“Daddy, do something! Aaahhhhh….”

Today, I saw a headline on my MSN homepage: “Coronavirus keeps spreading as governments clamp down.” The headline linked to a New York Times (wouldn’t you know it?) item about the new draconian measures being implemented by the Italian government to basically prevent anyone from going anywhere out of his or her home without explicit government permission, in hopes of curtailing the coronavirus outbreak.

The story’s opening sentence is a remarkable bit of leftist media propaganda: 

The Italian government on Monday night extended restrictions on personal movement and public events to the entire country, in a desperate effort to stem the coronavirus outbreak — an extraordinary set of measures in a modern democracy that values individual freedoms.

“…an extraordinary set of measures in a modern democracy that values individual freedoms.” Is there any evidence that Italy still is a nation “that values individual freedoms”? It is quite apparent that the Italian government, at least, does not. 

What the NYT sentence is intended to establish, however, is that a country can submit to authoritarian restrictions on freedom of movement and association, in response to a virus, without this implying that said country no longer values individual freedoms. In other words, if Italy’s response is consistent with the premises of a free society…then what is Trump going to do about America’s outbreak?

When I was a wee lad, I would often visit my friend Chris on Saturdays, because his family had cable TV, which meant he had access to a much wider variety of children’s programs. One thing that occasionally popped up was “Land of the Lost,” a show about a family that goes over a waterfall in a raft, thereby passing through some sort of portal into a prehistoric dimension, where they must fight dinosaurs. 

The show was pointless and we rarely watched it. But one moment we did see has remained burned into my memory. One of the children in the family is recalling (perhaps in a dream) the moment that they went over the falls. As the boat tips downward, she (or he, not sure) screams, “Daddy do something!” followed by a long, descending “Aaaahhh…” as the boat disappears over the falls. 

For a long time, Chris and I would occasionally interrupt any conversation at random with a shout of “Daddy, do something! Aaaahhhh….” It was just funny to our childish minds.

I think of this today, considerably less amused, as I watch ordinarily reasonable human beings falling over waterfalls of fear and into a dimension of quivering panic and desperation over each new confirmed case in the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, I am seeing conservatives who dislike Donald Trump as much as I do using the currently small American outbreak as evidence against him, as though every American who catches this virus is proof of Trump’s incompetence. As though a president can stop a flu epidemic.

Trump’s critics, in other words — not this one, of course — are demanding that he do “more,” even though they leave undefined what exactly he is not doing that he should be doing. “Daddy do something! Aaaahhhh….”

Look again at this matter-of-fact headline from MSN: “Coronavirus keeps spreading as governments clamp down.”

And should governments “clamp down”? In what way? To what degree? And on what authority? This is not a foreign invasion, a terrorist attack, or any other immediate localized threat that might require suspending the norms of civil society in a strictly limited and fully defined way. We are talking about a virus that causes symptoms “similar to” a respiratory flu. Should the state — any state — have the carte blanche authority to suspend normal social activities and forcibly restrict the freedom of movement and association of its own citizens every time there is a flu epidemic?

In past years, when you yourself had a little fever or a cough, but had to go to work, drive your kids to school, or any number of other activities, were you behaving criminally? Should the state have assumed the power to force you to stay home, lest you infect anyone else with your flu bug? After all, thousands of people die of “avoidable” flu infections every year. These cases could surely be reduced — and deaths prevented — if only the state could make it a crime to leave your house while you are feeling under the weather.

If you think that would be going too far, then please — I’m not being a crank, but honestly asking the question — please tell me why this particular virus outbreak crosses the threshold into legitimizing government powers over private citizens that we would not have accepted in relation to a normal flu season, recalling, again, that thousands of people die due to the flu each year, far more than from this coronavirus.

There is a price of living in a semi-free society — or any society for that matter. Part of that price is the likelihood that you will catch illnesses from others in your normal course of life, and further that you will likely infect untold others with illnesses you are carrying without even realizing it. It’s unfortunate. And perhaps it’s preventable, if governments are given the authority to “clamp down” every time they want to keep us apart from one another for an indefinite period of time.

What is sad about this situation is how many people, including many who regard themselves as lovers of freedom and advocates of limited government, are perfectly sanguine with demanding unspecified extreme measures from their government at the first hint of concern about a new media bogeyman.

There are things governments can do in this sort of situation, largely in the arena of disseminating information and providing facilities for emergency situations. There are things governments cannot do, such as stop viruses from existing or spreading — unless, of course, we are prepared to grant them unlimited power to control the movement and interaction of entire societies.

Are we sure we are prepared to go there — for a new virus that has caused far fewer deaths than a typical flu outbreak, almost all of these deaths being among the usual demographic groups endangered by such illnesses (the old and infirm)?

To once again state the obvious, I am not saying this virus isn’t real — I live in the middle of the damned thing. I am asking how much you value your liberty, such as it is.

If you are sick, maybe you should stay home. That’s not the issue. But that the government should have power to force you to stay home, whether you are sick or healthy, effectively criminalizing you for not doing so — that’s the issue.

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