Yesterday, former president Barack Obama sent out a tweet scolding President Trump and tying the coronavirus pandemic to climate change.
“We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic,” Obama wrote. “We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall.”
Along with this tweet was a link to an LA Times article about the Trump Administration curtailing some of the Obama Administration’s vehicle emissions standards. Obama’s point is that, in his opinion, a failure to take governmental action against climate change will have the same sort of effect as Trump’s initial failure, in his opinion, to take governmental action against the coronavirus.
Obama here is hammering on a now familiar theme. Many media outlets have attempted to link the one thing with the other. A recent article in Time, titled “5 Lessons From Coronavirus That Will Help Us Tackle Climate Change,” argues that one crucial lesson is that “global challenges require systemic changes – changes that can only be activated by government or companies.”
The article continues: “But they also require individual behavioral changes. We need both. We have seen over the past few weeks that governments can take radical action and we can change our behavior quite quickly.”
Al Jazeera has connected the two issues more directly. “The coronavirus outbreak is part of the climate change crisis,” an op-ed on the news outlet’s website declared this week. We’re told that “these sweeping and unprecedented measures taken by the government and international institutions” to curb the virus should cause us to “wonder about another global emergency that needs urgent action – climate change.”
“In fact, one may argue that the pandemic is part of climate change,” it goes on. “And therefore, our response to it should not be limited to containing the spread of the virus. What we thought was ‘normal’ before the pandemic was already a crisis and so returning to it cannot be an option.”
I could marshal other examples, but hopefully the point is clear. The Left is arguing that the governmental response to the coronavirus should serve as a model for the government’s response to climate change. Phrases like “systemic changes” and “sweeping and unprecedented measures” are being used, in a positive sense, to suggest a path forward in our mortal struggle against the weather. Those of us who, historically, have not been so keen on the government doing things that are “sweeping” and “systemic” should take note and be wary.
It seems at this point very likely that the next Democratic president will use the precedents being set right now to justify dramatic infringements on our liberties for the sake of fighting the climate change bogeyman, or any number of other real or imagined threats. The government projected that millions would die from the coronavirus and used that as a justification for effectively suspending the Bill of Rights, locking millions of Americans in their homes, forcibly closing millions of businesses, relegating entire sectors of the workforce to the unemployment line, arresting pastors, quarantining whole cities, and banning people from walking outside unless they do so for an approved reason. Many Americans have cooperated approvingly with these measures, despite the fact that they are destroying our economy and bringing us closer and closer to a crash and eventual depression unlike anything we’ve yet seen. It does not take a fortune teller to detect where this might go next.
If the government’s “projections” and “models” are reason enough to take this sort of action, then what happens when the government, under a Democratic president, projects the end of all life on Earth unless extraordinary things are done to avoid armageddon? On what basis can those of us who endorse the current shutdown of American society “to save millions of lives” really object when a similarly drastic program is put in place “to save billions of lives”? If the government can issue declarations that shutter, in many cases permanently, tens of millions of small businesses, why can’t it issue declarations dismantling industries that, it will say, contribute to climate change and thus the apocalypse?
Those of us who support these shut downs will be in quite a bind. We will not be able to argue that the government in principle should not, or does not have the power to, toss free enterprise into the wood chipper along with the Bill of Rights, and seize dictatorial control of our civilization. We will have already ceded such power to it. Instead, all we will be able to do is debate whether it is actually true that climate change poses that kind of threat. But the government will have the “consensus of the scientific community” on its side. And that will settle that, for all intents and purposes.
There are other possibilities, just as plausible, or nearly so. Imagine a future Democratic regime that declares gun violence a national emergency and public health crisis, and summarily orders the confiscation of all “assault weapons” or hand guns. Those of us who obediently support the effective suspension of the First Amendment, even up to the arrest of pastors who hold worship services, will have little ground to stand on when we protest the effective suspension of the Second Amendment. If the one is negotiable and mutable, why not the other?
When I objected yesterday to the arrest of pastors, many self-professed conservative Christians reprimanded me, insisting that I am putting lives at risk by questioning the State’s authority and motivations in this matter. I was also told, repeatedly, that churches “don’t need to meet” because they can always stream the service online. True, they don’t need to. You also don’t “need” that “assault rifle” in your house. A handgun or shotgun is fine for home defense. You don’t need it. Stop being difficult. Is your silly gun more important than human life?
You will respond that it isn’t about “need,” and no matter how many mass shootings are carried out with the style of weapon you own, you still won’t give it up. You would be right to respond that way. But the people who are willing to forfeit the First Amendment based on “need” will have a hard time explaining why they shouldn’t do the same with the Second. All they will be able to do is argue that gun violence is not actually a health crisis or an emergency, or that they do need their gun for whatever reason. Once again, though, the consensus of smart and powerful people will win the day. We will have nowhere else to go, no other argument to turn to. The most powerful argument – that the government in principle should not have the power to take these actions, even if there really is a crisis – will no longer be available. We will have forfeited it. We are forfeiting it, right now, as we speak.
Or what if a future New York Governor Ocasio-Cortez, enjoying the support of a Democrat-run federal government, decides that the refusal of certain churches in her state to perform gay weddings is its own emergency because of the mental and emotional damage it does to the gay couples who suffer from it? Can she close those places of worship until they pledge to end their bigoted practices?
If these possibilities seem wholly implausible to you, I would suggest that you haven’t been paying very close attention to the rhetoric and language these people use when making their case. They have been setting the stage for this kind of power grab for many years now. But the coronavirus response, and its passive acceptance by many Americans, has made what was once only likely seem now inevitable.