COVID Come November: Lockdown/China Showdown
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A protester in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on May 12 (Christopher A. Salerno/Shutterstock.com)

My previous article addressed the issues surrounding China’s role in spreading the pathogen worldwide. This November will see a broad set of policy issues arising out of the pandemic’s progress: (1) civil liberties v. lockdowns; (2) economy shutdown v. open-up; (3) what to do about China; (4) immigration; (5) traditional education’s 19th-century model v. a distance-learning 21st-century model; (6) innovation; and (7) media bias. The first three are covered in this second installment of what has become a COVID election trilogy, with the final article to be posted soon.

Civil Liberties. The Wall Street Journal’s Alyssia Finley presents Aaron Ginn, leader of the lockdown skeptic community — rejected by the pro-lockdown medical establishment, censored by the social media gatekeepers, scorned by mainstream media, but followed avidly by anti-lockdown state legislators, governors, and the White House. (Ginn’s March 20 essay, Evidence over Hysteria — COVID-19, taken down by its original online website, is here.)

Ginn, backed by credentialed medical experts, stated that with 13 percent of Americans believing that they were currently infected with the virus — a “mathematical impossibility,” he wrote — a “full-on” panic was underway. He noted that the standard 60-70 percent herd immunity would entail massive deaths, but that other estimates placed it as low as 10-20 percent. As to social distancing, Australia and Germany place the minimum at five feet, while Sweden, where schools for those under 16 were never locked down, applies a “good judgment” yardstick.

Over half of America’s 3,145 counties have zero coronavirus deaths, according to a May 4 compilation by the Heritage Foundation. The totals show 52 percent with zero, 28 percent with five or less, 9 percent with 15 or less, and 11 percent with more than 15. Sliced from the other end, 30 counties — less than 1 percent of the total — have half the cases and account for 57 percent of COVID deaths. New York and New Jersey combined accounted for 38 percent of cases and 48 percent of deaths, despite having only 14.6 percent of the population. May 14 figures provided by the New York Times show that by population density and per capita cases/deaths, blue states heavily predominate among states hardest hit.

Urbanist Joel Kotkin warns that “hygienic fascism” — turning the world into a “safe space” — amounts to a dictatorship of scientists. Kotkin quotes celebrated Brave New World author Aldous Huxley: “A truly scientific dictatorship will never be overthrown.” Kotkin writes,

Sometimes the controls being implemented are reminiscent of Orwells “1984.” People are being handcuffed for walking alone, playing catch with a child in a closed park or riding the waves alone at a closed beach. Officials, from Harris County, Texas, to New York, are urging neighbors to spy on and report each other. Some police departments are even experimenting with using drones to monitor adherence to stay-at-home orders, while Baltimore, one of the nations most crime-ridden cities, proposes using aircraft to control inappropriate behaviors.

Information technology monitoring can provide detailed data on the virus in America, but at possible cost to civil liberties. Thus, USC, in partnership with the University of Texas and Emory University, is creating a coronavirus contact-tracing app similar to China’s Orwellian “social credit” system. California’s Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom is activating a contact-tracing army of 20,000 regulator-snoops to enforce a mandatory quarantine regime. Pursuant to Newsom’s directive, Ventura County’s health director stated that families already are being forcibly separated:

[W]e will find everyone with COVID-19 and we will isolate every one of them and we will make sure that they stay quarantined and we will check in with them every day. In other words, what this program means is were going to do a more complete job, were going to do a more meticulous job of making it less and less possible for others in the county to run into someone with COVID-19 infection.

Newsom’s plan includes another three months of lockdown for Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay area. L.A. County’s population alone is greater than that of 41 states. CBS reports that armed robberies are up 50 percent in Santa Ana (in Orange County, and part of the L.A. metropolitan area), as wearing face masks are commonplace now and no longer indicate probable criminals.

Michigan’s Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who increasingly strikes me as Hillary without the pseudo-charm, has summarily detained a 77-year-old barber who refused to close his barbershop. Despite a judge’s order allowing the barber to remain open, and the local sheriff declaring he would not close the place, Whitmer sent the bureaucrats to arrest him, without even a semblance of a hearing. Quoth She Who Must Be Obeyed: “These executive orders are not a suggestion. They’re not optional. They’re not helpful hints.” The sheriff, for his part, has said he will not enforce Whitmer’s executive orders. Patients and medical professionals are suing Whitmer for creating by executive fiat a “medical time bomb”: so-called “non-essential” elective surgery postponements will soon lead to avoidable patient deaths.

Contact-tracing proposals include one that pays snitches $25/hour to report lockdown violators, who could be summarily jailed without due process. A CBS survey (3:58) of initiatives underway provides chilling evidence of how intrusive it can be, with comfortable assumptions that anonymity and privacy can be preserved and that tech companies will not abuse their access to surveyed devices. One neurosurgeon warns that face masks can harm healthy people by inhibiting oxygen intake.

South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem is the un-Whitmer. Presiding over a state whose population density is 11 per square mile versus New York City’s 26,000, South Dakota’s death rate of 4 per 100,000 as of May 4 is a micro fraction of NYC’s 161 per 100,000 — the latter number a steep increase from May 4’s 127. When, a month ago, 300 workers at a meat-packing plant tested positive for coronavirus, Noem resisted calls to lock down the state. Another milestone: the Wisconsin state supreme court vacated a bureaucrat’s decree locking down all businesses she deemed non-essential. The panel ruled that state law required consulting the state Legislature — both houses are under GOP control in such emergency decisions. Peggy Noonan writes that those protesting lockdown have had tougher lives than those imposing them. A citizen rant sums up (4:01) the revolt against the “experts.”

