The COVID crystal ball is murky. Will it clear or darken further?
In what seems like a lifetime ago, elected officials were selling two weeks of economic and social sacrifice as the price to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Today, more than a year-and-a-half later, there remain cities and states in which citizens need permission from the powers that be, in the form of vaccines and masks, to do everything from eating in a restaurant to keeping one’s job.
The extremes to which local, state, and federal authorities have gone to exercise their newfound COVID “emergency powers,” is no surprise to anyone familiar with the way modern government works. Still, the speed by which America turned from a quasi-free society to one reflecting a patchwork of punitive policies, rules, and mandates, caught all but the most cynical critics of government power off-guard. Even private-sector requirements come with tightly wound strings trailing back to the White House.
Of course, consistent with the universal law that “no matter how bad things are, they can always be worse,” it could be worse. We could be Australia.
Whereas here in the United States enforcement of COVID regulations has been mostly reactive, authorities in Australia have been far more aggressive. Aussie police cars and officers in battle gear roam the streets and sidewalks of the country’s cities, on the lookout for unmasked senior citizens, who then are wrestled to the ground and forced to mask-up before being arrested.
Videos of such brutality from countries like Russia and China, are unsurprising, but in Australia – a western-style society with a long history of democratic norms? It was unthinkable – until it wasn’t.
The question is, if it can happen in the Land Down Under, can it happen here?
Thankfully, at least for now, the roadblocks to despotic rule constructed two-and-one-third centuries ago by our Founders, have kept us safe from the COVID tyranny we are witnessing in Australia and elsewhere around the globe. But for how long will these defenses hold? How strong is our Bill of Rights, the primary shield against totally unchecked government power?
The genius of our written Constitution is that the freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights are explicit, thereby allowing for strong legal challenges to government overreach. This was clear early in the COVID pandemic when governments attempted to close gun stores and to restrict the right of people to travel freely from one state to another. These legal opportunities, however, are not available to our less-fortunate friends in Australia.
While successful outcomes to such court challenges are by no means guaranteed, the right and the ability to bring credible, constitutionally based challenges does provide a meaningful (and peaceable) playing field that can be the difference between living in tyranny or civil war.
The concept of federalism woven into our system of government provides an additional level of protection against COVID-based abuse by the federal government. State governors not enamored of the Biden Administration’s mandate-heavy, one-size-fits-all approach possess a degree of freedom and flexibility not enjoyed by their counterparts in Australia and other western countries. Florida and Texas, and many other “Red” states where citizens have elected governors more conservative and libertarian-minded than Joe Biden, have proven the worth of the dual-sovereignty model bequeathed to us by our Founders.
Then there is the Second Amendment, which allows for an armed citizenry and serves as a natural hedge against tyranny unrestrained by the democratic process alone. While it is unrealistic to suggest militias with small arms could stand a chance against the full might of the U.S. military, the real point is that the Second Amendment ensures that the road to tyranny would not be without painful, ruinous speedbumps. No such impediments exist in Australia, which years ago cracked down hard on the private ownership of firearms.
Still, it remains to be seen whether these vital safeguards will continue to withstand the constant pressure by “progressives” in Washington, DC, and in state capitols from California to New York, to force everyone into surrendering their remaining vestiges of individual liberty in the name of “safety.” This is the real questions voters should bear in mind as they vote next year and two years thereafter.
Is Australia’s nightmare our future?
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.