The response to COVID harmed public trust

Posted 1/28/21

The COVID pandemic brought an extraordinary expansion of government power not seen since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Here in Wyoming, the approach was much more reasonable, as was the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

The response to COVID harmed public trust


The COVID pandemic brought an extraordinary expansion of government power not seen since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Here in Wyoming, the approach was much more reasonable, as was the enforcement of public health orders. In other states, however, the government mandates were far broader and stricter. 

Government does have a proper role to play in managing crises, which includes controlling the spread of infectious diseases during pandemics. That temporary extension of authority should be exercised with a great deal of restraint and humility. However, there are too many examples of this power being mismanaged or even abused, ultimately undermining public trust. This could have dangerous impacts far beyond the pandemic of 2020. 

The most recent round of lockdowns was met with widespread opposition. In California, a few sheriff’s departments refused to enforce the order. Businesses sued, and the health orders helped bolster efforts to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsome. 

In some cases, the rebellion was more subtle. Contact tracing data in New York showed 74% of cases could be traced to private gatherings. When people couldn’t go to bars and restaurants, they socialized in their homes. 

Besides growing weary of being incarcerated in their homes for weeks on end while businesses were permanently shuttered, people grew cynical toward the orders— with good reason.  

While bars, restaurants and gyms were shut down last summer — with severe rebukes directed at anyone who objected — proponents of lockdowns were comparatively silent when thousands went to the streets to protest and riot in response to police violence. As much as they claimed the severe restrictions were based on science, wherever political sympathies were found, so were tacit exceptions to rules. 

In some states, powerful teachers’ unions have aggressively fought, and continue to fight, any attempt to reopen schools, despite a near consensus that schools are not a major source of spreading COVID. The teachers continue to get paid for work they’re not doing, and taxpayers are paying for the education services they aren’t receiving.  

Public trust was further undermined by the many lawmakers who didn’t feel the laws they made applied to them. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, keeps a handy compilation on its website of stories across the country where policymakers broke the very rules they put in place. 

In response to the latest surge that swept through America this winter, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe advised people in his state not to travel for the holidays, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people. Both governors traveled to Washington, D.C., where they celebrated President Joe Biden’s inauguration in a large crowd of revelers.  

Biden signed a mask mandate among his first executive acts, requiring everyone to wear masks on federal property. That evening he was photographed at the Lincoln Memorial, not wearing a mask. 

In November, Gov. Newsome banned outdoor dining and then was photographed dining at a crowded table at an upscale restaurant. Last August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got her hair cut at a San Francisco salon while these businesses were prohibited from operating. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was touting the “stay home, save lives” message last April, and then got a haircut, even though barbers and salons were prohibited from operating in her city. She said, as the public face of Chicago, she needed to look her best. 

These are but a few examples of the astounding amounts of hypocrisy displayed by people who were entrusted with managing this crisis. As vaccines roll out and the pandemic comes to a close, we should be asking ourselves what will happen should another, more serious crisis such as a foreign invader, befall this country. Will the public trust its leaders to execute wise decisions free from their own self-interest? Will we be at each other’s throats when our nation’s survival truly depends on unity and cooperation? 

One can only hope the COVID pandemic will become a teaching moment in our nation’s history. If we don’t learn from the mistakes of 2020, we can expect more of the same — and possibly much worse — when America faces another serious challenge.