Phil Van Horn: “Can You See What’s Happening?”

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By Phil Van Horn, guest columnist

In the movie “Tombstone”, the red-sashed outlaws, self-named “The Cowboys”, create chaos and attempt to intimidate the Earp brothers.  Kurt Russell’s Wyatt asks his brother:  “Can you see what’s happening?”

The responses to this most recent global pandemic, at all levels and throughout all cultures, is a template for future fast-track declared crises; a case study model for greater imposition of future rule by decrees rather than laws.  

The responses to this pandemic, which was developed in a government laboratory and unleashed on the world, have accelerated the erosion of individual freedoms across all cultures.  One of the sad ironies in all this is that these incursions on liberty are initiated by those who claim to want to protect civil rights.   

The other irony, and this is more tragic, is the acquiescence by citizens.   

In the context of what has transpired so far in the year 2020, ponder the potential for either or both of the following two scenarios in the not-too-distant future:  

In the first, a President or Governor declares climate change to be a “health crisis” in response to alarms raised by interest groups, the media or an appointed advisor.  This health crisis is confidently asserted to be caused by human economic behavior.  

By executive action, a state of emergency is declared. Restrictions are imposed on the number days we may drive our vehicles and businesses are ordered to be open only 4 days per week.  Remember:  such a fiat won’t require legislation by an elected law-making body.

After years of behavior modification and a continuously declining domestic economy, when the carbon dioxide curve doesn’t flatten rapidly enough to suit the bureaucrats, more restrictions will be imposed, including the number of times per month we may be permitted outside the home to buy groceries, dine out or visit the pharmacy. 

This is followed by definitions of essential and non-essential citizens.  And throughout it all, a significant number of American citizens acquiesce.  I expect there may be some readers who are already cheering at the thought. 

In the second plausible script: a state of emergency is declared to stop the spread of opioid drugs across our borders.  With broad strokes and few exceptions, borders and ports of entry are closed to all travelers and cargo, coming and going, for six months.  

When the overdose curve doesn’t flatten to suit, more stringent measures are imposed, including quarantines for all travelers arriving at or returning to all U.S. international airports.

“Can’t happen”, you say?  There are two prominent examples, among several, in our country’s history when citizens’ liberties have been unilaterally erased:  (1) the writ of habeas corpus was suspended at the beginning of the Civil War; and, (2) American citizens who happened to be of Japanese heritage were forcibly relocated to internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor and a declaration of war.

In both the above instances, there were assertions that the times required such unusual and exceptional orders. 

Each action was subsequently determined by the U.S. Supreme Court to be a violation of constitutional rights and represented extreme overreach, small comfort to those who had lost homes and were separated from their families.

The model for the further encroachment on and erosion of Americans’ freedoms and rights is being artistically crafted during this current pandemic, in real time, and as we receive minute-by-minute updates. 

Each news feed, broadcast and briefing roils greater fear; the single necessary condition for intimidation.   Our individual — and especially our collective fears, fuel widespread anxiety and submission.   In effect, cultural complicity.

Can you see what’s happening?

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