This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector. —Plato
Observing Doctor Fauci’s behavior since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic, I am reminded of an episode of the original Twilight Zone series written by Rod Serling: “On Thursday We Leave for Home.” According to The Twilight Zone Companion, by Marc Scott Zicree, Serling considered it the best episode of the fourth season. It is an excellent example of tyrants — how they are made and how they behave. It’s also consistent with Plato’s succinct definition.
James Whitmore plays William Benteen, the leader of a colony of Earth people who have been living on a colony planet. They left Earth because of the conditions there and went in search of their own paradise. The colony planet was anything but a paradise. In order to keep up their spirits, Benteen tells the people stories of how wonderful Earth was when he lived there. Many of the people are too young to remember or were born on the colony planet.
Benteen learns that a rescue ship is coming to take everyone home on Thursday. When the people learn of this rescue mission, Benteen changes his stories about Earth. When they remind Benteen of the fact that he told them stories of how wonderful Earth was, his response is, “I lied to you to make you feel better. Now I’m telling you the truth for your own good.”
This is consistent with the flip-flops that Doctor Fauci has given us from the beginning. He said masks don’t protect you. In fact, years earlier, he said that very thing. At the time, he called them a paranoid tool. Then he changed his tune and said everyone should wear a mask. Next, he suggested a mask mandate. When he was confronted with his own words, he echoed Benteen’s response: I lied to you so there wouldn’t be a rush on masks. Now I’m telling you the truth for your own good.
It’s troubling that he didn’t concern himself with the hoarding and shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, or food. That’s exactly what happened when he called for a home quarantine for fourteen days to “flatten the curve.”
Benteen begins to respond in such a way that it becomes apparent that he is afraid of losing his power over the colony’s people. He changes from the great protector to the authoritarian. He insists that if they return home, the colonists must remain isolated from the rest of Earth for their own good. Doctor Fauci refers to this same mandate as “social distancing,” which he said may be necessary until 2022. He has stated that he wasn’t sure if we should cancel Christmas this year again, like his Grinch-like mandate of 2020.
Think back to how Doctor Fauci was portrayed by the media at the beginning of this pandemic versus now. In the beginning, he was the great protector, just as Plato describes in his definition. A baker in my hometown made a Doctor Fauci donut to honor the great doctor. There was other fawning over him, including a disastrous first pitch at a baseball game. The accuracy of that pitch parallels his medical advice.
How much would you have to be paid to commit social suicide? What if a paycheck wasn’t the only perk, but it also entitled you to a sickening sense of self-righteousness and an air of superiority?
This appears to be the tradeoff many college students have made this semester as universities’ “Student Health Ambassadors,” paid adult hall monitors whose job is to patrol their campuses and enforce mask policies and distancing regulations. Several different institutions have opened this position, each one slightly different but all giving students authority over their peers in the name of public health.
One of the most egregious examples comes from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where student Covid commissars have been given the authority to “break up social gatherings” and to check students’ “clearance certificates.” Students who violate COVID policies can face suspension and expulsion. The enforcers, who are paid $15 an hour, even don vests and T-shirts emblazoned with the health ambassador logo.
Other universities have taken similar approaches. The school that I attend, Pepperdine University, has launched a program to “train and deploy” students to “monitor” their peers for “COVID-19 policy compliance,” a gig that conveniently comes with a high visibility bright blue T-shirt. Pepperdine has also decided to use the carrot instead of just the stick, now giving out raffle tickets to those who are wearing masks.
Similar “health ambassador” positions have opened up at various universities, including at the University of Rochester, the University of California at Davis, New York University, Penn State, and the Washington University in St. Louis, where the student workers wear yellow shirts bearing the phrase “If you can read this, you’re too close” and an elite division has been dispatched to be “cubby monitors” who monitor private study rooms.
“Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers’ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.”—Simone Weil, French philosopher and political activist
We labor today under the weight of countless tyrannies, large and small, carried out in the so-called name of the national good by an elite class of governmental and corporate officials who are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions.
We, the middling classes, are not so fortunate.
We find ourselves badgered, bullied and browbeaten into bearing the brunt of their arrogance, paying the price for their greed, suffering the backlash for their militarism, agonizing as a result of their inaction, feigning ignorance about their backroom dealings, overlooking their incompetence, turning a blind eye to their misdeeds, cowering from their heavy-handed tactics, and blindly hoping for change that never comes.
Schools across the United States reportedly handed out laptops to pupils for distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic — and then spied on them with the very same electronic device, according to a Monday report from The Guardian.
What are the details?
According to recently released research from the Center for Democracy and Technology, 86% of teachers polled said their schools provided electronic learning devices — such as tablets, laptops, and Chromebooks — for students to use at home at nearly double the rate when compared year over year.
Many of those devices, however, were reportedly being used to monitor students — even going as far as to “[comb] through private chats, emails, and documents” — in order to protect them from harassment and suicidal ideations.
The research noted that more than 80% of teachers surveyed admitted that their schools used such surveillance software on those student devices.
