Prior to the global pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 or covid-19, many looked to the United States as a beacon of freedom and liberty. When viewed in comparison to the harsh realities of the world, this may seem rather true. After all, one’s perception of freedom and liberty is skewed by perspective. In recent weeks, the Biden administration has escalated its increasingly authoritarian approach to “managing” the threat of the virus. Even President Biden himself stated that safety takes precedence over freedom. Examples of the Biden administration’s overreach include: its extension of the eviction moratorium through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccine mandates through the Department of Labor, and its investigations into states that refuse to adhere to the federal government’s preferred public health guidelines.
Over the past eighteen months, countless commentators have declared that the pandemic should be treated akin to warfare, often using military analogies. During a prior pandemic, the nation’s predominant civil liberties defender, the American Civil Liberties Union, released a report that warned of the government imposing national security measures to clamp down on an “invisible enemy.” An ACLU report from 2008 stated the following: “Coercion and brute force are rarely necessary. In fact they are generally counterproductive—they gratuitously breed public distrust and encourage the people who are most in need of care to evade public health authorities.” The past eighteen months have demonstrated that the public health institutions view their role as part and parcel of the nation’s broader national security apparatus.
As if the ACLU had predicted the government’s response to covid-19, their report notes the following: “Too often, policymakers are resorting to law enforcement and national security–oriented measures that not only suppress individual rights unnecessarily, but have proven to be ineffective in stopping the spread of disease and saving lives.” During the early stages of the pandemic, governors of all political persuasions instituted similar shutdown measures throughout their respective states. After a period of weeks, conservative-leaning governors slowly withdrew these executive edicts as more was learned about the transmissibility and lethality of the threat. Progressive-leaning governors have been more reluctant to withdraw these executive edicts.
As vaccines became widely available, individuals across the country slowly warmed to the idea of lifting the covid-19 mitigation measures. Some progressive-leaning American cities like New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans have chosen to do so while introducing a digital health pass, often referred to as a vaccination passport. Other cities have been more skeptical of this concept; the mayor of Boston, Kim Janey, compared the concept to the slavery-era freedom papers.
The vaccination passport was only an abstract idea in the early days of the mass vaccination campaign. The urban elite and the managerial class have fully endorsed the idea of requiring vaccination or proof of a negative covid test to participate in daily life. It is unlikely that the vaccination passport will ever be fully adopted by the United States government as policy. It is also unclear what is the end goal of our covid-19 containment policy. The conflicting public health messaging has led to fears of a “permanent pandemic,” whereby emergency powers are invoked indefinitely.
The Vaccine Passport Idea Grows
Along with much of the global establishment—e.g., the World Health Organization—in November 2020, Chinese president Xi Jinping endorsed a concept similar to the vaccination passport: “a global mechanism on the mutual recognition of health certificates based on nucleic acid test results in the form of Internationally accepted QR codes.” While President Xi’s idea is related explicitly to a negative covid test versus proof of vaccination, the underlying concept of “showing your papers” remains. Other regimes soon pushed similar ideas.
Similarly, the Chinese state was an early proponent of using digital QR codes to help the country navigate through the pandemic. Digital QR codes are a simple and efficient means of tracking one’s movement and verifying proof of identity for those with a smartphone. Digital QR codes are now frequently used at restaurants and other venues to replace paper menus and to provide further information on products. Few could have predicted that prominent progressives in the United States would openly embrace proof of identity upon entry into nearly any venue. The thought of being required to scan a personal digital QR code upon entry to any venue is reminiscent of “Your papers, please.” Given that America has been effectively governed by the flip-flopping public health diktats of Dr. Anthony Fauci, I assume that vaccination passports are merely the icing on the cake.
Dr. Fauci provided an eyebrow-raising endorsement on September 13; on cable television, he endorsed the idea of requiring vaccination in order to travel domestically by aircraft. Dr. Fauci’s proposal comes nearly a year after a Department of Defense joint study with United Airlines that said “the risk of COVID-19 exposure onboards its aircraft is ‘virtually non-existent’ … when masks are worn.” Despite the cheaper, less intrusive option of universal masking in certain situations, Dr. Fauci’s neurotic endorsement of mandatory vaccinations for air travel continues to propel America’s descent toward an authoritarian nightmare.
Australia Abandons Liberalism
No Western country has so embraced the despotic lockdown ideal as Australia. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf writes, “the government of South Australia, one of the country’s six states, developed and is now testing an app as Orwellian as any in the free world to enforce its quarantine rules. Returning travelers quarantining at home will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person.” In ordinary times, such a government application would be considered a police state’s control mechanism; however, the government of South Australia apparently feels no remorse for subjugating its citizens to highly intrusive measures under the guise of public health.
In late July, the BBC reported that Australian Defence Force soldiers would be deployed to help enforce covid lockdowns. The soldiers would “join police in virus hotspots to ensure people are following the rules.” In late August, Australian police arrested hundreds of protesters participating in “unauthorised protests” against the government’s draconian lockdown measures. When questioned about the police response to the protesters, Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton warned against participation and added “that it was ‘just ridiculous to think that people would be so selfish and come and do this.’” Friedersdorf contends that Australia’s prolonged police state methods are a product of its failure to significantly invest in a large supply of vaccines. In closing his argument, Friedersdorf presents the poignant question specifically for the supposedly liberal, democratic government of Australia: “[H]ow much time must pass before we must regard Australia as illiberal and unfree?”
In the face of an “invisible enemy,” many Western nations have implemented emergency measures that were once considered dystopian and wholly incompatible with liberal democracy. The adoption of such intrusive and draconian measures would not be possible without the constant fear-mongering drumbeat of the news media, which has led to many so-called liberals devaluing the meaning of freedom and liberty in order to ensure their own “safety.” To be sure, freedom and liberty do not require one to abandon safety, and safety does not require the abandonment of freedom and liberty.
The problem with the Western adoption of vaccination passports, enforced universal masking, and draconian lockdowns is that mass protests in opposition to those policies have sprung up in nearly every Western country. Here are just a few examples:
Governors of two of the largest states in the United States have waged a full-on assault on the perceived overreach of the Biden administration’s public health edicts, specifically President Biden’s recent executive order on mandating covid-19 vaccines.A group of truck drivers in Australia threatened to strike against public health restrictions in late August; the truck drivers urged “Australians to stock up on groceries and other supplies before the protest disrupts the supply chain.”In France, mass protests against vaccination passports have raged for months as the “unvaccinated” worry about a two-tier society.In Canada, the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario have announced the development of vaccination passport applications, which have resulted in some small protests.
As everyday life begins to adjust back to its precovid normal, it is of paramount importance that everyday individuals push back against government attempts to maintain emergency powers despite the absence of a raging pandemic. Similarly, it is past time that we demand clear goals from public health experts on what level of “herd immunity” is necessary to emerge from the officially recognized pandemic. If both tasks fail, it is not clear that the West will emerge from the pandemic as anything remotely resembling liberal.