History provides some solace to those worried about our civil liberties

This post is not intended either to condemn or to condone how federal, state, and local governments are trampling civil liberties. It is, instead, a reminder that we’ve been down this road before and, thankfully, recovered. Does that mean we can recover this time too? Who knows? The left in America has never been as ascendant as it is now, so that may shift the outcome. Still, here’s at least a little food for thought.

To begin, you’re not imagining it. America is a less free nation than it was even a month ago. Whether in a spirit of glee (“Finally, we can control those darn citizens!”) or in a spirit of panic (“Oh, my God! People are outdoors. We’re all going to die!”), our traditional American rights to move about and assemble freely have been thrown out the window.

Before digging into history, it's only honest to point out that one of the oldest core functions of government, even limited government, is to defend against pandemic diseases. Whether the government is competent at that task is another question entirely. Still, only the government has the reach and power to force changes that (theoretically) tamp down the spread of epidemic diseases.

What’s unnerving today is that the government’s response is driven by so much misinformation and questionable information. The misinformation, of course, is the fact that China started this whole thing out with a host of lies. Without reliable numbers from COVID-19's Ground Zero, we still don’t understand how infectious the disease is, what the spread of infection is, or the actual mortality rate.

The questionable information comes from three sources: (1) How countries do post-mortem coronavirus tests, which affects how deaths are reported; (2) the “Garbage In; Garbage Out” principle for all the models that are driving decisions; and (3) possibly dishonest reporting for political ends. Until America has its own consistent, honest statistics, everything is guesswork.

Whether driven by a lust for power or fear, the fact is that we Americans are being locked up and denied the right freely to assemble. Mostly, Americans, afraid of endemic disease, are going along with it. However, in some jurisdictions, the authorities have crossed into crazy territory. For example, in Encinitas, California, deputies cited 22 people for going to a beach to watch a sunset, even though there was no evidence they were in close contact. Also, in California, a lone paddle-boarder was arrested in Malibu for violating quarantine rules.

Libertarians and conservatives are rightly concerned both by how Americans seem willing to give up their freedoms and by the vigor with which the government seizes them. This post is a reminder that we have successfully clawed back stolen liberties before.

If you time travel back to 2006, you will remember that, before Trump became Hitler because of abortion and gay rights, George Bush was Hitler for the same reasons. Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, attempted to calm his fellow Progressives down by reminding them that, even though other presidents have squished civil liberties, America had rebounded:

Democratic presidents have been responsible for some of the worst violations of civil liberties. Woodrow Wilson suppressed free speech during World War I, while Franklin D. Roosevelt interned 120,000 Japanese-Americans in World War II.

[snip]

Although usually ranked among the “near great” presidents, Woodrow Wilson’s record is one of the very worst. He authorized the massive suppression of free speech during World War I and earlier imposed racial segregation among federal employees. 

Walker is correct that Wilson was awful. Many of his policies were the inspiration for Hitler’s later fascist policies. 

Even Republican presidents have gone on power grabs. After all, during the Civil War, Lincoln officially suspended writs of habeas corpus, which allowed him to order indefinite, and almost certainly unlawful, imprisonment for people he considered dangerous.

In each case, when the crisis or war ended, Americans were able to regain their rights. Again, with today's ukase's against constitutional rights, those who dream of complete power have before figured so large in American politics. Still, if history is a guide, it’s reasonable to believe that, when the dust settles and the panic ends, Americans return to their traditional understanding of their liberties. Indeed, with luck, a lot of them may have seen what happened as a close-up look into socialism’s dark heart – a world without a free market and under total government control --  and rightly feared what they saw.

This post is not intended either to condemn or to condone how federal, state, and local governments are trampling civil liberties. It is, instead, a reminder that we’ve been down this road before and, thankfully, recovered. Does that mean we can recover this time too? Who knows? The left in America has never been as ascendant as it is now, so that may shift the outcome. Still, here’s at least a little food for thought.

To begin, you’re not imagining it. America is a less free nation than it was even a month ago. Whether in a spirit of glee (“Finally, we can control those darn citizens!”) or in a spirit of panic (“Oh, my God! People are outdoors. We’re all going to die!”), our traditional American rights to move about and assemble freely have been thrown out the window.

Before digging into history, it's only honest to point out that one of the oldest core functions of government, even limited government, is to defend against pandemic diseases. Whether the government is competent at that task is another question entirely. Still, only the government has the reach and power to force changes that (theoretically) tamp down the spread of epidemic diseases.

What’s unnerving today is that the government’s response is driven by so much misinformation and questionable information. The misinformation, of course, is the fact that China started this whole thing out with a host of lies. Without reliable numbers from COVID-19's Ground Zero, we still don’t understand how infectious the disease is, what the spread of infection is, or the actual mortality rate.

The questionable information comes from three sources: (1) How countries do post-mortem coronavirus tests, which affects how deaths are reported; (2) the “Garbage In; Garbage Out” principle for all the models that are driving decisions; and (3) possibly dishonest reporting for political ends. Until America has its own consistent, honest statistics, everything is guesswork.

Whether driven by a lust for power or fear, the fact is that we Americans are being locked up and denied the right freely to assemble. Mostly, Americans, afraid of endemic disease, are going along with it. However, in some jurisdictions, the authorities have crossed into crazy territory. For example, in Encinitas, California, deputies cited 22 people for going to a beach to watch a sunset, even though there was no evidence they were in close contact. Also, in California, a lone paddle-boarder was arrested in Malibu for violating quarantine rules.

Libertarians and conservatives are rightly concerned both by how Americans seem willing to give up their freedoms and by the vigor with which the government seizes them. This post is a reminder that we have successfully clawed back stolen liberties before.

If you time travel back to 2006, you will remember that, before Trump became Hitler because of abortion and gay rights, George Bush was Hitler for the same reasons. Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, attempted to calm his fellow Progressives down by reminding them that, even though other presidents have squished civil liberties, America had rebounded:

Democratic presidents have been responsible for some of the worst violations of civil liberties. Woodrow Wilson suppressed free speech during World War I, while Franklin D. Roosevelt interned 120,000 Japanese-Americans in World War II.

[snip]

Although usually ranked among the “near great” presidents, Woodrow Wilson’s record is one of the very worst. He authorized the massive suppression of free speech during World War I and earlier imposed racial segregation among federal employees. 

Walker is correct that Wilson was awful. Many of his policies were the inspiration for Hitler’s later fascist policies. 

Even Republican presidents have gone on power grabs. After all, during the Civil War, Lincoln officially suspended writs of habeas corpus, which allowed him to order indefinite, and almost certainly unlawful, imprisonment for people he considered dangerous.

In each case, when the crisis or war ended, Americans were able to regain their rights. Again, with today's ukase's against constitutional rights, those who dream of complete power have before figured so large in American politics. Still, if history is a guide, it’s reasonable to believe that, when the dust settles and the panic ends, Americans return to their traditional understanding of their liberties. Indeed, with luck, a lot of them may have seen what happened as a close-up look into socialism’s dark heart – a world without a free market and under total government control --  and rightly feared what they saw.