The New 9/11 Isn’t 1/6. It’s Covid.

by | Oct 4, 2021

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It is important to stop every once in a while and take stock of things, to lay down some breadcrumbs to refer back to when someone asks, “How did we end up

In many ways, the story is the same story. The message of 9/11 was: give up freedom for safety, trust the government, and treat your neighbors as potential threats. Now, 20 years later, you realize you went along with it because you were scared, even though the real threat was minimal. The message of Covid is to give up more freedom for safety, trust the government, and treat your neighbors as potential threats. Fear is infectious and now we’re here.

As a young David Petraeus said early in the Iraq War: Tell me how this ends. What is the Covid endgame? Victory was once defined as making testing available to all. Then lockdowns to free up ventilators. Then vaccinations. No one knows anymore what the goal is, but some sort of return to zero infections has about as much a chance as a democratic Afghanistan.

What started as “two weeks to flatten the curve” metastasized into 18 months of lockdowns, masks mandates, and now vax passports. Most of what has already happened was dismissed as conspiracy theory less than a year ago. Our society—work, education, shopping, entertainment, socialization—has been fundamentally changed by decree: emergency powers taken by government, not given by the people.

We are still somewhat free to move around, though flight may soon be only for the vaccinated. Hawaii has previously closed its borders, then opened them only to people who got vaxxed or tested. It became the first state to prohibit Americans from visiting a part of America.

Hawaii also became the first state to arrest American citizens for traveling inside America. Two men are currently locked up for trying to enter the state unvaxxed and untested. Their sentence was 10 days in jail, quarantine at gunpoint. The understood right of Americans to travel freely among the states has stood the tests of time, war, and economic crisis, only to stumble on a virus. Such horizontal federalism threatens to stop the Constitution at certain state borders.

Hawaii is just one state. New Biden travel regulations, however, will soon require Americans returning from abroad to undergo some sort of vax and testing regime. For the first time, Americans will need to demonstrate something other than citizenship to return to their own country. Biden’s plan tasks the airlines with determining overseas who can get on a plane to America, citizen or not.

That move is a critical departure. The right to travel has long been understood as one of the Fifth Amendment liberties of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process. Existing quarantine laws (some of which date, ironically, to leprosy scares from when Hawaii was a U.S. territory) require the decision to admit a possibly sick American to be made at a U.S. port of entry by a U.S. government official, assuring some modicum of due process. By outsourcing enforcement to an airline clerk in Paris, as with outsourcing censorship to Twitter, Biden disposes of Constitutional protections.

Those who ask to see the science behind decrees (why 50 percent at bars, not 63 percent or 41?) are shunned and mocked. Why six feet of social distancing, not fouror 12? No one knows. Why doesn’t the size of the room and its airflow matter? Can’t talk about that.

Acts of violence connected with masks and duct taping passengers on airplanes are considered means that are justified by the ends, and they are growing. One progressive voice advocates treating the unvaccinated last at the hospital (the writer, a gay man, has apparently forgotten when people demanded gays not get AIDS treatment because they chose sodomy). Are masks effective? It doesn’t matter, because it was never just about how effective masks are against the virus. What matters is that masks are very effective as an entry-level test of compliance, then later as a symbol. You know, like armbands.

Something of the good has left us. We leave no space now for people who choose to get vaccinated while at the same time worry about increasing government control. Many people opposed to masks are not anti-science, but anti-politically charged public health policy. The same thing can be either a life-saving medicine or an instrument of social control, depending on how it is used. When rational thinking is frowned upon and everything becomes fodder for frightened zealots, the pitchforks are not far away.

If you’ve ever been conned, you know the feeling. That tickle in your stomach when you realize the guy who took your money is not coming back to deliver your knock-off Rolex. You wait around a while, but at some point you get it. You’ve been taken. That’s where we are. There is no ambiguity. This all happened. It took only months, without a shot being fired.

Ideas dismissed as conspiracy theories only months ago are now policy. It is tempting to take a victory lap. We were right. But all that has been made clear is the what. The most important question is always why. Cui bono?

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Author

  • Peter van Buren

    Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well.