Kevin Williamson writes at National Review Online that those who violate lockdown laws must, per classic civil disobedience, be willing to go to jail. But should the father who played catch with his kid on his front lawn, violating absolutist Gov. Whitmer’s orders, really have to be willing to go to jail for doing so?

Williamson’s “lock them up” follows the mid-century civil rights revolution, when black people would do sit-ins at local diners, etc. That model does not fit today’s protesters and violators. Sit-ins involved a relatively small army of activists. Whitmer is acting as a Soviet commissar ruling over Michigan’s entire 10 million population. This amounts to a de facto police state.

The governor’s orders are both — cue the lawyers — constitutionally “overbroad” and “arbitrary and capricious.” Short of jail without due process, those playing on the lawn and other minor violators can be put under house arrest with ankle bracelet monitors. Sending them to jail would raise their risk of catching COVID-19. Video surveillance can detect those leaving their houses in violation.

Colorado’s department of public health has adjusted its COVID-19 death count downward, from 1,150 to 878, to take out patients who had the virus but died of other causes. This is a 24 percent reduction. The CDC’s May 15 COVID-19 tally shows total U.S. cases at 1.4 million, with 86,000 deaths; a 24 percent adjustment would place the total at 66,000. These numbers are higher than a typical flu season, but still well below the 1957 Asian and 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic per capita equivalent figures (see my May 10 piece for The American Spectator). A number of recent studies put COVID-19’s fatality rate much lower than CDC’s 6 percent — below 1 percent. One study says 0.1 percent. The current CDC number is close to the 6.5 percent U.S. death rate from the 1918–20 pandemic that killed 675,000 out of 104 million Americans. But CDC’s current number is way high, because nearly all people being tested are symptomatic; the number of people infected will dramatically increase as testing expands to asymptomatic people.

Economy. America is being plunged into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with over 36 million jobless as a result. Officially dated 1929–33, the Great Depression was followed by a major recession, from May 1937 through June 1938, that sent unemployment back up to 20 percent. It took World War II to reignite America’s economic engine — what FDR called the “Arsenal of Democracy” in a 1940 speech. On the plus side, historian John Steele Gordon writes that some jobs lost will eventually be replaced upon recovery. Stellar columnist Walter Russell Mead sees American ingenuity unleashed. Massive regulatory entanglement has been removed, and one hopes there will not be a reimposition after the pandemic subsides. But the Atlanta Fed warns that the COVID-19 shutdown may shrink GDP by more than 40 percent. U.S. GDP was $21 trillion in 2019, 17.5 percent of global GDP. Thus a 40 percent fall would lop $8.4 trillion off U.S. GDP and 7 percent off of global GDP. Another harbinger of things to come: April, the first full month of COVID lockdown, saw an all-time monthly record 16.4 percent fall in U.S. retail sales, following an 8.3 percent drop in March.

Health-care maven Betsy McCaughey, instrumental in stopping HillaryCare, warns that another month’s lockdown in NYC will devastate small businesses. A prime casualty could be NYC’s legendary Strand Bookstore, one of the finest bookstores on the planet. Gov. Cuomo is proposing a new law requiring corporations to hire back all furloughed employees or return all COVID money. Many firms will go bankrupt if this passes.

China. An exchange between Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) during her recently aired special America v. China offers the most plausible explanation as to why China’s rulers allowed the COVID-19 pathogen to escape their borders and wreak havoc around the world. Cotton said that the Chinese decided that “if they were going to suffer an economic contraction, they were not going to allow the world continue to prosper, and China be the only country whose economy was declining.” To which Bartiromo responded, “In other words, they didn’t want to see the Chinese economy contract 20 percent, with the rest of the world contracting 2 percent.” Cotton answered, “That’s exactly right.”

Put simply, China waged not only economic warfare, in allowing a deadly pathogen to be clandestinely spread worldwide; in doing so, China also knowingly inflicted massive harm — millions of COVID-19 cases, hundreds of thousands dead — on the global body politic. In all, it is tantamount to waging aggressive war against most of the world’s countries.

New tests reveal that COVID-19 arrived in Washington state in December 2019. The most comprehensive China coronavirus video (55:46) recounting China’s biolab research and deceptions lays the foundation for making China pay the entire cost imposed on America and other key countries. Within a couple months, public opinion turned massively against China, seen as clearly the culprit for having concealed the pandemic it created. U.S. intelligence recently concluded (correctly) that the virus originated in China’s Wuhan biolab, and escaped by accident. China slipped in a last-minute clause, requiring negotiation of any changes in the natural-disaster clause in the U.S.–China Jan. 2020 trade accord. China’s policy has been called a “new ‘Boxer’ movement” — after the 1900 rebellion by the self-styled “Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists” that was driven by intense xenophobia towards Westerners and Christians.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that (5:05) China should be made to pay for the vast damage its lies and obstruction have caused worldwide. One possibility, she suggested, is reducing the debt we owe China. One critical manufacturing priority is to build five semiconductor fabrication plants, at $20 billion each. It is the only way to ensure that no back doors are embedded in chips if made overseas. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer reveals a Mideast partial fix to exiting the China supply chain for pharmaceuticals: Egypt and Jordan. China currently is the largest exporter of medical devices, and second-largest exporter of drugs, to America.

Bottom Line. By midsummer it should be clear whether the lockdown or the reopen course is better. Courtesy of federalism, the voters will have the chance to endorse favored approaches. Come the fall, the main issues will be (a) lockdown v. opening up; and (b) what to do about China.

Immigration, education, innovation, and media bias will also figure in. These will be covered in a final COVID election article.

The only non-COVID issue that might intrude sufficiently for voters to add it to the agenda as a major concern is if one or more vacancies open up on the Supreme Court.

John C. Wohlstetter is author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb (2nd ed. 2014).

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