The danger of authoritarian creep
The Boston Globe
Our economy and health-care system will eventually return to normal when the coronavirus pandemic fades, said Jeff Jacoby. But “will our civil liberties recover?” The extraordinary threat posed by the virus justifies extraordinary measures, such as public officials ordering people not to gather in churches and synagogues or public places; shutting most businesses and entire industries; threatening to arrest people who leave their homes; and setting up police checkpoints at state borders. “Are we sure that all the infringements in the current crisis will remain temporary?” Once a state of emergency is declared, the president, governors, and local officials have enormous, unchecked power to prohibit travel, declare certain jobs “nonessential,” and make leaving your home a crime. The Justice Department has even asked Congress to suspend habeas corpus—the constitutional guarantee that anyone who is arrested can challenge the charges in court—so the authorities can “detain people indefinitely without trial.” That’s chilling. When the end of this crisis comes, perhaps the president and governors will willingly surrender their “godlike” power “to rule by decree.” But “power can be very addicting,” and Americans will need to be on the alert for authoritarian creep.