What We Learned: COVID 4 Years Later

Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Gage Klipper Commentary & Analysis Writer
Font Size:

Sometimes it feels like yesterday; sometimes it feels like a century ago. We now find ourselves in mid-March 2024, four years from the week when the country began shutting down and the world changed forever. The legacy of COVID abuses offers many lessons for those who are willing to see, but too many are still unwilling to say never again. 

The Committee to Unleash Prosperity is one of the former. The non-partisan committee released a four-year retrospective report, detailing the “major policy errors and lessons” of COVID across a spectrum of public “health, economic, education, and civil liberties concerns.” It offers ten lessons, which, in hindsight appear to be common sense: leaders should not stoke fear and scientists should prioritize open inquiry; masks, lockdowns, and vaccine mandates do far more harm than good; closing schools and offices (while paying people to stay home) harms the most vulnerable; resources should be targeted to at-risk groups. At every step of the way, our leaders did the opposite, either ignoring or maliciously obscuring the negative social costs of their policy prescriptions. So the report concludes that only by strictly limiting government power can our elite institutions earn back the public trust they squandered during the pandemic.

Yet the elite arbiters of science and morality show no indication that they will consider these lessons. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) COVID guidelines remain largely the same as they always were, pushing masks, vaccines, and social distancing, standing by their hysterical early forecasts, and perhaps most nefariously of all, continuing to focus on destructive, left-wing “equity” principles for allocation of medical care. Corporate media routinely hyperventilates with each new seasonal bout, while systematic attempts to censor “misinformation” — the most prominent COVID legacy — are now a central component of the Democratic Party’s ethos.

So while the report’s findings echo the right message, it falls on deaf ears — making it somewhat hopelessly naive. Our leaders will never self-correct; no one responsible will ever admit their culpability. Rather, they would likely all relish the chance to run the gamut all over again, as they increasingly institutionalize the abuses of COVID into the everyday functions of government. The tide will only change if forced to — and besides a genuine conservative-elite counterinsurgency within the bureaucracy (don’t hold your breath), the only thing that can do that is an overwhelming show of grassroots opposition. The people must make clear they will never go along with this again. (RELATED: Democrats Have Changed The Meaning Of A ‘Black Swan’ Event)

With this, it’s worth considering why they went along with it in the first place. Such radical and heavy-handed impositions on individual autonomy not only have no precedent in American history, but contravene centuries of our deepest cultural traditions. Now, there’s much to be said about how a preening safetyism gradually replaced our culture of rugged individualism, creating the perfect storm for lockdown moralizing. However, the un-American COVID response succeeded mostly because elites weaponized another core component of American life against the public.

I wrote last week about the idiotic defense of “Swiftian normality” among some on the right: the “inoffensive, law-abiding, upwardly-mobile, middle-class culture” that the masses aspire to and which pop star Taylor Swift is said to embody. Ignore for now whether Swift actually represents this; I argue she doesn’t — but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s now become a trend for some right-wing intellectuals to castigate the abnormal “freaks” on their own side, and instead return to this so-called Swiftian sensibility. But it’s precisely this attitude that bureaucrats, politicians, and media hacks counted on to bulldoze the American public during COVID. (RELATED: Republicans Don’t Have A ‘Freak’ Problem, They Have An Elitist A-Hole Problem)

All of these institutions worked in unison to hammer the idea that Follow The Science™ is what made for a good, “normal” citizen. They understood Americans strive for an air of bourgeois respectability, a healthy reverence of meritocratic expertise and an earnest concern for their neighbors and fellow countrymen — so they played to these attitudes. Endless propaganda depicted Americans following the prescribed steps to “Protect Yourself and Others,” cultivating a cultish adherence among the most educated and affluent. This further reinforced the idea of trusting the experts as a hallmark of respectability, incentivizing the middle classes to emulate those higher up the ladder to boost their social standing. It’s the same reason a middle-class nurse will splurge on the same Lexus as the doctor who owns the practice.

Meanwhile, the “freaks”  — the “science deniers” — were those who bucked the experts’ scientific and moral authority. Through exclusionary mandates at school, work, public spaces from sports stadiums to Costco, and often even family functions,  the message was clear: you are abnormal, undeserving of entry to polite society. Yet it is precisely the “freaks” who wound up being right about… well, just about everything.

The last thing conservatives need is to embrace the standards of normalcy gate-kept by radical, political actors. Instead, we should embrace abject abnormality — or rather true normality, as it was once defined. For all their credentials, sinecures, and official plaudits, the prescriptions of the COVID experts were decidedly freakish, both in the context of American history and human nature. We are not solitary beings; we do not go through life prioritizing abstract group interests; and we do not blindly follow authority without a healthy skepticism. The status quo COVID ushered is anything but normal, and operating within it, on its own premises, only cedes further ground to the left. The generational project for conservatives must be to reclaim the mantle of normalcy as espoused in the CUP report — and once again sell it to the masses. Embracing Swiftian normality, when the left calls all the shots, can only repeat the cycle of tyranny.