Almost exactly a year ago in mid-April of 2020, I co-authored an op-ed article for Smerconish.com with a conservative colleague. Both of us were from opposite political persuasions but agreed that the draconian lockdown measures across the country were ill-conceived and excessive. In our home state of California, for example, the broad lockdown measures adopted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in his “Safer At Home” executive orders, and Governor Newsom’s state-wide mandates, were capricious, overreaching, and caused widespread economic fallout.
Among the worst tenets of this approach was that certain jobs were deemed “essential,” while others were not. This idiocy had an immediate effect on the Employment Development Department (or “EDD”), which has yet to recover. In the scramble to suddenly manage an overwhelming surge in unemployment applications, the EDD collapsed. Inmates, scam artists, and other criminals are still reaping the rewards of that which they did not sow. The EDD is still recovering from the poor policies sown by Newsom and Garcetti, et al.
Based on the ill-conceived, arbitrary guidelines of what is an “essential business,” many industries were crippled, especially the hospitality, travel, and entertainment industries. Furthermore, many small businesses were irrevocably crippled are they were told that they must close their doors for an indeterminate period. Indeterminate periods turned into permanent closures in too many cases.
Rental housing was also damaged. Already struggling under rent control measures, landlords were prohibited from demanding rent payments. Although large professional landlords might be able to withstand this onslaught, there are many individual retirements based on the income of the working person’s dream-come-true: that “little four-unit building.” One non-paying apartment in that building reduces the income by 25% and turns a modest income into an unendurable loss.
Another aspect of our society that has been severely damaged is the legal system. Many courts have been closed, clogging the courts with an unprecedented backlog of both criminal and civil cases. Those accused of a crime have been denied their constitutional right to a speedy trial, some languishing in jail for months without hope. Others, including those accused of violent crime, sex trafficking, and other serious offenses have been released when their lawyers pleaded their right to a speedy trial.
I am no constitutional scholar by any means, but there is no “pandemic exception” in our Constitution.
The repercussions of these ham-handed lockdown measures will be suffered for years. More carefully conceived measures could have fought the pandemic with less damage to the economy and people’s lives. These more measured steps are, in many cases, now being employed to “reopen” the economy, but severe damage has already been done. Mental health conditions, including depression and domestic violence, are on the rise. Homelessness is also on the rise and, as restrictions end, will become even more severe.
To be fair, political leaders that imposed the severe shutdown measures should be, to some extent, excused. None of us, including those leaders, and the scientists who advised them, knew exactly what we were dealing with.
Having contracted Covid and spent thirty-three days in the hospital, I can give firsthand testimony that the disease is a monster. In the face of more than a half-million deaths, I must consider myself one of the lucky ones, despite not being fully recovered three months after first experiencing a dry cough, chills, and many of the other symptoms with which we are too familiar.
In the face of so much uncertainty, our leaders were asked to make long-range decisions with little data. They were also confronted with a backlash from a national administration that was intent on reducing the perception of risk to a level that equated COVID-19 to the ordinary flu. It is clear that the Trump administration was attempting to minimize the impact of the virus far below the actual risk.
President Trump said, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” but later when confronted with the obvious fact that this was not true, he admitted that he knew it was deceitful. He tried to justify his actions to journalist Bob Woodward with the assertion that “I wanted to play it down…I didn’t want to create a panic.” Thanks a lot, Donald.
So, where could a layperson go to get the information, we needed? In a complex world, confronted with the issues of the day, a person can only become informed to a limited extent. If you are looking for a reasonable position on climate change, the Middle East, or the crisis at the border, you may have to sacrifice expertise on the coronavirus. None of us can be an expert on every question.
On one hand, we had leaders who would have had us sequestered for a period that turned out to be more than a year. On the other hand, we had an administration that said, “Don’t worry, it’s just a little cough!” The result is that a bad situation was made worse by overly cautious leaders, scientists who offered conflicting advice, and a federal administration that conspired to obfuscate the risk.
So, what is to be learned from this? Should there have been no closure mandates?
The hospitalizations and deaths would certainly have been higher if there were no measures whatsoever. Conversely, far-reaching and widespread closures resulted in damage to the economy, the legal system, and our psychological well-being. The answer was a more balanced approach.