The far left thrives when people are frightened and unsure of the future. It’s comforting to think that government will be there to catch us if we fall. Barack Obama aide and eventual mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel infamously said the quiet part out loud: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
He means that when people are thinking logically and coherently, they wouldn’t dream of indulging progressives in their leveling fantasies. But scare them good enough, and miracles are wrought.
If Joe Biden and the radicals get their way, by the end of September, the federal government will have spent between $6 and $7 trillion. Tangentially, that money would be spent on the very broad category of “pandemic relief.” But far more significantly, the radicals will have altered the fundamental relationship of the governed to the governors. This is the Progressive Project — to remake America in the Democratic Socialist image.
The changes in rules, large and small, will be important. They will be sold as making America fairer, more equitable, more diverse, more inclusive — more “perfect.” Much will be done for “our own good” — even if we resist the changes. In that case, the radicals will pat us on the head and order us to go back to work and forget about things we don’t understand.
But NRO’s Charles Cook believes that the march of progressivism will be short-lived. In fact, the seeds of progressivism destruction have already been sown. It starts with “trusting the science” coming from the now thoroughly discredited Centers for Disease Control.
Earlier this week, the investor Paul Graham took to Twitter to criticize the many millions of Americans who have grown skeptical of the scientific establishment during the COVID-19 pandemic. “If you think you don’t trust scientists,” Graham wrote on Twitter, “you’re mistaken.” In reality, he wrote, “You trust scientists in a million different ways every time you step on a plane, or for that matter turn on your tap or open a can of beans.”
On its own terms, this is of course correct. It’s also entirely non-responsive to the question at hand, which is why so many otherwise-reasonable people have come to conclude that “science” is being routinely used as a means by which to launder political authority. Over the last 16 months, institutions from the CDC to the NIH to Facebook have been caught making up the rules as they go along — not because the data upon which they were relying was changing by the minute, but because their political aims had shifted, so their rationale had to as well.
To be honest, sometimes the data had, indeed, changed, as science discovered more about the coronavirus, how it was spread, and how better to deal with it. But a couple of writers at Slate explained that the CDC’s mission during this pandemic — indeed, all of public health’s mission — was a muddled mess that ended up confusing everyone and giving progressivism a clear field to run wild.
In an excellent piece over at Slate, Kerrington Powell and Vinay Prasad contend that public-health officials have a choice: They can either “report facts and uncertainties transparently,” which is science; or they can “shape information, via nudges, to influence the public to take specific actions,” which is politics. What they can’t do is both — at least, not without leading switched-on observers to recognize the ruse. “When experts or agencies deliver information to the public that they consider possibly or definitively false to further a larger, often well-meaning agenda,” Powell and Prasad conclude, “they are telling what is called a noble lie.” And noble lies ain’t science.
Unfortunately, in all the confusion, progressivism took root and grew into the threat that it is today.
Since the pandemic started, we have been told that masks were useless and that they were imperative; that protests were disastrous super-spreader events and that they were safe and necessary; that the lab-leak theory was racist, conspiracist nonsense and that it was the most plausible explanation; that any vaccine that was developed while Donald Trump was president was likely to be rushed and dangerous and that to refuse to take such a vaccine is death-cult-like behavior.
Biden and his radical friends need “science” to maintain their power. They need to keep the crisis going so they can keep taking advantage of it. The more fear they can generate, the more outrage they can gin up for their political opponents—whom they accuse of “denying” the “settled science” of mandates—the more power will accrue to them.
It’s a time-honored formula that has always failed in the past.
Indeed, if this trend continues, it will take a long time for American progressivism to recover from the fallout. In its Wilsonian form, progressivism is a system in which the elected branches attempt to permanently outsource many of the country’s key political decisions to an ostensibly disinterested technocracy. When that technocracy is trusted, as it was for a while in the early 20th century and again in the 1950s and early to mid 1960s, those attempts enjoy a sufficient degree of support. When that technocracy is not trusted, as was the case after the fall of Robert McNamara and during the malaise-ridden 1970s, those attempts create a mighty backlash.
Progressivism may fall but how long in the social media age will it take to rise from the ashes to try again? If history is any guide, we will make the same mistakes over and over until some cataclysm alters the historical cycle.