“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
These words from Ben Franklin still ring true, especially in days like these. For long-term safety, we may concede some of our rights. But essential liberties – such as due process and fundamental rights – should not be surrendered for short-term safety.
Still, Americans have long been willing to give up freedoms in exchange for supposed safety during a time of crisis. Much to the delight of government officials, the current coronavirus outbreak has been no different.
We saw this after 9/11. What was the immediate response? The Patriot Act, a new law that vastly expanded the government’s authority to spy on its own citizens. We then thought it was normal for TSA agents to harass granny at the airport. And don’t think about bringing more than 3 ounces of liquid on the plane with you.
But this was after terrorists killed 3,000 Americans on our own soil. We wanted to be protected. Regardless of the Fourth Amendment or any values we previously held.
Enter 2020. An invisible virus from China that we know little about leads to a near total shutdown of the economy. We see the number of positive cases and deaths add up during the non-stop media coverage. We hear projections of 1.7 million deaths in America. Naturally, we get scared. And decide it’s okay to give up freedoms.
Government takes the ball and runs.
Soon, government officials are closing restaurants. Sorry restaurant owners, servers, and bartenders. But okay. We then shut down “non-essential” businesses and act surprised when millions file for unemployment. In between, we enact curfews (for some reason). We’ve fined people for being in too large of a crowd. In Greenville, we prohibit drive-in church services at a church right down the road from a Sonic…Drive-In. The city of Jackson floats the idea of tracking residents.
Perhaps we’re just following other states. Kentucky state police were in church parking lots getting license plate numbers on Easter so they can impose state-mandated quarantines on churchgoers. Utah is requiring a travel declaration for all adults traveling into Utah via car or plane. They are doing so via the federal Wireless Emergency Alert system, which is otherwise used for weather or missing children alerts. But it’s just for people coming into Utah, not Utahans.
But many would probably say this all makes sense.
In Colorado, police handcuffed a man for playing with his wife and six-year-old daughter on a nearly empty “public” softball field. Law enforcement claim he violated an order prohibiting gatherings of five or more. In Washington, D.C., police officers are prohibiting you from sitting on a park bench…alone. In Philadelphia, a man was dragged off a public bus. His offense? Not wearing a mask.
A little too intrusive yet?
Hold my beer. The newest tourism slogan from Michigan. In Michigan, it is illegal to travel from one house to another. A private gathering of any size is prohibited. “Non-essential” sections of grocery stores are closed. You can buy lottery tickets, but not a pack of seeds. You can canoe, paddle boat, or kayak, but can't get in a boat with a motor.
Because, there’s a dangerous virus and that motor in your boat will only make things worse.
There’s a precarious game of politicians trying to one-up each other, to the thunderous applause of many. After all, they did “something.” And that's what we want.
But when you give up a little liberty, your restaurant closure turns into a prohibition on boats with a motor. Those who want to control our lives will simply look for the next excuse to do so, because there will always be a reason. And our response will not soon be forgotten.