The courageous words of Patrick Henry, known so well they have come down to us as a cliche, “Give me liberty or give me death,” too often ring hollow in times of great national crisis. Quick on the heels of the terrorist attacks of September 11th came the passage of the Patriot Act, the permanent surrender of habeas corpus at Guantanamo Bay and the consecration of the Orwellian sounding Department of Homeland Security. Each of these draconian measures exacted a price so heavy on American freedoms one would be justified in wondering if, in the final analysis, the “curative” measures weren’t worse than the tragedies that presided over their formation.
We must be hypervigilant in personal measures of hygiene and social distancing to minimize our personal risk of contracting the virus. But we must be equally vigilant in remembering that these are the times when the furtive dark forces of human tyranny slink out by cover of darkness. We must not allow these forces to rob us of our freedoms while we are busy fighting for our lives.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this pandemic has galvanized some of the worst impulses of our world leaders. The hasty institutions of measures intended to protect us will also render us far less free when we come out the other side. This cynical opportunism can be seen across the globe, from the Hungarian prime minister’s sweeping emergency powers, to Brazil’s redoubled ignominious indifference to the despoiling of the Amazon, to South Korea’s extreme surveillance practices, to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Orwellian abuse of counterterrorism data extracted from the cellphones of Israeli citizens, to America’s Department of Justice request to eliminate legal protections for asylum seekers and suspend habeas corpus by detaining people indefinitely without trial.
The slow undoing of human rights is a price we are sometimes too quick and eager to pay when we are frightened. It’s a sad reality that our own governments would betray us in this way, at our moments of greatest need and weakness, but such is the character of many world leaders today, and we would be naive in the extreme not to expect Donald Trump to do the same.
Americans are lucky in one way, certainly. Donald Trump is an extremely stupid man. He is also surrounded by many stupid and incompetent people. It is for this reason that he may actually blow his chance to consolidate power.
As I said in a previous article, the coronavirus pandemic could have bought Donald Trump a second term and forestalled and possibly even eliminated the possibility that he may go to prison after he steps down. It was his one chance to set politics aside and become presidential. That he didn’t is yet another in a long list of proofs of just how breathtakingly stupid he is. Americans should, for once, be delighted that he is stupid. A clever man would have used this time to grab power by casting himself in the role of America’s saviour. But he has been consistently petty, small minded and self-congratulating — right on schedule. Lucky for us.
Even so, it’s unclear just how far back the coronavirus pandemic will put the cause of liberty in America, even at the hands of the current incompetent regime. I’m sorry to give you another thing to worry about on top of everything else, but at least the battle is with an evil enemy who is blessedly inept. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.