“It’s a war,” says President Donald Trump of his efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and likening his role to that of “wartime president.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo welcomed the president’s claim to his commander in chief role in the crisis and his resolve: “The president and I agreed yesterday… we’re fighting the same war—and this is a war.”
Some measures already taken do call to mind actions in wartime. Commercial airline flights have been reduced or canceled. Schools have been closed. Universities have shut their doors. Where Ford, Chrysler, GM and other great auto companies shifted production to jeeps, tanks and bombers in 1942, U.S. auto factories have today been shut down to prevent the spread of the virus. Bars and restaurants are being closed. This month, millions of Americans will be added to unemployment rolls, and millions of senior citizens and elderly have already followed government directives to “self-isolate” or “shelter in place.”
There is talk of quarantines lasting not days or weeks, as Americans knew in the days of measles, mumps, chickenpox, scarlet fever and polio, but months. While a new social solidarity and spirit of self-sacrifice seem to be manifesting themselves in this pandemic, can it endure? Is the country prepared for months, or years, of social isolation, if that is what is required to win this war? It is a question that needs to be addressed.
Consider. The Chinese government, whose word is admittedly suspect, claims to have achieved a deceleration in the daily number of new coronavirus infections. The South Koreans say they, too, have broken and reversed the momentum of the spread of the virus. On March 3, the number of new cases of the coronavirus reported across South Korea was 852. On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, exactly two weeks later, the count was 85 new cases, a plunge of 90%. South Korea appears to have “flattened the curve.” We Americans, however, are far from that.
Exactly how far behind South Korea we are cannot be known until more tens of thousands of Americans are tested, and we learn how many cases of the disease are out there undiscovered and unreported. But whatever the success of Asian nations in containing the virus, are we politically and socially able to impose the same draconian measures?
Ordering people to “shelter in place” in their own homes, not just for days or weeks but months—can this be done in a free society, as it can be done in the surveillance state of Communist China? Can mayors and governors of beach towns along the East Coast from Maine to Miami, and the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, keep tens of millions from gathering on beaches this summer?
Last week, we saw college kids cavorting on Florida’s beaches, despite warnings that any one among them infected with COVID-19 could transmit it to the rest, leading to grave illness and, in some cases, death. Moreover, they could become carriers of the disease to parents and siblings. They did not seem to care.
As Prohibition proved, Americans are a rule-breaking people. Scores of thousands are injured in auto accidents and thousands killed each year from driving under the influence of alcohol, despite tough laws against drunk driving. Since the 1960s, laws against the use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, have not halted the rampant ingestion of illegal narcotics and dangerous drugs.
We are endlessly admonished that climate change poses an existential threat to the planet. But have the elites who profess to believe this given up flying in private jets? Have Americans given up their SUVs or ceased to heat their homes with oil and gas? Are parents going to be able to confine to their homes children whose lives are built around friends on playgrounds? Is the crowd on Martha’s Vineyard going to give up socializing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus?
In the ’60s, we were told that the correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, is absolute. Yet 34 million Americans continue to risk shortening their lives by smoking. Seniors and elderly, among whom the mortality rate from the coronavirus is the highest—15% of those over 80 in one estimate—may shelter in place for months. But if, in diverse cities, minority communities come out for block parties in summer, are we going to have the police march them back into their homes? Do we have enough cops for that?
A prediction: The longer the orders to shelter in place and self-isolate remain in force, the greater the probability they will begin to be ignored and people will take the risks to end their isolation and be with friends.
Will Americans suffer in social isolation, inside their own homes for months, while a state-induced Great Depression washes over the land? My guess is that many will rebel.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever. To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.
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