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As states nationwide begin the process of reopening, Americans continue to battle over the methods governors and local authorities have used to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, many states and localities have set up arbitrary and, in many cases, absurd rules that do little more than aggravate citizens and almost nothing to stop the spread of the virus.
For instance, some Americans have been pulled over and ticketed for merely driving. One Pennsylvania woman received a $200 ticket for violating Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide stay-at-home order when she said she had merely gone on a drive to relieve her quarantine restlessness, the York Dispatch reported. The York County district attorney filed a memorandum saying that the citation didn’t serve “the interests of justice,” and the system eventually dropped the matter.
If anything, driving in your own car is a far better method to prevent spreading COVID-19 than, say, using public transportation. As former California State Rep. Chuck DeVore has noted, states with a higher amount of mass transit generally have had a higher number of COVID-19 cases than other states, even taking into consideration urban density. Perhaps we are lucky that the Green New Dealers didn’t get their wish to end car and air travel and force Americans to switch to rail.
Parks around the country have been shut down, which has rankled many Americans who now struggle to find an outdoor sanctuary at a time when most are trapped inside. Mental health, after all, is a serious concern, as so many people are trapped inside and struggling financially.
Even the left-wing website Vox noted how ridiculous it is to shut down public parks en masse, especially given little evidence that COVID-19 spreads in outdoor spaces.
And some park crackdowns have been utterly absurd. For instance, police in Brighton, Colorado, arrested a former trooper with the Colorado State Patrol for playing catch with his daughter in a park. The police department later apologized.
Americans are unlikely to tolerate, for long, nonsensical rules or enforcement policies that impede their day-to-day lives. It was, after all, a long chain of large and small abuses by governmental authorities that led to the creation of this country. And given the Constitution and remarkable political system created from it, we have a great deal of power to end abusive laws quickly.
Certainly, some of the coronavirus lockdown measures have had more serious implications for civil liberties than simple park closures.
While our federal system gives broad power to states and local authorities to act in the way that best serves their communities, it is still essential that Americans be wary of violations of the Constitution and their fundamental rights.
This important point was made by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who directed U.S. attorneys in late April to be on the lookout for violations of civil liberties by state and local governments.
Barr said he didn’t want to “unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public,” given the nature of the pandemic.
“But,” he added, “the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis. We must therefore be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected.”
Being on guard for bad laws and law enforcement, petty or serious in their abuses, will ensure that Americans come out on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic with our health and liberty intact.
We have to find a way to suppress terrible rules and laws as well as clamp down on the spread of the coronavirus in places where it is still killing Americans in large numbers, such as in our nursing homes.
The clumps of sunbathers grab the headlines, but the nursing homes present the real health crisis that deserves more attention.
Our national push and pull over good laws and bad, the often-noisy debates over how to respond correctly to crisis, is the normal course of an American system created to handle both good times and bad.
America is not a democracy, but self-government and the democratic elements of our republic allow us to work through complex challenges far better than governmental systems with rigid, top-down control.
As tumultuous as our system may seem to the outside world, it gives us the best chance to beat COVID-19 and escape encroaching tyranny at the same time.
Jarrett Stepman, a columnist for The Daily Signal, is author of the book “The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America’s Past.” This column was distributed by Tribune Media Services.