicably) do believe that Covid-19 poses such a uniquely grave threat to humanity that we have no good alternative to allowing the state to lock us down, to mask us, and to otherwise restrict our activities for as long as the state determines is necessary – no questions asked.

Some other individuals might be drawn into silence for reasons that I can’t begin to guess.


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