Freedom Becomes a Long-Haul COVID Victim
We call it “long-haul COVID” when patients recover from a COVID-19 infection but still experience symptoms weeks and months later. But the world at large could suffer lingering effects from the pandemic for years, as “emergency” measures adopted to (supposedly) fight the virus become part of the permanent landscape. Well after health concerns have been forgotten, the ultimate victim of long-haul COVID may turn out to be our freedom.
“The COVID-19 pandemic seriously risks further erosion of constraints on government powers, as leaders with an authoritarian bent amass new powers through emergency measures, and courts, legislatures, and other institutional and citizen checks are hampered in carrying out their constitutional duties and rights,” the Brookings Institution’s Ted Piccone noted last month in a column that warned of deteriorating conditions under authoritarian regimes and democracies alike. “In sum, the COVID-19 crisis has eroded the rule of law environment around the world,” he added.
The erosion of constraints on government power is nothing new to Americans, who have seen governors assume near-monarchical power to close businesses, limit gatherings, curtail the right to travel, and limit personal freedom.
“There may not be a pandemic exception to the bill of rights, but judges are generally willing to give state officials a great deal of deference in these situations,” Wake Forest University’s Professor John Dinan, an expert on federalism, observed last May.
The federal government, too, has assumed vast power over everyday activity, and politicians have seized the opportunity to spend trillions of dollars to “stimulate” the economy—but mostly to buy public favor and enact wish-lists of policies in the guise of addressing the crisis.
President Joe Biden is “turning COVID-era emergency measures into permanent expansions of federal power, using the virus as an excuse,” Reason‘s Peter Suderman warned last week. “For Biden, the pandemic has become a catchall justification for a wide array of big-government programs that he and the Democratic Party already wanted to pursue.”
As Piccone points out, this is a world-wide phenomenon that’s accelerating a global erosion of restraints on government power. He’s not the only one to notice that officials everywhere have taken advantage of the moment to accelerate troubling pre-pandemic trends.
“As recorded in the Democracy Index in recent years, democracy has not been in robust health for some
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