Opinion

Democrats' COVID totemism

Is this really science?

A lock.

As I write this, it is illegal throughout the United Kingdom to have a drink in a pub, to sit in a café, or to meet with a neighbor in your own garden unless he or she is a member of what government officials, with apparently straight faces, define as a "support bubble." Despite reassurances made by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, it is also illegal to enter a church. Among the few legally approved reasons for travel of any kind is going abroad to commit suicide. (Apparently the black plague stalking the land is not lethal enough.)

Things are not quite this bad in much of the United States, but there is every indication that they will be in the weeks to come. They certainly were in the spring, when cannabis dispensaries were open while church doors were locked — at least ostensibly: Some priests have more courage than others — on Easter Sunday. There is no reason to believe that months later politicians have become more interested in scientific evidence, as opposed to totemism.

Earlier this year, against all evidence, we were told that no gatherings of any kind were acceptable, not even outdoors. Even elections were dangerous, at least until Democrats performed better than expected in Wisconsin back back in April. Then a few months later it became, in a matter of hours, not only permissible but salutary to gather for protests, but only for certain approved causes. (Even looting Target was okay as long as face coverings were worn by at least some of the participants!) Then large outdoor to-dos were dangerous again until Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election. I mean, really, what is the possible harm in a bunch of strangers drinking from the same bottle of wine in the street as long as they re-don their masks in between sips?

For months casinos have been open in Las Vegas at 50 percent capacity but churches in the state of Nevada have been limited to strict 50-person occupancy rules, an absurdity seized upon by Supreme Court Justice Alito in a recent speech. In California strip clubs were just reopened by the order of a judge, who cited the First Amendment; if only people were not in the unfortunate habit of wearing clothes to Mass! In my own state of Michigan, the Democratic governor vetoed a bill that would have prevented patients with active COVID infections from being admitted to nursing homes, where the overwhelming majority of deaths have been recorded. She did this out of spite for the Republican state legislature, despite recommendations from health authorities in her own state.

In restaurants across this country, millions participate in the bizarre fiction that masks are not only efficacious but required except when we are eating and drinking, at which point they are no longer necessary. (Presumably the virus understands these basic human needs of ours and agrees to hold off until we have to use the bathroom.) In the cow-like atmosphere of sports journalism, only Fox's Troy Aikman has dared to say what millions of fans know: that the league's separate mask policy for coaches and players makes is risible, not least because both groups are subject to the same daily testing regime. (Among players he has a few allies: No one from the NFL has explained to Richard Sherman, the 49ers cornerback, why players who are allowed to tackle one another cannot exchange greetings after a game.) The use of these fetish objects ought to be the province of anthropologists, not doctors: who could possibly believe that the inconsistent manner in which they are worn corresponds to any known body of evidence, as opposed to ritual law?

The elders of our tribe certainly understand the juju. Everywhere governors like California's Gavin Newsom and mayors like Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., flout travel restrictions imposed on their own citizens, attend parties that are illegal for everyone else, and send their own children to private educational establishments that remain open, unlike the public schools that they have closed at the instigation of teachers' unions. The speaker of the House of Representatives, who months ago insisted upon having her hair dried at a closed salon in San Francisco without wearing a mask, is preparing to host an indoor dinner for her fellow Democrats.

Since February, when President Trump was accused of xenophobia for daring to suggest that we ban travel to and from China, it has been clear that our response to this virus was a continuation of our never-ending culture war. (This is one reason we are no longer allowed to refer to the disease as "Wuhan pneumonia," its original name even in English-language Chinese and Taiwanese media.) Whatever the supposed efficacy of the measures we have adopted, it is clear now that for most Americans they are simply another form of quasi-religious obeisance, like putting liquids in a plastic bag at the airport. Our collective experience of the post-9/11 security state should not make us hopeful about the prospects for their eventual disappearance.

Anyone attempting to draw attention to the endless goalpost shifting surrounding the virus, and the arbitrary nature of our lockdown policies, will be told that the "science" is not settled. This does not seem true. It was settled months ago, in favor of whatever the whims of the political, educational, and business establishment happen to be.

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