The crisis at hand is having a numbing effect on Americans. We look to our leaders to give us instructions on what to do to not get sick, to not spread disease, and to allay our fears and anxiety. But as those leaders enact measures and guidelines to protect us, our rights are being sacrificed. Once government takes control, it is slow to hand it back, if it ever does.
Tech firms have released cell phone tracking data across the US and Canada, and it is being used to help figure out where the next hot spots will be. This is a process called "contact tracing." But the emergence of this data can certainly lead to problems for privacy down the road. And it will be hard to fight our rights back if we don’t track the egregious offences against them now.
It’s easy to say that we need to take any and all measures to contain and prevent further coronavirus spread. After all, people are dying—the US just breached 2,000 deaths in one day, the largest recorded single day death count of any nation since the virus began its global rampage. Estimates of when we can open the country and our economy back up vary wildly from a few more weeks to fall 2021.
If these crisis conditions are in fact the new normal, we can’t allow the temporary loss of our basic civil rights to metastasize into a permanent condition.
Yet, if we don’t hold our elected leaders to account now, that’s exactly what will come to pass. All of our resources, energy, and precautions are brought to bear on eradicating the COVID-19 coronavirus from our population and public spaces. As we advocate for that and support these efforts, determining for ourselves that the best course of action is to do whatever we can personally, be it wearing masks, staying indoors, we must also advocate for the return of civil liberties.
While Nevada’s Governor Stephen Sisolak is rejoicing in that state’s ranking among social-distancers, Indiana’s Governor Eric Holcomb is demanding the closure of churches, regardless of the social-distancing measures implemented by the faithful.
Kentucky’s Governor Andy Beshear promises to record license plates of those attending worship services, and then to fine them for being out of their homes for non-essential reasons. It’s telling to see how much our right to freedom of religion matters to our elected officials when they so easily deem that freedom a “non-essential.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who we see daily on coronavirus briefings, has indicated that perhaps it would be sensible for those who have been cleared of the virus to carry papers so that they can be identified as allowed to travel beyond their front yards.
Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Wolf has prohibited the sale of alcohol, due to their arcane "state store" system. In Philadelphia, police physically removed a man from a bus for not wearing a face mask.
And across the board, there is the feeling of a tendril creep of authoritarian tendencies being exhibited by our elected leaders who would certainly find their jobs easier if the population was more controlled.
Across these many states, citizens are experiencing this pandemic differently. New York and the northeast are in their own miasma of pain, metropolitan pockets in populous states are bracing for the onslaught of this virus. While small towns and communities are feeling locked down almost for the hell of it. And while Americans have a vast store of patience, that could begin to wear thin. Once that happens, no measures but the most extreme will keep them in their panicked place.
The conversation about how to prevent and contain coronavirus spread is important, but it’s not the only one that needs to be had. We need to save lives, we need to secure health and safety. But we also need to make sure that the world we emerge back into, rubbing our sleepy eyes and squinting at the sun, still holds our individual rights and freedoms as critical and foundational elements of public and private life. We need leaders who are aware of that fact, and who hold our personal sovereignty more dear than they hold their own power.