Before Pesach, I wrote an article explaining the potential dangers of government overreach during this pandemic and its ramifications on life after the virus has passed. Highlighted in the piece was a threat made by the worst mayor New York City has ever seen, Bill de Blasio, wherein he made the statement that synagogues and churches (not mosques) that choose to remain open will be forcibly shut down, and may even be closed permanently. Now while I am certainly not in favor of houses of worship choosing to stay open at this time, I am certainly not going so far as to abolish the First Amendment to do so.
My concern over this seemingly growing seizure of rights by governments compounded my fear that this will lead to governmental control over vast swaths of society even after this crisis is over. This fear stems from former Chicago mayor and Barak Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who when discussing the 2008 financial crisis made the now infamous statement, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” What is often forgotten about this quote is that later on, Emanuel clarified it: “What I said was, never allow a good crisis to go to waste when it’s an opportunity to do things that you had never considered, or that you didn’t think were possible.” This doesn’t make the quote better, Rahm. This obviously is worse than before. Prior to your clarification, I would have thought that you meant that we should use the fear of a crisis to extend governmental reach to further your agenda. Now I understand it to mean that you not only want to use fearmongering to advance your agenda, but you want to do it in ways you never thought possible before.
And throughout history, we definitely see this being true. As soon as a crisis hits, the government seizes control over something, and never relinquishes it to the point where we accept the new governmental control as a standard way of life. The classic example of this was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” a disastrous plan that the country still reels from. FDR was able to push this through on the heels of the Great Depression and would have kept the United States on an extremely slow recovery track had it not been for World War II. And these changes aren’t limited to control taken by Democratic presidents. After 9/11, the government created the Transportation Security Administration, which has completely changed the way we fly forever. Additionally, the Bush II administration passed the Patriot Act, which is extremely invasive on the privacy of Americans. Oh, and by the way, certain provisions of the Patriot Act were renewed just last month. You see, the government, regardless of who is in charge, cannot help itself from grabbing increasingly more power and never relinquishing it. And if you don’t think that’s going to happen after this is all over, you haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on all over the country, because the power grabbing has already started.
Let’s start by looking at the way the state of Michigan is overstepping. Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order that included the inability to travel between two homes owned by someone. It also forced stores that were allowed to remain open to close certain aisles if she determined that the items sold in those aisles were non-essential. You see, this dictator gets to determine not only if your business is essential, but should you be so lucky as to have a business allowed to remain open, you are still at her mercy when it comes to which items you are allowed to sell, because we trust people to remain socially distant in aisle four, but definitely not in aisle 28. But of course, we would be remiss if we left out the obvious examples of businesses that are essential as compared to those that aren’t. Abortion clinics are “life sustaining” businesses, she somehow said, without a hint of irony. Meanwhile, other non-hospital medical services such as dental offices remain closed. Oh, but of course, if you are a business that provides products that the governor disagrees with, such as gun retailers, you are obviously barred from opening.
The draconian laws caused an in-vehicle protest that stopped traffic in the state’s capital of Lansing, which prompted Whitmer to call the protests “selfish” and “dangerous” because the protesters were not obeying social distancing protocols despite the vast majority of the protesters remaining in their cars the entire time. She even threatened to extend the stay-at-home order because of the protest. The people of Michigan should be wary to cross a dictator, for she will come down on you with the wrath of a thousand spears.
But you know what? I should cut Michigan some slack. At least in Detroit, Michigan owns one of the nation’s premier cities, where people live in close quarters, and they have seen over 30,000 cases and 2,000 deaths. If we were to look at another state that has seen protests over government overreach with far fewer cases, we’ll see a whole different level of idiocy. I present North Carolina. In a state with a population of 10.5 million people, they have seen just over 6,000 total cases and just 191 deaths. This didn’t stop one protester from being arrested for protesting. So while our mayor is attacking the freedom of religion clause of the first amendment, Governor Roy Cooper is attacking the freedom of assembly clause. These statistics go to prove that despite almost every state issuing these orders, not all states are the same. New York isn’t New Mexico. Michigan isn’t North Carolina. We aren’t being affected the same way, and we don’t need the same laws right now.
We can also go through how lawmakers are behaving during this crisis on a personal level. We all know by now how de Blasio went to the gym right after announcing the closure of all gyms in New York City. He explained that he needed the exercise “to be able to stay healthy and make decisions,” a skill that we lowly non-mayors wouldn’t need to be concerned with. After all, what decisions will we have to make while not being allowed to do anything? And staying healthy shouldn’t be a concern right now because we’re in a pandemic, and we should only be concerned about our health.
Alternatively, let’s look at Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, who, after closing all of the salons and barber shops, decided to get a haircut, and when asked to defend herself, she said, “I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye. I’m a person who, I take my personal hygiene very seriously. As I said, I felt like I needed to have a haircut. I’m not able to do that myself, so I got a haircut. You want to talk more about that?” Yes, Lori, I do. You see, until now, I thought that you ran a city full of people who take their hygiene very seriously. I was not aware that you were the only one who cared about her appearance. Are you giving permission to anyone who takes his or her hygiene seriously to go get a haircut? Because I gotta tell you, there are probably a bunch of Orthodox Jews who could really use one right now. As far as being the face of the city and needing to look presentable, let me tell you that a stronger message than disobeying your own protocols would have been to appear on television slightly disheveled, showing your constituents that you are taking this seriously enough to forgo the haircut, and so should everyone else. Lead by example, not by elitism.
There seems to be this mindset among many of our elected officials that we all need to sacrifice right now to save lives. I’m all for that; but these lawmakers don’t understand what they are causing right now. There have been 30 million unemployment claims at the time of writing, which will obviously go up the further we go along. Dr. Anthony Fauci called this an “inconvenience” when it was at ten million jobs. And you know what? This makes sense. All of these politicians are looking at this situation as an inconvenience. You know why? Not a single elected official will lose his or her job because of COVID-19. Some may be voted out in November, or whenever their term is up, but the job won’t be eliminated. Someone will still have that job, and that goes for almost every single job in the government. Few federal, state, or local jobs will be eliminated because of coronavirus. Everyone is safe. I think it’s time that our elected officials started losing or reducing their salaries during this crisis. And I’m not talking about the time in 2018 when members of Congress voluntarily postponed receiving a salary until a federal budget deal got done. No, this is permanent. You miss a paycheck, that money is gone. All federal and state salaries are cut in half until the economy is opened up again. Then we’ll see how fast states move to open up individually. Then we’ll see how “inconvenient” this situation is. We can use the money saved on governmental salaries to help pay for the unemployment. Seems like everybody wins.
The overreach and hypocrisy that exists in the ruling class knows no bounds. Our Commander in Chief said that the governors know that he has “absolute power” during this crisis. This is probably the dumbest thing Trump has said since taking office. Nobody in this country has absolute power when it comes to anything. The sooner every elected official in this country understands that, the faster we can get back to work.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.