Donald Trump today announced that "we are not closing our country" if a second wave of COVID-19 hits the country later this year.
Given that Trump is not the one who decides whether or not state governments attempt to impose forced social-distancing measures, we can nonetheless interpret his statement as an announcement that he plans to use his position to oppose efforts to impose lockdowns in the in the future.
But this raises a larger question: how tolerant will the public be toward additional lockdowns in the future as the economy sinks and the effects of unemployment and economic deprivations sink in?
In some places, the answer might be "very tolerant." But in many states and areas, politicians may find that the answer is "no way in hell."
The First Lockdown Was a Sucker Punch
It's understandable why so many Americans were tolerant of the first wave of shutdowns. Fed a steady diet of panicky declarations of an impending viral apocalypse through social media and mainstream media, a majority of Americans—possibly a lopsided majority—became frightened. It is likely that even those who are disinclined to believe lurid media stories of death and destruction took a "wait and see" attitude. People simply didn't know what was going to happen.
Technocrats and politicians were quick to take advantage of this temporary paralysis. Lifelong power-obsessed government bureaucrats like Anthony Fauci and his state-level counterparts demanded that the government suspend the rule of law and impose emergency measures unparalleled in scope in American history. Businesses were forcibly closed. Governors, mayors, and police threatened arrest, imprisonment, fines, and revocation of business licenses for those who remained "disobedient."
Employment collapsed. Livelihoods were destroyed. Since hospitals and medical facilities were largely closed to all but suspected COVID-19 patients, many went without medical care and diagnoses for deadly conditions.
One might say that the enthusiasm and speed with which the government abolished human rights could be described as a "sucker punch." The voters and taxpayers didn't know what hit them.
And for a period of two to four weeks, there was barely any resistance at all. Many were still unsure if half their neighborhood would die of the new disease. Or maybe there really would be corpses piled up in the streets nationwide, since Americans were told that what had happened in Iran or Wuhan would soon happen in the US.
But then it didn't happen. This isn't to say that there wasn't an increase in total mortality. There was, and much of it—but certainly not all of it—was due to COVID-19.
But it soon became clear that human society was not going to descend into plague-induced wreckage. Outside of a few hard-hit cities, hospitals never got even close to the dystopian people-dying-in-the-halls scenario that people were assured would happen. Now, of course, as some states begin to scale back their lockdowns, there's still no sign of corpses piling up in the streets. Yes, death by disease continues, just as it does every day of every year. And there is more death now than there was last year. This includes the "lockdown" states, after all, since there is no evidence that lockdowns actually work.
But this is what always happens with pandemics. It happened in 1958. It happened in 1969. But back then, Americans didn't destroy wholesale the rule of law and human rights out of fear.
The "New Normal" May Just Be a World with Higher Mortality
But for many that fear may be wearing off. After all, people come to terms with risk fairly quickly. There was once a time, after all, that human beings found the speed of a locomotive or a motorcar terrifying. Yet, within a matter of years, many Americans were happy to ride trains and drive cars. And cars didn't even usually have seat belts until the 1960s!
The "new normal" became a world of widespread auto accidents, and auto deaths per million in the early days of automobiles were double what they are today.
And many Americans may soon decide that the "new normal" is a world with more risk of dying of COVID-19. But for many it's a risk that they have decided must be faced, especially when there are many other risks to balance against. After all, It is now becoming clear that efforts to "fight" COVID-19 through lockdowns will lead to more deaths from cancer, from suicide, and from drug overdoses. Just as many Americans decided to face the risk of a deadly car crash for the sake of avoiding the inconvenience of a horse and buggy, so many Americans will decide to "risk it" in a world with COVID-19.
Moreover, the longer lockdowns remain relaxed, the more routine it will become to have lunch with a friend at a restaurant, go to the dentist, or get a haircut. Once people do it a few times without becoming deathly ill, they'll want to keep doing it.
Certainly, there will be no shortage of lockdown advocates who will demand more government coercion, more shutdowns, and more state violence to enforce them, complete with arrests, fines, and more. Many—including people who have no problem with death in the form of abortion and euthanasia—will wrap themselves in the claim "all life is precious" and attempt to shout down and shame those who advocate for human rights and and end to government by decree.
But will that be enough? In some places it may not be enough to gain obedience to a second lockdown.
So the question comes down to this: will Americans fall for the sucker punch twice? Patrick Buchanan doesn't know, although he asks the question, and suggests:
If there is a sudden resurgence of the coronavirus, a second wave, and the media elite and blue state governors demand a new shutdown, a new closure of beaches, parks, shops, restaurants and churches, will the people of this republic comply with those demands or defy them?
Will the nation answer back to the elites: We did that. We sheltered in place. We wore the masks. We socially distanced. We stayed in our homes. We stayed home from work. We have done all we were told to do to contain the virus. But, now, with the shutdown having put 36 million Americans on unemployment and sunk our GDP to Depression-era levels, we're going back to work.
The political divide has already begun to appear.
Indeed, looking at the issue through "the political divide" may be the most instructive. Americans are choosing sides. And passions run high. Asking your neighbor or colleague about his views on COVID-19 is now about as likely to lead to an argument as asking your neighbor for his views on slavery in 1859.
Attempts at another round of lockdowns will only make things worse.