One anonymous administrator told the Center for Democracy and Technology that many teachers believe that spying on kids for the greater good will have only positive impacts on the students being surveilled.
The debate over President Biden’s vaccine mandates has focused, understandably, on the tradeoff between individual rights to make medical choices and the potential harm the unvaccinated pose to others.
That tradeoff is unavoidable.
It is simply wrong for Biden to say, “It’s not about freedom.” It is.
It is equally wrong for some Republican governors to say it is all about freedom.
It’s also about the external effects of each person’s choice. To pretend that tradeoff doesn’t exist is demagoguery. But then, so is most American politics these days.
What’s missing or underappreciated in this debate?
The most important thing is that the Biden administration’s “mandate approach” is standard-issue progressivism. The pushback is equally standard. The mandates exemplify a dispute that has been at the heart of American politics for over a century, ever since Woodrow Wilson formulated it as a professor and then president. That agenda emphasizes deference to
- Experts, not elected politicians,
- Rational bureaucratic procedures,
- Centralized power in the nation’s capital, not in the federal states, and
- A modern, “living constitution,” which replaces the “old” Constitution of 1787 and severs the restraints it imposed on government power.
Implemented over several decades, this progressive agenda has gradually become a fait accompli, without ever formally amending the Constitution. The bureaucracies began their massive growth after World War II and especially after Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives of the mid-1960s (continued, with equal vigor, by Richard Nixon).
The judicial shackles were broken earlier, when Franklin Roosevelt threatened to pack the Supreme Court in 1937. Although FDR never followed through, his threat did the trick. The justices yielded to his pressure and began rubber-stamping New Deal programs that, until then, they had rejected as unconstitutional. Gradually, the older judges retired and Roosevelt picked friendly replacements. These judicial issues have reemerged now that progressives no longer dominate the Supreme Court. They are again threatening to pack the court and demanding that today’s justices stick with precedents set by their progressive predecessors (“stare decisis”).
The pushback against vaccine mandates is partly a debate about these progressive issues concerning the president’s authority and constitutional strictures.
Below is my column in USA Today on the recent call by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) for Amazon to steer readers to “true” books on climate change. It is the latest example of Democrat’s embracing a type of corporate governance model to carry out tasks barred to the government under the Constitution. Companies are now being asked to protect us from our own dangerous interests and inquiries. An array of enlightened algorithms will now watch over citizens to help them make good choices and read “true” things.
Two centuries ago, rulers sought to convince subjects that they should embrace the notion of “enlightened despotism,” living without rights under the beneficent watch of overlords. Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II summed up the idea with the maxim “everything for the people, nothing by the people.”
Today, we seem to be living in an age of enlightened corporate despotism, where social media and technology companies watch over what we read and what we discuss to protect us from ourselves.
That corporate governance model was on display this month when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called on Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to use algorithms to steer readers away from books that spew “misinformation.”
Enlightened algorithms are already responsible for large-scale censorship across social media platforms that reach global audiences. They “stand the wall” as sentinels against dangerous ideas.
Warren argued that people were not listening to the enlightened views of herself and leading experts.
Instead, they were reading views of vaccine skeptics by searching Amazon and finding books, including “falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and cures, including those written by the most prominent spreaders of misinformation.”
Warren blamed Amazon for failing to limit searches or choices:
“This pattern and practice of misbehavior suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products.”
In her letter, Warren gave the company 14 days to change its algorithms to throttle and obstruct efforts to read opposing views.
What was most striking about this incident is that Warren was eager for others to see her efforts to promote a form of censorship.
Beyond Fauci, press secretary Jen Psaki has pushed back on Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — a lawmaker she once said she’d not mention from the podium — who compared the administration’s vaccine campaign to Nazis. Jeff Zients, the White House’s Covid response director, rebuked Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who contended falsely in a tweet that government “agents” were going door-to-door to “compel vaccination.”
Biden allied groups, including the Democratic National Committee, are also planning to engage fact-checkers more aggressively and work with SMS carriers to dispel misinformation about vaccines that is sent over social media and text messages. The goal is to ensure that people who may have difficulty getting a vaccination because of issues like transportation see those barriers lessened or removed entirely.
“We are steadfastly committed to keeping politics out of the effort to get every American vaccinated so that we can save lives and help our economy further recover,” White House spokesperson Kevin Munoz said. “When we see deliberate efforts to spread misinformation, we view that as an impediment to the country’s public health and will not shy away from calling that out.”
The pushback is a change of tone and approach from earlier this year, when the White House often chose to ignore its most vocal conservative critics out of a desire not to elevate them. It is a tacit acknowledgment that the July 4 goal of 70 percent vaccination nationwide was overly optimistic, if not naive. And it underscores that two realities are setting in: It’s becoming more difficult to convince vaccine-skeptics to get their shots (of the 10 least vaccinated states, all were won by Donald Trump in 2020) and the anti-vaccine voices, already vocal in the country, are becoming more mainstreamed by Republicans eager to oppose Biden-led initiatives.