Editors Note: This article is a follow-up to Inconvenience or Devastation, which explores citizens’ motivations in complying with pandemic lockdowns.

In the grand tradition of dividing people into two groups, today sort people based on their attitude toward public health mandates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are those who trust (and even exalt) the politicians who impose mandatory restrictions on certain public activities (and comply, and demand that all others comply), and there are those who don’t. While it is true that within the second category there are the “hoaxers” who assert that COVID is either a fake pandemic or massively exaggerated, these people are more a “bogeyman” gift to the first group than a reflection of a widespread belief. And, in any event, many of them are born of politicians’ disingenuousness.

Consider the recent rebuke issued to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo by the Supreme Court. In imposing stricter lockdown rules on religious gatherings than on a host of other public activities, Cuomo was found in violation of First Amendment protections for religious liberty. True to his arrogance, Cuomo blew off the Court’s castigation, and in doing so validated both their point and the aforementioned second category of citizens.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve witnessed the imposition of rules, restrictions, and limits that are defended as based in “science!” but read to the general public as inconsistent, arbitrary, and politically motivated. Large gatherings for political purposes of an “approved” nature are given a bye, while large gatherings for other purposes are decried, broken up, or even prosecuted. Some violators of edicts are singled out and targeted with regulatory zeal, others are overlooked. Outdoor activities, where the risk of spread is minimal, get banned. Schools are opened and closed on whims, despite both the harsh impact on parents who need to earn livings and the science regarding COVID and young people (both their risk and their “carrier” status are quite low). Businesses are told by one agency “use space heaters” for their outside spaces, then told by another “no, you can’t.” Ten can attend Thanksgiving dinner, but thirty can attend a funeral. Many politicians have engaged in “do as I say, not as I do,” routinely flouting the cautions and mandates they imposed on their constituents. Some politicians react to being disobeyed with threats of even tighter lockdowns, showing their lockdowns to be an imposition of their will more than “science!”

We have not witnessed an event such as this pandemic in the information age. Modern science has been remarkable in its response, with treatment improvements cutting the fatality rate in significant ways, and multiple vaccines likely to be in wide distribution less than a year from the formal declaration of pandemic. The speed with which scientific knowledge has improved would justify prior bad policy decisions in the public eye, if those who made those decisions acted under the perception of good faith across these past months. Instead, we’ve seen example after example of politicization in many ways, politicization so blatant that public skepticism has grown to the point of sometimes-reckless disobedience.

That disobedience is not going to ebb. It’s going to grow, and making things even worse, even suggested (i.e. voluntary) behaviors such as mask wearing are going to diminish, as people exhibit their disdain and disgust for the politicians who’ve broken the public trust. The ranks of the first group will shrink, and the ranks of the second will grow.

The pandemic will, in all likelihood, be over by the summer at the latest. Vaccinations are expected to begin next month, and be widespread by spring. Political jockeying is, of course, going to continue, with arguments about who gets the shots first, about whether the countries that paid for the research should have priority, and about personal preening (looking at you again, Governor Cuomo, with your self-aggrandizing book and your bald-faced denial of your epic error regarding nursing homes). But, by the time beach season begins again, I anticipate that life will be back to normal, albeit a different normal than before.

Peril lies in the precedent. If and when another pandemic breaks out, will the public trust the politicians who couldn’t help themselves in politicizing this one? Will public distrust of the institutions that it relies on to navigate such health crises hamper efforts?

If so, the blame will lie, first and foremost, with the public servants who fancy themselves our masters.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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