It has been one year since Gov. Tom Wolf announced his order to shut down most of Pennsylvania’s economy.

The details of the confounding “life sustaining” businesses list, the “clear as mud” waiver program, the related legal melees, the battles over transparency, and the drawn out reopening need not be repeated here. Instead, what concerns us is that political leaders like Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney so readily chose a paternalistic response to the pandemic and then maintained it for so long.

From the moment the emergency proclamations were signed and the shutdown orders were given, both of these men—and many others like them nationwide—embraced a sort of benevolent despotism born of the idea that they know what’s best for us. If only we’d obey.

“Our Health Department and other experts are absolutely certain that ignoring the restrictions will further the spread of this virus,” Kenney said at a March 22 press conference, two days after issuing a city-wide stay-at-home order. “While doing so may help some businesses stay afloat, the cost in lives and the cost to society will be far greater.”

“The only way to contain this virus is to take aggressive, decisive action,” Wolf said at a press conference about his shutdown on March 20.

These bold and certain proclamations were, and are, wrong.

We did not need to “die trying” to prevent COVID-19, as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told ABC’s This Week last March. And massive societal shutdowns were not “the only way.”

In fact, time has proven that the cost in lives caused by allowing the economy to stay open—as long as health guidelines are followed—would not be “far greater” than by submitting to a shutdown. As the Associated Press noted earlier this week, there has not been a notable difference in cases or death rates between states that shut down and states that didn’t. But there has been a marked difference in economic and psychological pain, including a devastating increase of child suicide.

Supporters of Wolf’s and Kenney’s pandemic response may contend that the virus was an unknown, and a shutdown was the safest course of action.

After a year of unanswered demands for evidence justifying such decrees, it seems that too many of us have been beaten down to being thankful for just a little less unjustifiable repression.

Perhaps. But even as early as April of last year, University of Indiana researchers confirmed that “people responded much more strongly to early informational events . . . than they did to orders from authorities.” And later in the summer, experts from Yale University and Colorado State University similarly concluded that “better compliance with social distancing recommendations could have been achieved with policy crafted to complement voluntary behavior.” 

Yet, despite evidence like this from public health scientists at institutions as renowned as Yale, most left-leaning executives refused to hear it. To this day, they continue their draconian responses to COVID-19 while repetitively insisting that science, as apposed to fallible mortals, guides the way.

That’s why, a year after it all began, it remains imperative to point out the truth about their aggressively altruistic falsities. And, perhaps even more importantly, we must be aware of how their persistent paternalism has warped the relationship between government, citizens, and the press.

On Monday, Gov. Wolf announced that his administration would allow hospitality industry businesses to increase their occupancy to 75 percent and bar service without food can resume. He said they can do this in three weeks—just after the Easter holiday. But why 75 percent? And why after Easter?

Rather than demanding justification for these arbitrary rules, the initial reaction from most in the press was to announce the change in celebration. And hospitality industry leaders breathed a public sigh of relief that at least some improvement had been sanctioned.

After a year of unanswered demands for evidence justifying such decrees, it seems that too many of us have been beaten down to being thankful for just a little less unjustifiable repression.

Besides, we all know the answer: Because Wolf said so.

The Declaration of Independence famously says that we are endowed by our creator “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Similarly, Article 25 of Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution reads: “To guard against the transgressions of the high powers which we have delegated, we declare that everything in this article is excepted out of the general powers of government and shall forever remain inviolate.”

On March 19, 2020, many of our supposedly unalienable rights were swiftly alienated. And rather than our state constitution guarding against transgressions of high powers, politicians like Wolf and Kenney have maintained for 365 days that we should be content with their violations because they know what’s best and we can’t be trusted.  We know the science to justify these claims was never there—journalists have asked for it in vain. And time has proven that statewide orders lack success in fighting the virus. After a year, it is beyond time to reject the paternalistic proposition that government exists to shelter us from all potential harm and to re-embrace the idea that our government exists to protect the unalienable rights of a free people.

One thought on “A year since the shutdown, it’s time to reject government paternalism”

  1. Our country has become a socialist country. The government tells us what we can do and what not we can do. And how do you fight this. You will be fined if you don’t do what they tell you to do. And the people who voted these politicians in office don’t know any better. They think what they are doing is right. It’s only going to get worse. We no longer have or freedoms.

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