Republicans and Democrats, leftists and the Big Con, are indeed of one mind, and share the same interest, in promoting the Great Panic of 2020—i.e., the idea of “The Coronavirus Pandemic” that threatens to wipe out humanity.
I’m referring here specifically to politicians, journalists (so-called), and commentators.
To put it quite simply, those in Big Media are having a field day. The manufacturers and distributors of “news” are invested in seeing to it that their livelihoods thrive. To this end, they seek to sensationalize, as much as possible, their coverage of whatever it is they determine to be “newsworthy.” The more extra-ordinary the story can be made to sound to consumers of the product that Big Media sells, the better.
From all that is transpiring in the world, the journalists and commentators that constitute Big Media select snippets of happenings. By marginalizing, if not altogether ignoring, other facets of the ever constant flow of daily goings-on, they construct or “spin” their snippets of choice into narratives that at once satisfy the ideological and social constraints that define the contemporary world of journalism and serve the material and, not infrequently, political interests of their authors.
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Perhaps not so interestingly, politicians too are motivated by the same kinds of considerations. But while journalists and commentators in Big Media are driven by a desire for ratings, circulation, and, thus, profits, politicians, obviously, want votes.
In America 2020, this, unfortunately, means that politicians must be seen as men and women of action. And the more action, the better.
Both those in Big Government and those in Big Media have collaborated in perpetuating a certain style of politics that has been the American political orientation for quite some time. Yet It isn’t unique to America; quite the contrary, for, in varying degrees, depending upon place and time, it has informed the politics of European countries since the emergence of the modern Nation-State. Beginning in the 20th century, though, such was the success of this form in achieving a monopoly over the politics of European peoples that it largely banished from their collective memory political styles of other sorts.
This style of politics whose ubiquity and dominance have rendered us oblivious to any and all others is what the English philosopher Michael Oakeshott described as “the Politics of Crisis.”
It is the Politics of Crisis that butters the bread of those in both Big Media and Big Government.
“CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC”: Against the backdrop of blood red, these are the words on the banner that one 24 hour cable news network features at the bottom of the television screen—even during the commercials.
A pandemic, mind you, refers to an infectious disease that has spread to a larger landmass. This is clearly not an appealing thing, but the word itself, particularly as it is being used incessantly by those in Big Media and Big Government, is emotionally-charged. Its repeated use is not meant to be descriptive. Rather, it is designed to conjure up in the popular imagination thoughts of the Black Plague, say, or the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. The former, in the 14th century, having possibly killed as many as 200 million people, may have reduced the world’s population by over one-third. The latter infected 500 million, or one-third, of the population of the whole planet. Of those infected, some 50 million died. Approximately 675,000 of these deaths occurred in the United States.
Those in Big Media and Big Government are well aware of the fact—and it is a fact—that when most people hear the term “pandemic,” to say nothing of when they see it in red in large letters at the bottom of their screens, they are thinking of something that kills massive numbers of human beings.
Your average person is thinking of a cataclysmic scenario of the kind depicted in pop-culture entertainment like The Walking Dead.
The COVID-19 scare is pregnant with boundless possibilities for politicians and media commentators to convince an all too gullible public to think that not only are we in a crisis; we are enduring among the greatest of all existential crises, a deadly plague the likes of which we have never encountered.
The 24 hour media coverage; declarations of States of Emergency; the government-ordered shutdowns of private businesses; the cancellations and closings of events, institutions, organizations; the quarantining, “social distancing,” and “self-isolation”—the stage has been seamlessly set for what I’m convinced will go down as perhaps the Greatest Story Ever Sold within the recent memory of the contemporary Western political world.
Even 9/11, for all of the abuses of power to which it led, didn’t result in anything like this abrupt and pervasive an exertion of political power or the mental conformity among the masses to which the sensationalism over COVID-19 has given rise.
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War is the quintessential crisis. In times of war, the government wields, and is expected by the populace to wield, power over the populace that it couldn’t get away with exercising in peacetime.
In wartime, the state considered as “civil association,” an association whose members conceive themselves as individualsengaged in self-chosen pursuits, has imposed upon it a reading of a state of a radically different sort.
Civil association gives way to an “enterprise association.”
“Civil association” and “enterprise association”: These are the terms that Oakeshott used to refer to two diametrically opposed interpretations of a state.
The associates of an enterprise association are joint-enterprisers united in pursuit of “a common good.” Yet the latter, it is crucial to realize, is most assuredly not a common interest in, say, peaceful co-existence or social order, as it is with respect to civil association.
Rather, in an enterprise association, “the common good” is a substantive end for the sake of the realization of which all members are expected to “sacrifice” their resources in time, energy, and money.
Of course, despite its incessant use by those in Big Government and their apologists in Big Media, the term “sacrifice,” implying at it does a voluntary foregoing on the part of citizens of their goods, is nothing of the kind: The occupiers of offices of rule—who, when a state is conceived as an enterprise-association, style themselves “leaders”—confiscate from citizens those of their resources that they determine are necessary for “the common good.”
And then, so as to obscure the coercive nature of this systematic deployment of power, politicians instead refer to the need for “sacrifices” by those who are being forced to be servants to the fulfillment of ends selected by “leaders.”
The Politics of Crisis is the lifeblood of a state imagined as an enterprise association. When the crisis is a war, it buttresses that much more the association, for war requires wartime “leaders” who can then conscript, to a significantly greater extent than they already conscript, the resources of the citizenry under the pretext of “patriotism,” a sensibility still keenly felt by most people.
Those who resist or otherwise refuse to immediately acquiesce can be branded “unpatriotic” or “treasonous.” As such, dissenters invite both formal penalties as well associal ostracism, for the treasonous are disreputable. This explains why the language of war invariably accompanies the efforts of politicians (and their enablers) to mobilize the citizenry for the sake of defeating some “enemy” that they’ve identified (think: War on Poverty, War on Drugs, etc.)
President Trump has set the tone when he declared that America is now in a war against…“The Coronavirus!” Politicians across party lines and their Big Media accomplices have been all too ready to capitalize upon the rhetoric of war and crisis themselves.
The President is now a wartime president. He and the governors of several states (like the governors of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California) have assumed the personae of messiahs who have appointed themselves to lead the masses, their sheep, to safety.
As a consequence of this, it’s vital to understand, Americans are not in danger of losing their liberties. They have lost them.
This is correct, and it is undeniable to anyone who is reading this at the moment. To reiterate:
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Americans have lost their liberties.
Businesses of most sorts have been ordered by government to close their doors. This means that, indirectly, the self-employed and all other employees have been ordered by their government to abandon their livelihoods—at least until such time that our Leaders assure us that the war over COVID-19 has ended.
And people have been ordered by their Leaders not to leave their homes, to travel nowhere and for no purposes except for those that the Leaders identify as “essential.”
Liberties have been denied.
Whether these liberties are retrieved is left to be seen. My suspicion is that, in the short-term, once this strain of coronavirus is gone, life will return for a while to basically what it was before the Great Panic of 2020. Yet the latter will remain ensconced in the popular imagination for long after some semblance of normalcy returns.
This in turn means that it will be all too easy for Big Government and Big Media to use this as a precedent for appropriating similar (or more severe) measures in the future when they decide to use some other event or phenomenon to do so.
In the next installment of this series on Coronavirus hysteria, I will turn attention away from the political and media elites and toward the role that everyday citizens play in fueling the flames of fear.
Jack Kerwick [send him mail] received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture.