Just amazing. This guy's state has been absolutely ravaged by the coronavirus, and he's imposed some of the strictest lockdowns and stay-at-home orders as a result. And now he's literally saying -- in public -- that because there's a moral difference between protesting to reopen businesses and protesting against police brutality, the public health crisis trumps the former concern, but not the latter one. That's probably easy for a former Goldman Sachs executive reportedly worth tens of millions to say, but it's less easy for a small business owner who is seeing his or her livelihood being strangled in slow motion by government edicts to swallow. But swallow it they must, and swallow it they have, for weeks on end. It was, and is, about saving lives. But now that there's a cause deemed morally important enough, he's willing to overlook the very rules that he's spent enormous political and leadership capital insisting are literally deadly serious:
On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) thanked state residents for protesting the unjust police killing of George Floyd in large numbers, and commended them for participating in “the transformational moment of our time,” even though New Jersey’s coronavirus mitigation plan calls for people to gather outside in groups of no more than 25—and in fact, state authorities have fined citizens for organizing anti-lockdown protests. But for Murphy, the two forms of protest are “in different orbits.” “I don’t want to make light of this, and I’ll probably get lit up by everyone who owns a nail salon in the state,” said Murphy. “But it’s one thing to protest what day nail salons are opening, and it’s another to come out in peaceful protest, overwhelmingly, about somebody who was murdered right before our eyes.”
It's not just nail salon owners. It's every single person whose life has been turned upside down in painful ways for the greater good. Our former Townhall colleague Christine Rousselle recently lost her father and has written movingly and passionately about the trauma of being unable to be consistently by his side as he slipped away -- and unable to hold a proper funeral for him, all due to COVID restrictions. Our former RedState colleague Leon Wolf experienced something heartbreakingly similar with a friend, who was forced by the government to die alone for similar reasons. Countless people across the country are harboring these sorts of simmering feelings, wondering why their dramatically life-altering priorities and concerns weren't important enough for them to be given the freedom of choice, but mass street protests over an injustice are. As I've said repeatedly, I support the peaceful demonstrators' cause in this case. But I'm also extremely sympathetic toward a daughter or a friend who would like to comfort a dying loved one, or properly memorialize their life after they've passed. What does Gov. Murphy say to them? Here's New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio unsurprisingly adopting the same, woke line:
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), who has repeatedly inveighed against the city's Jewish community for holding public funerals and opening their businesses despite stay-at-home orders, struck a similar note. "When you see…an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seated in 400 years of American racism, I'm sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services," said de Blasio...This is not just hypocritical—it's odious. Protesting against police violence is extremely important, and the unprecedented public outcry over Floyd's death is a critical opportunity to send a message that reforms are needed. But to say that this cause, and only this cause, should be exempt from the lockdown is, at the very least, remarkably callous.
I don't need to remind anyone that New York City has been the singular national epicenter of death and suffering during this pandemic crisis. This is truth:
This is tyranny. The massive govt. power to close businesses, churches, funerals & free assembly *must* be applied neutrally and based on public health. Politicians granting openness to favored causes while forcing others to remain on lockdown is banana republic authoritariansim. https://t.co/D94CvCkioe— Brian Riedl ?? (@Brian_Riedl) June 2, 2020
The counterpoint we're hearing is this, as expressed by anti-Trump CNN commentator Amanda Carpenter:
I realize there is lot of scolding of protesters in regards to the pandemic but consider the possibility the protesters think the cause is important enough that they are willing to risk COVID. The situation is dire. Good options are waning.— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) June 3, 2020
She adds, "for the record, I hate the position our country is in. It’s dangerous to accept the brutality, it’s dangerous to protest, the looters are dangerous." But here's the problem with her argument: We have been told that making such choices, and determining risk for oneself, is unacceptable, selfish and deadly. When some anti-lockdown activists tried to co-opt the abortion lobby's "my body, my choice" slogan in regards to stay at home orders and other mitigation steps, they were told that those choices impact other people's lives (which of course can be applied to abortion as well, but that's another matter for another day). It's not just your health and life you're gambling with, they were told, it's the lives of people you may unwittingly infect. Myopic choices could directly and indirectly endanger the most vulnerable within our society, like the elderly and people with co-morbidities.
This was repeated ad nauseam. I largely agreed, which is why I tried to scrupulously follow the guidance, listened to the experts, urged others to do the same -- and supported multi-trillion-dollar legislative efforts, which cut against my ideological impulses. I also would have liked nothing more than to attend a sporting event with thousands of cheering fans to take my mind off of the stresses and anxieties of this turbulent era, but sports were shut down because we were told that large gatherings were especially dangerous, and that events involving big groups of people in close quarters would likely be one of the very last elements of American life to return to normal. I still believe that all of this was, broadly speaking, the right decision, based on the medical experts' opinions. And I say that despite the fact that I've defended cautious re-openings, carefully tracked positive developments, and pushed back hard against critics whose hysterical predictions have not panned out.
There are no easy answers to any of this, but the answer cannot be that certain packed gatherings are acceptable (including many that heavily involve people of color, demographics that are more susceptible to the virus, according to the available science), while other considerations, concerns, or events (which are very arguably less risky, based on everything we've learned) are not. Murphy- and De Blasio-style picking and choosing by government officials, based on their own personal senses of righteousness, is wholly untenable. It undermines all sense of fairness and is downright anti-scientific. It stirs boiling resentments and crushes public confidence. If the risks were real -- so real as to necessitate the imposition of massively disruptive and consequential government restrictions -- there cannot be subjective asterisks to those risks.
If the virus is known to spread in large groups, 'worthy' large groups are not exempted from the medical science. Allahpundit writes, "we can have a foolish debate over the relative urgency of murderous police violence towards black Americans and of ending depression-causing economic restrictions on the country writ large, but urgency is irrelevant to the epidemiological reality." That's obviously correct, as even the most non-violent demonstrations we've seen have featured almost no social distancing and uneven mask usage, at best. Anyone who tries to argue otherwise should never be taken seriously again. For instance:
Dozens of public health and disease experts have signed an open letter in support of the nationwide anti-racism protests.— NPR (@NPR) June 2, 2020
"White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19," they wrote.https://t.co/EewPNgDSu3
And here's the bleeping chairman of the New York City Council's health committee:
Let's be clear about something: if there is a spike in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks, don't blame the protesters.— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) June 3, 2020
It's as if city officials are daring residents to move away and never come back. Meanwhile, there are a few potentially worrying signs that coronavirus stats are inching back up in the wrong direction. It's entirely plausible that the disease is weakening and the largely positive trends will continue. The Swedish experiment, which was getting scary, seems to have leveled off again, which will undoubtedly spark and drive further debate -- especially if the would-be spike from these protests never arrives. But if the data does get seriously worse in the coming days, brace yourselves for the mother of all blame games -- with many people claiming 'anti-science' governors are to blame (on one hand, current upticks are too early to be the result of street demonstrations, though we're now roughly a month into lifted restrictions in many states and the results have been largely fine), and many others blaming the protests.
For all sorts of reasons, I'd much rather see healthy trajectories, prompting an epic debate about whether the economic shutdowns were worth it or the right decision. But if the trajectories get much uglier, the finger-pointing recriminations could get as nasty as anything we've ever seen in recent public discourse. Each "side" would be equipped with plausible explanations that fit their existing narratives, inexorably leading to an even more rampant explosion of tribalist mistrust in public officials and "experts." Let's all hope and pray that scenario doesn't materialize, but I wouldn't count it out as a real possibility. This is 2020, after all.