F.A. Hayek once said, “Emergencies have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded.” He was right.
The way a community pulls together during chaos is beautiful. In the midst of immediate threat, the dividing lines blur and people simply help one another. That spirit is one of the best things about America.
Yet the solidarity that is so needed during times of crisis can often lead to a lack of oversight. The “all in this together” mentality makes things easier to swallow. In these moments, most of us are willing to accept anything that is offered for the good of the collective. We have witnessed this during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While some government responses have been reasonable, some have simply been tyranny flying quietly under the radar. One great example is the action taken by Mayor Deborah Frank Feinen of Champaign, Illinois. She, in an executive order, gave herself unspeakable authority during this pandemic, including but not limited to the following: the ability to violate the Open Meetings Act; a ban on the sale of firearms and ammo; a ban on the sale of alcohol; closure of all places where alcohol is consumed; and ability to take possession of private property and titles.
Mayor Feinen’s actions are blatantly problematic, but what about some other responses that have not been as reported? Multiple states have forced businesses to close and banned public, private, and religious gatherings above a certain number of people. Not only is the economic impact of doing so catastrophic, but it is a dangerous trampling of enumerated rights.
To be sure, much of this would not even be up for discussion if all of us were correctly playing our part during this crisis. As someone born in the pivotal year connecting Millennials to Generation Z, I’ll apologize on behalf of both younger generations for blatantly ignoring the impact of their own behavior on at-risk populations in exchange for cheaper flights. But for every person refusing to modify their own behavior to stop the spread, there are dozens that are doing so.
Encouraging and incentivizing voluntary action is always a more proper government response than oppressive, heavy-handed orders. I don’t believe that there is malicious intent driving much of the state and local action (although I can’t say the same for our friends in Washington). But intent doesn’t exempt tyrannical behavior because of motivation – after all, tyranny is commonly built upon good intentions.
As we work together alongside neighbors to help contain the spread of COVID-19, don’t allow the feeling of camaraderie in the face of chaos to blind you to government overreach during this time. Checks, balances, and constitutional rights are not up for negotiation, no matter the crisis.