Quite a few people are weighing in on Emily Oster’s call for forgiving and forgetting mistakes made during the Covid-19 pandemic.
My answer to Ms. Oster’s call for amnesty is not just “no”, it’s “hell no.” I admit this is a particularly uncivil response, so I’ll take a few moments to explain it.
Ms. Oster writes:
I have been reflecting on this lack of knowledge thanks to a class I’m co-teaching at Brown University on COVID. We’ve spent several lectures reliving the first year of the pandemic, discussing the many important choices we had to make under conditions of tremendous uncertainty.
Obviously some people intended to mislead and made wildly irresponsible claims. Remember when the public-health community had to spend a lot of time and resources urging Americans not to inject themselves with bleach? That was bad. Misinformation was, and remains, a huge problem. But most errors were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society.
And that, right there, that’s it. Did we have conditions of tremendous uncertainty? Hell, yes. But the response to uncertainty was to suppress discussion, and that is not a pardonable offense. When you use government powers to suppress one side of the debate, that is not something that can be let go. When you use social media to censor discussion, that is not something I am willing to let slide. When you deliberately distort statements made by the president in some sort of political point scoring, I am unwilling to give you a pass.
Instead of viewing the uncertainty as something that should be explored, reasoned about, and factored into policy decisions, the response was to suppress dissent, refuse to change direction even as the facts became more clear, and paint anyone who didn’t go along with this as a murderous, evil, knuckle dragging troglodytic sub-human.
So when Emily Oster calls for an amnesty for all this, my response is hell no.
And what policies did we end up with?
Lockdowns, which amounted to rich people staying home and avoiding risk while paying poorer people take all the risk just to hand-deliver necessities and luxuries to their door.
Lockdowns, which destroyed the economy, destroyed thousands of small businesses, drove people into bankruptcy.
Did anyone argue against lockdowns? Remember the Great Barrington Declaration? Remember how the signatories were treated? Do you recall how any governor of any state which didn’t implement the strictest possible lockdowns was treated? Anyone who opposed lockdowns was vilified and every effort was made to destroy them personally.
It didn’t take long before it became apparent that lockdowns were a bad idea, with horrific consequences and little positive impact. But the lockdowns had transformed from “two weeks to flatten the curve” into a tool for political oppression of people those in power didn’t like.
Churches were forced closed in violation of the First Amendment. Firearms dealers were forced closed in violation of the Second Amendment. Laws to protect the integrity of our elections were circumvented.
This was not about limiting the spread of Covid-19. These were not people making an innocent mistake while acting in good faith for the good of everyone. It was about the people in power cementing their stranglehold on power, and ruthlessly using their ‘emergency powers’ to punish the people they didn’t like. It was about one side of the political spectrum exploiting the situation to tip the elections and prevent reelection of a president that the coastal elites hated. It was about the laptop classes seizing an opportunity to oppress everyone else while getting rich in the process.
And if millions of people lost their jobs, lost their savings, had the industries in which they worked destroyed, went hungry, lost their homes - well, the laptop classes did not give a shit about those people.
So when Emily Oster calls for an amnesty for all this, and argues that the people who ruined the lives of millions deserve compassion and forgiveness from the people whose lives they ruined, my response is hell no, hell no.
When the political left whipped up a frenzy that resulted in riots, looting, and burning of cities, we were told that lockdowns were so important that some people must lose their jobs, their savings, their homes, but not quite important enough to disallow riots, looting, and burning of cities.
I hate racism. I hate racial discrimination. So when I objected to this business of lockdowns for everyone except rioters, looters, and arsonists, and I was told that a) riots, looting, and arson are OK because racism is a public health issue, and b) obviously I am a racist, you will understand that left me feeling pretty pissed off.
So when Emily Oster calls for an amnesty for all this, my response is hell no, hell no, hell no.
And then came the vaccines.
Before the vaccines arrived, we were told the vaccines would be rushed, unsafe, not to be trusted because Donald Trump. Approval of the vaccines was deliberately delayed until after the election. So people who were at grave risk and needed those vaccines were sacrificed as pawns in the political game of getting Trump out.
And then, post election, we were all told that everyone had to get vaccinated. Even the people who had acquired immunity through getting infected with Covid-19 and recovering had to get vaccinated.
People who were unvaccinated were to be barred from restaurants and other businesses. People who were unvaccinated were to be barred from gainful employment. People who refused to get vaccinated were treated as sub-human and worthless. Everyone was forced to prove their vaccination status to travel by air, to go to the theatre, to do quite a lot of what passes for ordinary life.
And these policies persisted even when it became clear that vaccines did not prevent the spread of Covid-19. The policies persisted even when it became clear that the vaccines offered at best modest protection against the variants that were cropping up.
These policies were not an innocent mistake made by someone acting in good faith for the interests of everyone. These policies were made by the people in power, with full knowledge of what they were doing, serving very narrow interests at the expense of the common good.
So when Emily Oster and her ilk call for a “pandemic amnesty” my response is hell no, hell no, hell no, hell no.
Early in the pandemic it became clear that Covid-19 presented very minimal risk to children. Yet schools remained shut down, and children got the shaft, their educational momentum destroyed by ‘remote learning’. Which kids got the shaft? Not the children of the elite laptop class, no.
The children of the elite fared pretty well. But the children who were already disadvantaged got utterly screwed.
Everyone associated with the teacher’s unions nattered on about protecting teachers. I don’t recall anyone nattering on about protecting grocery store clerks, who steadfastly kept grocery stores open throughout the pandemic. I don’t recall anyone nattering on about protecting truck drivers, or delivery drivers, or utility workers, or any of the other Sons of Martha who labor to ensure that the wheels of civilization run truly.
But somehow, teachers were special. The education of an entire generation of children was cast aside to protect the interests of the teachers unions.
All this was not an innocent mistake made by someone making a good faith effort to protect the common good. It was the knowing malfeasance of a narrow class of people acting in bad faith to protect their own interests and cement their own hold on power.
So when Emily Oster and her brethren call for a amnesty for the people who did these things, my response is hell no, hell no, hell no, hell no, hell no.
You don’t get to send infected people from hospitals back into elder care facilities, knowing that you’re condemning a whole host of those who are most defenseless and most vulnerable to the disease to dying, alone and afraid, isolated from those they love and who love them, and then ask for amnesty. The answer to that plea for clemency must be, now and forever, hell no.
So, Emily Oster, I don’t want an amnesty for the people who did these things.
I want accountability.
I want apologies.
I want reparations for the harms.
I want to make sure that the people who did this can never do this again, ever.