If only we’d been able to see sooner the disease wasn’t the hoax, the response was.
How do we even know now? Pigs are flying everywhere. After fanning COVID panic for a year, Democratic newsletter Salon admits it was all for partisan purposes: “Americans have been sucked into an all-or-nothing approach, with your choice of all or nothing depending largely on your partisan identity.”
Salon continues “Trump’s rejection of sensible precautions caused many of his political opponents to run hard in the opposite direction, embracing the lockdowns as if they were a point of personal virtue and inherent good, instead of a temporary and deeply unpleasant measure necessary to contain the virus. Worse, liberals were so protective of lockdowns that even sensible criticisms were ignored, and liberals often acted like, well, cops. There was a lot of social media shaming for any activity, no matter how safe it was. And in behaving this way, a lot of well-intentioned people made the pandemic much worse.”
The Hill confessed “Lockdowns don’t work: Remember 15 days to slow the spread? Well, since those fateful words were uttered, we have had a year of various efforts to slow down a virus that has an infection fatality rate of less than one percent. And what we have learned is that viruses are gonna virus. California, the United Kingdom, Florida and Sweden show the futility of lockdowns.” The Hill adds “The media is complicit in furthering the Panic… how you could die tomorrow, from a virus that kills virtually nobody healthy under the age of 70.”
The Atlantic wrote a year into the pandemic “Traditional and social media have been caught up in a cycle of shaming — made worse by being so unscientific and misguided. Cities closed parks even as they kept open indoor dining and gyms. Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts banned students from taking even solitary walks… pictures of people outdoors without masks draw reprimands, insults, and confident predictions of super-spreading — and yet few note when super-spreading fails to follow.”
All but those surnamed Cuomo now kinda-sorta admit the response was partisan and overblown. We know lockdowns have little effect on transmission even as they devastate people economically and psychologically. The media cheerlead the knee jerk off panic response by government, unapologetically correlating suffering with virtue, pain with progress. If only somehow we could have known this a year ago and used it as a guide toward more prudent responses.
As America reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, every story reported with a flashlight under the announcer’s chin, I first wrote on March 5, 2020 how COVID fear was being used to manipulate people. I said the reaction to the virus will result in long term damage to the nation well beyond the health effects of the virus. On March 26, 2020 I explained how the same playbook (terrify the American people for partisan goals) was run on us after 9/11. I wrote a second article on how the “cure” of lockdown was going to be worse than the disease on March 31. Last year.
I’m not bragging. The information was as obvious as you wanted it to be. For example, in October 2020 a group of infectious disease epidemiologists wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, laying out “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of prevailing COVID policies” such as sweeping lockdowns. They were largely ignored, though US News found time to label it all reckless in calling for “focused protection.” The nation was as intolerant of COVID dissent as it was of anti-war dissent in 2001, almost as if there was some sort of pattern.
The playbook run against Americans with COVID and 9/11 goes back as far as 1984, the book, not the year. Orwell envisioned the need for a massive Ministry of Truth to create a state of fear, then manipulate that fear into specific support and policy. In 2020 all it took was an initial handful of deaths, some of what Orwell labeled prolefeed — entertainment for the masses about whether calling COVID “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles that piled on to existing anti-Trump night terrors. We’ll never have enough ventilators (ICU beds, nurses, masks, PPE, tests, restrictions…) so we’re gonna die!
The goal is always to make fear of something the problem and then empowering the government the solution. Substitute in “terrorism” if you like. You have to give things up for a safe society. It just is no longer practical to have freedom and security, you will have to choose. If you don’t wear a mask, you’re selfish; you’ve committed a crime against your compliant neighbors, society itself (more Orwell.) A new MSM theme, that mostly Republicans are refusing the vaccination, plays off this.
Fear is powerful. It rubs on the fight or flight part of our lizard brain, especially when you involve family members as potential spreaders who want to kill grandma, or as victims (grandma again.) Fear is also self-reinforcing. We feel embarrassed when we’ve been fooled into over-reacting, like when our friend made us jump, springing from his hiding place at a party. So after you sold off your stocks at a huge loss in March 2020 fearing a global depression that never came, you were ready with self-reinforcing gab instead of admitting fear drove you into a 30 percent capital loss.
Fear of the virus was melded into the fear Trump would find a way to kill us all. That made it easier to believe he would seriously suggest we inject bleach. The MSM told us the vaccines, the scientific answer to the virus, were being rushed through, that Trump would manipulate the approval process for political gain and release dangerous drugs. The MSM throttled the black community with racist claims about the vaccine, invoking the 1943 syphilis experiments during last year’s Summer of Racism. Of course none of the media admit blame for today’s resistance to the vaccine.
The COVID fear playbook is nearly identical to the post-9/11 playbook, though kudos to those Bush officials who pulled it off in 2001 without the help of social media and barely 3,000 dead. They turned Americans into such fearful creatures they stopped traveling, signed off on multiple wars, a torture regime, and the effective end of privacy in American life. We were conditioned to new precedents of control over personal decisions, civil life, freedom of movement, education, and an increasing role for government and the military in health care. We wanted soldiers on our streets.
We became trained when we saw something, we said something. Snitches get riches, rewards for turning in your Muslim neighbor for being “odd.” Not unlike our modern mask patrols, rent-a-cops, and Karens demanding everyone stay back six feet, driven by the Washington Post, which wrote “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public.”
It will be hard for people to let go of their fear; folks will be wearing masks for a long time. We learned that when lockdowns went from until the curve flattens to until the vaccine until, well, forever. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “Unless and until everyone in the world is vaccinated, then no one is really fully safe, because if the virus is out there and continuing to proliferate, it’s also going to be mutating.” COVID fear mongering will be around as long as it is a political asset and gone before it becomes a political liability.
The news is still so full of COVID snuff porn you’d think they were trying to convince us of something. But as we grieve equally all deaths, we must understand death was not invented in 2020. Doctors will never “cure” death. Hospitals are sadly full of people dying every day. COVID deaths will soon enough be down to a mere fraction of the current count. Deaths from heart attacks, cancer, and car wrecks will not. We just won’t talk about them and we certainly won’t blame one political party over another for them.
But if drama is indeed a currency in the pandemic, let me spend some. I have physically visited with my relatives and hugged them for the past year. Not only are we all still COVID-free, we have the honor of saying the government did not tell us how to live and love each other. It was Orwell himself who wrote “They’re afraid of love, ’cause love makes a world they can’t control.”
Remember that for the next time. No government should be allowed to create a world of fear and isolation for its citizens, and no citizen should willingly beg for that from a government.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.