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Comedy and Tragedy in Two Americas

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In Dallas, Texas, life on the weekend felt completely normal, even better than ever. The city was booming with life, bands playing in bars, people shopping in boutiques doing great business, parking lots full end to end, happy people in parks, restaurants packed. And the amusement park Six Flags Over Texas had long lines, lengthy wait times at the rollercoasters, and smiles everywhere. 

Which is to say: it was normal. It was even better than normal because many of these people recall being cooped up last year by government edict, officials instructing them that they could not travel, shop, or leave their homes due to a virus that they would otherwise spread. Those lockdowns days are over, and people are newly grateful for the freedom to live their lives. 

There is no way a visitor to Dallas could have imagined the national media frenzy taking place at the very same time. After an exhausting day taking in all the beautiful sights and sounds, I caught up on what we used to call the news. I had temporarily forgotten about the subject that has consumed the media for the better part of 18 months. Sure enough, Anthony Fauci and the head of the CDC had done their weekly performance art, right on cue: the Sunday morning talk shows. 

Cases are rising, they said. Children are dying. You need to mask up. Delta is terrifying. Don’t worry: boosters are on the way, once approved. However, they don’t protect against infection. You can still get the plague if you let down your guard. The government needs to continue mitigation measures. Maybe some things can open, but only for the vaccine-compliant. You need to have your papers ready to show the authorities. 

In the northeast area of the country — as well as California and other reliably blue states — officials listen to this talk on TV every Sunday morning. By the evening, they issue edicts in compliance with their compatriots as a signal of solidarity, irrespective of the wishes of the people. Nearly overnight, in county after county in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, there were new indoor mask mandates. Capacity and event restrictions seem to be coming back. 

There are places where disease panic — and all the restrictions associated with that — just will not go away. 

None of it makes any sense if you look at the data. Cases — wholly dependent on testing — are up supposedly, but they could be mostly asymptomatic. All while deaths are at a pandemic low. Those who are dying continue to be, as they always have been, predominantly those with very low life expectancy. Right now especially, the pandemic is not hitting most people in any substantial way. Regardless, there is zero evidence that these restrictions and masking can make any difference in controlling a virus. The whole policy has been a spectacular failure, but many officials in blue states cannot and will not admit it. 

Two weeks ago, I was in New York City for the first time since before the lockdowns. The whole place had the feeling of a city struggling to come to life after the apocalypse. People were making the best-possible effort to seem normal, be happy, spend money, smile at each other, and find a path back to normal life. Restaurants had barely survived the disaster. Hotels, too. Now they seemed to be operating at about 30% of what is possible. 

The service was terrible because there are so few workers. Even high-end hotels do not change sheets daily. Room service is sketchy. There just aren’t people around to take care of paying customers. The experience is nothing like what everyone has come to expect in this great city. Meanwhile the streets had half as many cars using them as I recalled in my last pre-pandemic visit. 

Just as this was happening, the ideologically ruthless Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed an unworkable policy of a fully vaccinated city. You can’t go to restaurants, concerts, or gyms without showing your vaccine credentials. Only reluctantly did he exempt children from the mandate. The whole policy was confused and haphazard, just a kind of flex toward political correctness, but it absolutely demoralized the entire service sector just struggling to come to life. If the officials in these areas cannot imagine a return of freedom, they will only drive out more residents and businesses. 

The long-suffering people in these areas of the country simply cannot imagine the huge world of difference you find in Florida, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, and other states. Here you can attend in-person schools, summer camps, crowded concerts, no masks, a full life, people who have long ago stopped hanging on to the words of people like Fauci and the latest nonsense from the CDC. The prattle from the Biden administration means nothing to them. 

Daily, I hear from people who are at their wit’s end and plotting moves out of lockdown states into open ones. They cannot stand it anymore. Workers for companies that have offices in NYC and Dallas are daily requesting transfers. In some way, Dallas is the new New York. At this point, there will be no stopping this dramatic demographic shift to open states. 

All of this might have been prevented if blue-state officials had wised up six months ago, and turned against their mandates and impositions. Instead their lockdown tendencies have persisted and even gotten worse because there is even less a rationale for them than before. The idea of freedom as a solution is outside their purview, tragically. They cannot see another way, and they are addicted to panic and control. 

The party that favors all these measures happens to be completely in power in the country at large. They are loving their monopoly of power, however temporarily it lasts. And they are using every bit of it to end everything about the American experience that is valuable. And they benefit from having a near-monopoly of power behind them, with the exception of a few newspapers and TV channels. 

What this means for people in open states is the dawning of a new consciousness. If they are going to keep their freedoms and good lives, they have to prepare for a new way of thinking. It’s a sense of independence and determination to avoid the hysteria, demands, and attacks from the party in power — and the media apparatus that works all day to bolster them. 

The turn of the Biden administration toward direct attacks on Florida and Texas really are a turning point. No more is there any attempt to imagine that this is one country with liberty and justice for all. It feels very different. It feels like a slow-burning civil war, one fanatical ideology setting out to disparage and deprecate any diversion from it. There is just now a reconciling of these two opposite visions of what American life should be like. 

Covid unleashed a version of tyranny in the United States. Through a surreptitious and circuitous route, many public officials somehow managed to gain enormous power for themselves and demonstrate that all our vaunted limits on government are easily transgressed under the right conditions. Now they want to use that power to enact permanent change in this country. Right now, people, capital, and institutions are fleeing from them to safe and freer places, which only drives the people in power to madness. They are right now plotting to shut down the free states through any means possible. 

A good example is this vaccine mandate. The Biden administration is scouring around for every means to force them on resisting states by denying federal subsidies. Citizens are caught in the middle, with those who resist the mandates feeling increasingly exhausted and demoralized. Meanwhile, the political class is also in upheaval, with the Republican Party now divided between an increasingly radical branch of anti-lockdowners and a more establishment sector that is willing to go along to get along, while fearing the anger of voters. 

This situation in the US is not sustainable. It was entirely avoidable had the error of the lockdowns been recognized in the spring and summer of last year. The ruling class might have admitted the futility of this path and the danger it has represented to American peace and prosperity. Instead the opposite happened, and groups and interests that had maximum interest in overthrowing American freedom seized the day. 

It’s true that some of the most prominent lockdown practitioners have fallen on hard times: Andrew Cuomo of New York was pushed to resign but not for wrecking his state, while Gavin Newsom of California is facing recall. These are notable developments but they do not provide what is needed: a wholesale repudiation of lockdown ideology. 

It’s been far harder than anyone imagined it would be to recapture essential American values from the elites who trampled them so quickly and shockingly in 2020. Now we are left with a minority of political leaders who have been heroic and indefatigable in their determination to resist. They face a steep uphill climb to prevail and protect their citizens rights against unprecedented onslaught. 

The more time has gone on, it becomes ever easier to call how this will end. Creativity and energy are draining from lockdown states into those places that defend and protect freedom. With that comes innovation, people, and a vision of the future. That future is in Miami, Atlanta, and Dallas, and in smaller areas outside the larger cities. Capital, people, art, and ideas flow toward freedom. Meanwhile, there is no easy way out for places like Boston and New York City, today. The larger implication for the future: the impact on the future of America could be as dramatic as the Western migration of the 19th century. 

Author

  • Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and ten books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. [email protected]

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