COVID-19 has claimed its share of victims, and it will surely claim a good number more. Few, though, will notice the death of the highest-profile victim of this virus: the American spirit.
The death of the American spirit will go unnoticed because most of us are so petrified that we dare not look up from the holes we’re hiding in. The death of the American spirit will go unnoticed because the virus didn’t deal a mighty blow; it simply dropped the last of a century’s worth of straws on to a once-strong camel’s back.
We have fallen far since 1862 when Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, called the United States “the last best hope of earth.” That war claimed 750,000 American lives, or 2.5 percent of the population. If 2.5 percent of our population died today, 8 million souls would be lost — a number equivalent to the entire population of New York City.
Our past is replete with heroes who gave their lives to keep the flame of liberty alive. From the Founders who risked their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, to the generation that settled the problem of American slavery, to the Lost and the Greatest Generations who beat back fascism in the world wars, to the millions who took their places silently in the Cold War, America has been a beacon of liberty to the rest of the world.
But no more. In the face of COVID-19, we have become a nation of cowards and snitches.
It begins in the cesspools of social media, where the mealy-mouthed are emboldened to the point that they refer to citizens who question the need to be completely locked down as “murderers.” From there, it’s a short walk to reporting their neighbors to the authorities for every shelter-in-place violation, be it real or perceived.
It would be charitable to refer to ourselves now as a nation of Gladys Kravitzes, but we have clearly crossed the line from annoying busybodies to authoritarian wannabes.
Reports of snitching are coming in from across the country. Americans, it seems, can’t wait to use the force of government against those with whom they disagree. And politicians of both parties, ever hungry for more power, are happy to oblige.
Yet, this is not new.
We’ve been heading in this direction for a very long time. For evidence, see the hundreds of thousands of pages of federal regulations, the millions of Americans incarcerated for victimless “crimes,” the tens of millions of jobs that require government permission to perform, and the unsustainable financial obligations our government places on future generations.
The U.S. Constitution defines a government of limited and enumerated powers. It is a list of a few specific things the people agreed that the federal government could do.
To drive the point home, the Bill of Rights lists things the government may never do. Americans have been ignoring both lists for the better part of a century now. Where the Founders intended the states as a counterweight to federal overreach, we now have a contest among governors to see which can clamp down hardest on social and economic life.
The sad truth is that too many Americans find freedom so uncomfortable and frightening that they welcome authoritarianism. Our argument is over which kind. Do we want the leftist variant, which culminates in a Stasi-style snitch-state, or the strongman version, in which every decision is made from on high?
We should remember the overwhelming cost that past generations paid in blood to give us, their posterity, the gift of liberty.
Lincoln’s “last best hope on earth,” bent after a century of infringements on our liberty, has buckled under the last straw of a virus.