From 9/11 to Covid-19: Nineteen Years of Permanent “Emergency”
During March and April of this year—during the early days of the covid-19 panic—each day came to be accompanied by a general feeling of dread. As new emergency orders and decrees rained down from governors, mayors, and faceless health bureaucrats, I wondered, What new awful thing will governments think up today? As business and churches were closed by government edict, politicians increasingly were threatening to arrest and jail ordinary citizens for doing things that were perfectly legal mere days before.
Even worse was the new orthodoxy that seemed to immediately spring up. All dissent from the new regime of lockdowns and business seizures was denounced and mocked. We were now all expected to chant new slogans. “We’re all in this together. Flatten the curve.”
There was no sign of any sizable opposition. The courts were silent. So-called due process was abandoned.
But for those of us who are old enough to remember the dark times that followed the 9/11 attacks, the feelings of dread had a familiarity to them.
The blind sloganeering, the anger toward dissent, and the obeisance toward politicians who were credited with “keeping us safe” brought back bad old memories.
They were memories of the days and months and years that followed the 9/11 attacks. These were the days of so many new assaults on basic human freedoms and human rights. They were days when the public was bullied into accepting whatever new scheme politicians were dreaming up in the name of keeping us “safe.”
In many ways, the current hysteria is even worse than that of the early years of the twenty-first century. It affects the everyday lives of countless Americans in ways the 9/11 panic did not. But the current crisis is nonetheless very much a continuation of the attitudes and paranoia that surged nineteen years ago.
Trust the Experts!
Then, as now, the public was repeatedly instructed to trust the experts and not question government officials in any way. This manifested itself in a couple of ways. First of all, there was new legislation like the so-called Patriot Act, a smorgasbord of new freedom-destroying federal initiatives that would authorize all sorts of new spying and search powers by the federal government. Soon after, of course, came new additional powers, such as the president’s power to declare anyone an “enemy combatant” and subject to torture, imprisonment, and forfeiture of all legal rights.
Those who objected were denounced as reckless and naïve, and unconcerned for human life. Torture, we were told, was absolutely necessary for public safety. The opposition was said to be unfit to comment on the matter or question federal powers because the “experts”—i.e., CIA personnel, etc.—understood the real dangers.
The trust-the-experts claim was trotted out again when the Bush administration and the CIA began to collaborate to “prove” that Saddam Hussein was somehow responsib
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