America welcomed a new president last week. As predicted, the theme of Joe Biden’s inaugural address was unity. That’s not surprising after five years of toxic political discourse, in which families splintered and relationships were broken off by the mere admission that somebody supported Donald Trump.
But just talking about unity isn’t enough. President Biden needs actions to match those lofty words, and he needs to make sure others in his administration and party do the same. He can start by calling for an end to the lockdowns that governments have ordered since last March in response to COVID-19.
As I have written elsewhere, these orders, which were unprecedented in human history, and blatantly unconstitutional. They are not based on scientific data but on generalizations about the danger of people mixing with others—generalizations that are arbitrary on their face and which give the government cover to protect the most connected special interests while punishing everybody else. For example, in Los Angeles, it is unlawful for a youth swim team to train in an outdoor, chlorinated, Olympic-sized pool but it is fine to stand in line with hundreds of people at Best Buy to buy a new iPhone.
The stay-at-home orders also don’t work to stop COVID transmission. According to numerous studies, including a peer-reviewed study by Stanford University researchers that was published on Jan. 5, the orders “provide little noticeable benefit over the more traditional public health responses which are less intrusive.” As one writer explained it: “All lockdowns do is further disrupt society, causing traumatic damage while the virus still continues to spread.”
This should not have surprised anybody. The American Institute for Economic Research recently published an article that described years of research regarding the effectiveness of social distancing and quarantines in response to infectious diseases. They include:
- A 2019 report from the World Health Organization that said quarantine of exposed individuals is “not recommended in any circumstances.”
- A 2006 WHO report that found “social-distancing measures did not stop or appear to dramatically reduce transmission” of the Spanish flu in two cities.
- A 2003 Canadian study that concluded “quarantine measures limiting intercommunity travel are probably never 100% effective, and simulation results suggest that such a situation may actually make things worse, especially in the absence of strong efforts to keep infectious individuals isolated from the rest of the population.”
- A 2006 journal in which Johns Hopkins University epidemiologists said “experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.”
For good measure, the AIER also mentions Dr. Anthony Fauci’s January 2020 statements that he “[could not] imagine shutting down New York or Los Angeles” and that whether a lockdown would work “is really open to question because historically when you shut things down it doesn’t have a major effect.” Therefore, ending the lockdowns immediately would be a smart public health decision. It would also help fulfill Biden’s unity pledge.
Think about it: how did you used to spend your weekends? I used to spend them at youth sports events, doing charitable work, or at school fundraisers. I met some of my best friends through those activities.
Many of them, by the way, were Trump supporters and I’m a Democrat, but we did not judge each other based on how we voted. We had a shared purpose that allowed us to create deeper bonds.
I know I’m not the only one. Despite their ideological differences, Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a famously close friendship, calling each other “best buddies” and bonding over things like their shared love of opera and good wine.
People need something to unify them. Some want to use political means to foster unity. But politics is a poor vehicle for unifying anybody. As the British anti-extremist Maajid Nawaz said: “Unity in faith is theocracy; unity in politics is fascism.” That is especially true in a world that reduces civic discourse to 140 characters.
Thus, President Biden should call for an end to the lockdowns. Get people back to work. Get kids back to school, playing sports, and learning musical instruments. Instead of paying people to stay home, provide capital for people to start new businesses or rebuild old ones. Invest in health-care infrastructure, since the pandemic showed how far behind the United States is in that area.
Above all, encourage people to put down the masks, smile at each other and focus on the things that unite them—like kids, sports, travel, and work—not the things (politics) that divide them. The political class may not like it, but that will do more to move America forward than anything.
This is a critical matter. The anti-federalists objected to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in part because they thought it would be impossible to maintain a republican government in a country so large and diverse. America has grown only larger and more diverse since then. At the most important moments, Americans used that size and diversity to its advantage. We need to do that again now.
In 2013, Derrick Wang, a musician and Maryland law school graduate, set Scalia’s and Ginsburg’s arguments to music. Near the end of “Scalia/Ginsburg,” the two singers perform a duet titled “We are different, we are one,” something Justice Ginsburg said meant “different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve.” That is the spirit that will sustain America.
This should be an easy decision. Even before the predicted winter “surge”—which followed the fall “surge” and the summer “surge” (everything is a surge)—The Wall Street Journal reported that more epidemiologists and public health officials were openly discouraging broad lockdowns as a tool to handle the coronavirus. This group will only grow. It’s time the government started listening to them and gave the rest of us our lives back.