Dissenters and protesters could grow into a more significant minority.
‘Live Free or Die,” read one protester’s sign. “Make Michigan Work Again” and “We Deem Our Governor Non-Essential” read others, as thousands gathered Wednesday in Lansing, Mich., to protest the state-mandated coronavirus lockdown. Similar protests have occurred in other parts of the country — Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, and Oregon.
For now, these protesters are a minority. A survey conducted by Morning Consult and Politico at the end of March found that 74 percent of voters support a national quarantine, with 19 percent opposed and 7 percent unsure. However, this is significantly less support than in other countries. In the United Kingdom, for instance, a YouGov poll taken around the same time found that 93 percent of the public supported the government’s action. On Thursday, the U.K. government indicated that the lockdown will continue for “at least” another three weeks. Historically, Europeans have been more willing to trade in civil liberties for safety than their American counterparts. In the U.S., however, if lockdowns continue, the number of dissenters could grow into a more significant minority.
Trump knows this, which is presumably why he hopes to open up the economy sooner rather than later. But as John Yoo wrote recently for National Review, “the White House cannot succeed unless it persuades governors to cooperate.” The U.S. Supreme Court granted local authorities unreserved quarantine powers in 1824. In 1900, the Court restated that this power is “beyond question.” Then again, in 1905, the Court decided that “a community has the right to protect itself” in the case of an epidemic. That means everything from forced medical exams to commandeering private property.
In the fight against COVID-19, both the Left and the Right have had to endure threats to their constitutional sacred cows. For liberals, this is “abortion rights” and prisoners’ rights; for conservatives, it’s religious freedom and the Second Amendment. But others, it would seem, would be willing to give up even more. Kevin Cope of the University of Virginia School of Law was part of a survey team that found that — in the case of pandemic — a surprising number of Americans would also be willing to entertain laws punishing misleading speech about the virus (70 percent of participants were in support of this) and banning potentially infected U.S. citizens from entering the country (64 percent were in support).
Attitudes toward quarantine measures are split as much by geography as by party affiliation. Michael Barbaro, the host of the New York Times podcast The Daily, shared a map on Twitter that showed — using anonymized cellphone data — where Americans were still moving around despite recommendations from health officials to shelter in place. “In a word. . . The South,” he wrote. Part of the disparity can be explained by these places being more rural so that grocery stores, hospitals, and pharmacies are more spread out. But perhaps these places, where self-reliance is a fact of life, are also less willing to be sentenced by their government to house arrest. In the past four weeks, 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Being dependent on the state flies in the face of the defining frontier mentality, as summed up by Wayne Hoffman, the president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates smaller government: “You have to do what’s best for your business. You have to do what’s best for your employees and your customers. You have to do what’s best for your livelihood, for your families.”
In the U.K., as in some U.S. urban areas, local governments have used drones with speakers to enforce social-distancing rules. There is talk of a “pandemic drone” that can monitor temperature, heart rates, coughs, and blood pressure, developed by the American company Draganfly. Many will see these as essential and temporary, as they are typically viewed in Europe. But there are many more, across this country, who hold fast to that uniquely American sentiment, once expressed by Ronald Reagan, that: “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
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