News coverage has centered on the coronavirus protests that have broken out in states enacting harsh lockdowns such as Michigan, North Carolina, and others over the past week. Commentators have compared these with the “Tea Party” rallies of more than a decade ago.
I was proud to see the people getting up to make their voice heard and shift the national conversation in 2009, and I’m proud now. This isn’t about just reopening the economy, this is about reopening our communities.
Legislators and policymakers should listen to the people and heed the message of these protests. Families and workers are doing their part to flatten the curve. In doing so, they are watching their mortgages, dreams of retirement, and financial safety all slip away. After the initial shock of the coronavirus pandemic, the time has now come to develop a thoughtful and reasonable strategy to reopen the country and get our economy back on track.
The protesters realize that we now have two types of patients: those afflicted by the coronavirus and those who have seen their economic livelihoods destroyed by the shutdown. Both matter. The longer we wait to get back to work, the greater the long-term economic damage we risk. How will we power our healthcare response during a depression and 30% unemployment? We need a plan to avoid this fate.
It is important to note that, although now is the time to begin reopening our society, we must proceed with an abundance of caution. It is essential that we continue to shelter and protect at-risk populations. A reckless plan for a wholesale return to work will only set us back. We must be deliberate and responsible in our return to work, but we must begin soon.
Even under an abundance of caution, there is much that can be done now to begin reopening our economy and rolling back some of the violations of civil liberties that the coronavirus response has wrought. For starters, states should begin allowing small businesses to resume operations at the owner’s discretion. Governments should not be picking winners and losers in the economy by arbitrarily deeming some businesses as essential and others as not.
Thousands of small businesses in our country that have been deemed “nonessential” are unlikely to make it another month or two without any revenue. Allowing these businesses to open to limited numbers of customers, while implementing tried and tested best practices for sanitation and health, would enable many businesses to survive.
Congress and the rest of the federal government should certainly be exercising fiscal restraint following the nearly $2.5 trillion already spent on the crisis. But, even more importantly, the government should cease harassment and arresting individuals for meaningless offenses in the name of public health. Citizens have already been detained and even arrested for violating “shelter-in-place” orders. These draconian measures are unnecessary, especially now as we begin moving back to normal.
The government’s response to the coronavirus has brought with it one of the greatest expansions in state power since the post-9/11 “war on terror.” While most of these powers are supposed to be temporary, it is incumbent upon the citizenry to ensure that these violations of our rights expire in due time. To start, we need a national conversation on the implications of such wide-ranging infringement upon civil liberties.
With the protests throughout the country, the people of the United States have spoken clearly and loudly that now is the time to begin that conversation. Before we sink any further into a recession and before our unemployment becomes too much to handle, we should start planning how to open our economy again.
Adam Brandon is the president of FreedomWorks