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When Panic Became Normalized - Brownstone Institute

When Panic Became Normalized


In honor of the fourth anniversary of the tyrannical overreaction to a largely imagined threat that elsewhere I’ve described in terms of Israel’s worship of golden calf, I thought it useful to relive my own experience of how easily normal was abandoned in favor of dystopia in less than a week.

Thursday, March 12

Following the cowardly lead of the NBA and NHL, MLB announces that after the conclusion of that day’s Spring Training games, they would also be refusing to play. This throws my planned travel with two friends in just three days into chaos, as we had arranged a trip specifically so that they could experience Spring Training for the first time. After discussion, we agree to travel to Florida anyway, even if the primary purpose of our travel had been ruined.

I rant online about this. Aside from a couple of women deeply afflicted by too much living in the suburbs, most of my friends seem to be in agreement.

As I join a married couple for dinner that evening, a certain dark foreboding is projected by the TVs above the bar, as what should have been live sports programming was replaced by talking heads blathering on about the fact that everything is canceled. And yet, life is normal at the restaurant. After bidding the couple adieu, I then join other friends at a local microbrewery, where once again things are normal.

Friday, March 13

That night I attended a birthday party for a parishioner at a nearby restaurant and bar named the Darlington Hotel. He was now running the place in hopes of purchasing the establishment for himself. Corona bottle openers were given away as free gifts, in mockery of the panic. 

I post the following image to Facebook with the caption “We don’t live in fear in NW Beaver County!”

(The Darlington Hotel would never reopen again after this weekend. I still have that bottle opener as a visible sign to never stop being morally outraged over what happened.)

Saturday, March 14

On what should have been the day of Pittsburgh’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, festivities continue as normal at my favorite local dive. The manager panics at one point by covering his beard in beer foam and saying that he isn’t feeling too well into the microphone. I, however, have an unexplainable sense that something very bad is coming.

Sunday, March 15

I offer Sunday Mass at one of our churches. While attendance is a little down due to the obligation being dispensed, everyone is normal and full of good cheer.

I leave for the airport to fly to Tampa with my friends. While we are waiting, the news is released: Governor Tom Wolf has revoked human rights and appointed himself and a man pretending to be a woman as unaccountable tyrants. Finding out that my diocese is going along with this madness fills me with such rage that my friends see me noticeably red and sweating.

We board our plane (which was completely normal), drive our rental car to the condo where we were staying, and then go for a drink at the nearby Captain Curt’s, as Florida is still completely normal.

Monday, March 16 

This would be the last normal day of our lives, as Ron DeSantis would cave to the temptations to be a tyrant (at the direction of President Trump) and announced that the next day there would be bizarre and useless occupancy restrictions at restaurants. After a day at the beach, we spent the evening out listening to live music for the last time and enjoying fine dining for the final time. For a nightcap, we thought we would be funny and take advantage of a special on Corona, but we ended up hurrying out of there because the bartender had obviously just had a psychological breakdown; she was telling us how she kicked a smoker out of the bar for coughing, wiped everything repeatedly, and then threw away the ashtray the patron was using.

Tuesday, March 17

The effects of the contagion of panic having caught up with us in Florida meant that there wasn’t much reason to plan to do anything. We went to a local liquor store to buy bottles of liquor to take home (as buying liquor was now illegal in Pennsylvania as the state-owned liquor stores were forbidden from opening). We ironically watched Stephen King’s The Stand. A pizza shop that night basically refused to serve seated tables, so broken was the psyche of the employees. We ended up back at Captain Curt’s where we had relaxed the first night, except that there was nothing relaxing there with the altered seating.

Wednesday, March 18

In the process of journeying back, I took my friends on a tour of sadness of the things we were supposed to do. After stopping at Mixon Farms, I showed them the completely abandoned Pirates City complex. We then drove to LECOM Park where we were to attend 2 games; a sole ticket window was open to issue refunds to those who had purchased their tickets in person.

Locked out of LECOM Park

At the Tampa airport, we sat at the bar at the Hard Rock Restaurant for our last taste of freedom. Once on the plane, it was clear that we were now living in a dystopia, as the Southwest flight attendants now refused to perform regular drink service (as they were terrified to touch anyone) and only handed out cans of water. (My one friend has retained that can of water as a memory of the trauma.)

Then we had the dark drive home, wondering if we would ever know freedom again…

Life Was Normal Until Our Leaders Panicked

As I went through my memory of those days, the realization that jumped out at me was that the vast majority of those who succumbed to hysteria only did so after our leaders failed in their grave duty to keep everyone calm regardless of the danger.

As I recently argued, we as a culture used to be in wide agreement that panic is to be avoided no matter what and that good leadership must therefore be completely immune to hysteria.

Yes, hysteria was spreading through the populace, particularly among those predisposed to social contagion through the consumption of mainstream media. But it is undisputably true that people were continuing to live their lives normally even as professional athletes (our modern-day gladiators) proved themselves to be sniveling cowards who refused to earn their massive paychecks out of fear. 

The only tangible sign of widespread panic was the hoarding of toilet paper, which displays more of a fear of what OTHERS will do rather than a fear of catching a respiratory illness. When I arrived in Florida people were calmer than those I left behind in Pennsylvania, even though Covid was being detected at far higher rates there, for the simple reason that their government hadn’t done anything crazy to indicate a reason to panic.

The minute the government started acting crazy, the people started acting crazy.

What leaders in government did, whether it be President Trump on the national level or your health department head on the local level, was an abject failure in what is one of the first duties of good leadership. To encourage panic and the psychological devastation that accompanies panic is wicked and depraved. The lack of accountability for nearly any of those guilty portends a future even more devoid of the necessary virtues required for good leadership.

In an alternate reality, it was possible for a message akin to FDR’s 1933 inaugural speech to delivered in March of 2020: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance…” 

Had that happened, the panic which was spreading would have eventually subsided, as it always does. We lost our freedoms and our lives are permanently damaged as a result of those whom we have chosen as leaders proving to be abject failures or worse.

Four years later, the two major parties are planning to nominate candidates for president who are in agreement that spreading panic and hysteria was the right thing to do in 2020; they disagree only about how much panic should have occurred. Only an independent candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., seems to think that any level of accountability is needed for what happened.

Will we ever have leadership again that wants to avoid causing the people they serve to be broken psychologically enough to throw ashtrays away in fear of catching a cold?

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  • Rev. John F. Naugle

    Reverend John F. Naugle is the Parochial Vicar at St. Augustine Parish in Beaver County. B.S., Economics and Mathematics, St. Vincent College; M.A., Philosophy, Duquesne University; S.T.B., Catholic University of America

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