Will the COVID Panic Turn to Conservatives' Benefit?
A funny thing might be happening on the way to the end of the COVID pandemic. As has been well documented, when the COVID virus spread across the country last year, blue-state governors responded with a large dose of authoritarianism, placing extensive limits on the lives of their citizens in the name of protecting them. Rather than truly "following the science," liberal governors implemented remedies that had little scientific basis beyond the repeated assertions of experts that the measures were necessary to "stop the spread."
This blitzkrieg on the civil liberties of citizens, maintained with the cudgel of unchallenged "expertise," has been a nightmare for freedom-lovers in America. Government has asserted new power over our lives and livelihoods in a way that was unimaginable only a year ago, with liberty seemingly on the run. American life looks as though it's bending inexorably toward an authoritarian future, in which the progressive dream of altering the relationship of the individual to the state in America is being slowly made real.
But is that the case? Will the COVID pandemic end up being a net plus for progressives, who are giddy at this opportunity to force individual citizens into the authoritarian collective? Or will it be a net minus?
Let's examine a few areas of life that might provide a clue. High on the progressive wish list is the expansion and strengthening of big cities. It's easy to see why. Big cities create an environment where dependence on government services, most particularly for public safety, becomes almost reflexive. Large, impersonal cities inevitably impact the relationship of the individual to the state; help is essential, weakening a person's sense of self-reliance. And cities provide a healthy pool of tax dollars from which government services can be bankrolled. Progressives like former President Obama have long dreamed of herding more and more Americans into urban centers, where their bad habits, like automobile usage, can be more easily controlled.
However, cities are looking like some of the big losers in the pandemic sweepstakes. Thousands and thousands of urban residents are fleeing for the suburbs or a quiet life in flyover country. All the things that made city living so appealing — ready access to arts and music, great restaurants, easy public transportation — have been obliterated by the heavy-handed response of government. The excitement of living near a wide variety of people has given way to a fear of being infected in the claustrophobic urban petri dish. Restaurants and shops have been forced to close, while empty streets and antipathy for the police have led to an unprecedented spike in crime. It may take decades for cities to recapture their lost appeal, and meanwhile, more people are discovering the joys of increased independence and a deeper sense of belonging in smaller, saner communities.
Education, long a progressive power center, has taken a big hit. Public schools have been largely closed in blue states, and with teachers' unions calling the shots, the timetable for reopening continues to get pushed back, despite even Biden's efforts. But that has parents angry. Much of the goodwill of parents toward teachers has evaporated. Students are suffering in online classes, isolated from their peers, despite overwhelming evidence that students are less liable to infection than the rest of the population. Working mothers (at least those still working) are being forced to sacrifice their livelihood to babysit their children's classes at home. And yet teachers are only getting more belligerent. Parents are fleeing the public school system for charter schools; independent schools; and that true bane of progressives, homeschooling. After watching Democrats put teachers' unions ahead of students during the pandemic, consumers of education won't be so easily fooled anymore. Options in education exist; faith in our public education system may never recover. And universities, the mothership of political indoctrination, are doing no better, charging the same exorbitant fees for greatly diminished services. Parents' eyes are being opened to the true value of a college education, and bloated college faculty and administrations are being slashed. The long-held progressive dream of funneling more and more young people into college "re-education" is fading fast.
Another pillar of progressive orthodoxy, the entertainment industry, including professional sports, has also suffered greatly, its reach severely curtailed. Individuals are finding a much broader range of fare tailored to their interests available online, outside of the preachy and stale Hollywood mainstream. Sports have basically cut their own throats, alienating a large part of their fan base though virtue-signaling and support of the radical Black Lives Matter. Sports teams may never be able to reconnect with their fans again, probably a net plus for all those families left abandoned night after night by fathers entranced by the endless stream of sports programming on cable TV. The spell has been broken. Here's hoping dads and husbands never rekindle their slavish devotion to watching sports, a much needed boost for the cultivation of stronger families.
Lastly, despite the constant cries of "science, science," professional expertise has been seriously undermined in the pandemic. Experts pronounce, only to have events turn their assertions inside-out the following week. We have been trained to believe that only an "expert" can tell us what we should think about various issues. Nobody who has watched the epic flip-flopping by experts on how to deal with the COVID virus will turn an unjaundiced eye on expert opinion again. And that's bad news for progressives, since they are busy trying to reorient our lives based on expert opinion. Maybe now we can expect climate change pronouncements to get a more critical reception.
So remember: if it seems as if our dystopian COVID world is making it possible for authoritarian progressives to assert more control over our lives, on closer inspection, the long-term changes wrought by the pandemic may favor conservatives. Creative destruction, I guess you'd call it. Or the Law of Unintended Consequences.