There was a country that styled itself as a free liberal Democracy. Due to the excuse of an emergency, government-imposed great restrictions on freedom. The government took strict control of the economy, limiting the supply of consumer goods. They forbid the manufacture of new cars. They told people how much meat they could buy, and even when they could buy shoes. They also strictly controlled travel by limiting most citizens to four gallons of gas per month. The government also acted as a strict prison warden telling people when they had to put their lights out and demanded people hand over their money in government approved and finance guilt-laden prograganda campaigns. Even worse, the government put hundreds of thousands of citizens in concentration camps.
People on the American right today might have asked between 1942-45, “How long can America keep these restrictions and still call itself a liberal democracy?”
This context is important when it comes to talking about Australia’s COVID response. It’s often been asserted that emergency powers once conferred or assumed by the state will never be relinquished as if it is a lesson of history. Yet, that’s not exactly what history teaches. It is possible during a time of national war or emergency for there to be temporary restrictions applied that would never be tolerated outside of the emergency and then for them to be lifted once the crisis passes. This was true of World War II and also of the Spanish Flu pandemic. That’s not to say that all temporary measures remain temporary (ex: I’m looking at you, income tax withholding.) Nor is it say that we should give carte blanche to bureaucrats in times of emergency, but alarmism about temporary pandemic measures are overblown.
Has Australia’s COVID response been excessive in many ways? Yes. Would I want to see those policies in the U.S.? No. There have been some ridiculous actions taken, many of which would never fly in the states because of different cultures, and some that were just plain wrong, such as the local council that executed fifteen dogs to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by people coming to pick them up.
Australian Journalist Josh Szeps puts together a helpful explainer thread on Twitter where he explained the Australian lockdown but not without a few criticisms of the government’s policy:
At the same time taking, Szeps took aim at some of the more off-base attacks on Australia’s policies:
And reminded readers that earlier in the pandemic, it was Australians who were enjoying much more freedom:
He also pointed out the dire consequences Australia faces if it let the Delta Variant rip through its population with minimal natural or vaccine immunity:
Australia is (for better or worse) confronting COVID-19 on a war footing as a matter of urgency because to fail to do so would unleash a wave of human suffering and misery. There are no plans for this to continue indefinitely. Australia’s largest state is pledging to end restrictions when 70 percent of the population is vaccinated and every state in Australia is on pace to be at 80 percent by December 9.
To question the wisdom of Australia’s COVID policy and the way it handled the pandemic is perfectly fine. To question the commitment to democracy of an ally whose armed services have bled and died beside American service personnel in every conflict we’ve fought in for more than a century is dishonorable and disgraceful. Our country imprisoned thousands of Japanese Americans for years and we’re still considered a liberal Democracy. A severe COVID lockdown in Australia doesn’t change their status.
So why the vociferous attacks on Australia from the right?
First, it makes some people feel better about our nation’s own response. “Yes, we’ve lost nearly 700,000 Americans to COVID. Yes, we will be paying billions of dollars in disability payments and medicaid for those suffering from long COVID for decades to come, but at least we didn’t turn our country into a medical police state.” Of course, this argument assumes those are the only alternatives (or that a method used by the only country that’s also a continent could actually be deployed in the U.S.) But hey, finding some way to feel good about this dumpster fire of a response is certainly something.
Second, it offers cover for the dance with the devil that many on the right are doing with the regime of Viktor Orban, the leader of Hungary (a nation which would meet Donald Trump’s definition of a ***thole country if only it didn’t have so many white people.) “All those anti-Trumpers on the right who are so concerned about Viktor Orban should look to Australia to see a real example of a country turning from liberal Democracy.”
This argument is superficial and works only if you’re unable to distinguish between temporary pandemic measures and a systematic decade-long government attack by a corrupt Putin wannabe against institutions that are critical to a democratic society such as a free press.
In the long, Australia’s going to be fine. While the pandemic has been unpredictable, they should be able to ride it out and get past it without the level of pointless deaths the U.S. has experienced and with an end to the excesses of their current response. They’ll probably be back to normal within six to nine months. I’m not so certain about the United States.