I supported and defended the economic lockdowns in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a lot we did not know and we needed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. But there was always a danger in the lockdowns – that politicians would never want to give up their “emergency” powers. As “two weeks to flatten the curve” stretches into 15 months and beyond in places like the United Kingdom and California, it is obvious that some politicians have no intention of giving up their powers.
Obviously, this is bad for a free society. But it is also bad for future pandemic mitigation efforts. If and when we face another significant global pandemic, a critical component of policy meant to blunt the impact of it is the trust of the people. When politicians cynically exploit COVID-19 to expand their own power, they make it more difficult to get compliance when that is needed to save lives. That lack of trust is compounded when public health authorities are dishonest.
This does not let conservatives off the hook, as they have tried to restrict private business from requiring proof of vaccinations. If we as conservatives believe in limited government and the free market, then we should not be pushing these limitations. We should respect the private property rights of business owners.
Unfortunately, I fear it is too late to have authorities commit to a data-driven approach that balances public health and personal liberty. COVID-19 became a culture war issue almost immediately, and has even divided Christians against each other. If there ever was an issue where we should have been united, it is an effort to fight a global pandemic that went on to kill over 600,000 Americans – eclipsing World War II by 50%. That we could not unite – even with fellow Christians – ought to be a source of deep shame.