Democracies and double requirements
Shortly before his death, Francois Mitterand gathered his friends for one last big meal. The meal consisted of ortolan, a rare bird that was illegal to eat. I remember discussing the meal with a colleague in Europe. His thinking was “good for Mitterand”; The great man should enjoy one last joy. I replied that this is part of what separates America from Europe. The biblical ordinance “not to favor the poor or to respect the rich” is a democratic standard. The law applies to everyone equally, from the poorest trencher to the richest businessman and most powerful statesman.
The rash of Covid rule violations in our leadership class makes me wonder whether Americans, at least those in our leadership class, still believe in this standard. (It was never quite true, but historically it was truer in the US than in most countries). Look at some examples. Deborah Birx, one of our leading health officials in fighting the Coronavirus, was guilty of “breaking their own tour guide”. In doing so, she did nothing that the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and many others had not done. Perhaps the image of New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and his wife dancing in Times Square on New Year’s Eve while almost everyone else is stuck in town is hard to beat as an example of this phenomenon.
Dr. Birx’s apology for breaking the rules she advocates is instructive. As the New York Post notes, “Her parents were so in the dumps they stopped eating and drinking.” “My daughter hasn’t left this house in 10 months; my parents have been isolated for 10 months. You have become deeply depressed, ”said Birx of the need to“ recover from the trauma of the past 10 months ”. As history shows, this is “justification [was] Torn up by people who said it was their coronavirus restrictions that kept them from seeing their own dying loved ones. ”
What gives? Dr. Brix is an expert. It’s not a big leap to conclude that she believes she knows better than others how to navigate the rules in a way that still means the chance of disclosure is slim. Even so, a more thoughtful bureaucrat would understand that in a democratic nation there can be no standard for leaders and another for other citizens. To maintain the standard, it has to apply to itself.
If Fauci and others do not simply think they are experts as nonscientists, but also believe that less educated Americans cannot be trusted to rule themselves in their daily affairs, it suggests that our bureaucracy turns into a post bureaucracy. modern form of the nobility with its own privileges and aristocratic élan.
And the others? Hypocrisy, like sin, is as old as Adam. Still, one wonders why politicians are so carefree when they follow their own standards. Gavin Newsom is not a scientist. He doesn’t even play one on TV. But he, and probably the others who attended the infamous dinner at The French Laundry, value themselves very much. They are educated and are therefore able to judge carefully when it might make sense to bend or even ignore the regular rules of conduct. After all, nobody seemed to get sick at the French laundry dinner. At least I haven’t read any cases. Maybe there was one or two. It is hoped that the other violations cases had the same outcome. However, it is true that several politicians got Covid. However, it is not clear what percentage of these cases are due to hypocritical rule violations.
The question is why we citizens are not equally entitled to make such decisions. There is a technical term for a regime in which one set of rules applies to the ruling class and the ordinary residents (“citizen” is the wrong word in this context) have to live according to a different set of rules, because according to the ruling class they cannot be trusted that she follows the same rules successfully. This term is “aristocracy”. It is what we Americans rejected when it was founded. The great struggles for racial equality were struggles to better align US practice with the US ideal.
That’s what Dr. Fauci’s “noble” lies so troubled and revealed. At the beginning of the pandemic, he lied about the effectiveness of masks and downplayed their importance. Why? “”[W]We were concerned about public health, and many people said this, were concerned that it was at a time when personal protective equipment, including the N95 masks and surgical masks, was very scarce. “And more recently, he lied about herd immunity:” When surveys said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I said herd immunity would last 70 to 75 percent … If recent polls said 60 percent or the more would take him, I thought, “I can nudge this a bit.” So I went to 80, 85. ”In other words, he was administering the“ truth ”because he believed that his fellow Americans couldn’t handle the truth. He was trying to shape American behavior, a job that one would think would not be the job of an official. In addition, his chosen tactic was not a rational belief. Instead, he chose to lie. And that’s a problem.
Equal America and democratic America are those in which people can be entrusted with the truth and expected to be responsible for it. It would be more honorable and would do democracy more honor if Fauci had something like “Masks are probably helpful, [it was early, and the data were not yet conclusive] But they are in short supply. Please wait and have our hospitals and health workers buy them until production increases. “Similarly, it would be more honest and straightforward to take the vaccine publicly to show that it is safe and then admonish to take the vaccine as it is necessary for resumption of normal life. Lying to the public is the easy and anti-democratic way out.
Fauci is a high official. He has been at or near the top of the American health bureaucracy since the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. If he and others at this level do not simply think that they are more experts than nonscientists, but also think that less educated Americans cannot be trusted to rule themselves in their day-to-day affairs, it indicates this that our bureaucracy is transforming itself into a post-modern form of the robe nobility with its own prerogatives and aristocratic vigor. Johns Hopkins University has produced a study that shows that Covid has not seen a net increase in mortality in the US to date, not because the data or conclusions were flawed but because they feared their fellow citizens might draw the wrong conclusions from the data suggest this as well.
This does not mean that democratic governments never have secrets and, in extreme circumstances, never have to hide the truth. All governments must do this sometimes, as Gabriel Shoenfeld’s subtle necessary secrets point out. General Washington had so little powder in the Battle of Boston that he hid this truth from almost everyone. It was not a “noble lie” created for better management of common soldiers. On the contrary, it was a necessary lie to bluff the British and prevent them from attacking when they had the advantage.
I remember a passage in Henry Adams’ novel Democracy. Historian Nathan Gore (in some ways a deputy to the author) gives his political creed:
I believe in democracy. I accept. I will serve faithfully and defend it. I believe in it because to me it is the inevitable consequence of what was before. Democracy claims that the masses are now raised to a higher level of intelligence than before. All of our civilizations strive for this goal. We want to do what we can to help him. I want to see the result myself. I admit it’s an experiment, but it’s the only direction society can take that is worth taking. the only conception of his duty big enough to satisfy his instincts; The only result worth an effort or a risk. Every other possible step is backwards and I don’t want to repeat the past. I am happy to see society grappling with issues that no one can afford to be neutral on.
Notice the line “Democracy claims the fact that the masses are now raised to a higher level of intelligence than they used to be.” Back in the old world, the ruling class assumed that the bulk of men were too stupid to have any serious power or real decision-making skills. They also assumed that just the fear of the whip and starvation could get most men to work. American democracy, according to Adams, was based on the belief that the common man (we would say the common man, male and female) can think. He does not need to be approached by government officials.
American progressivism, while claiming to be democratic, has always had a strong Tory streak. It does use the modern expert with an academic certificate instead of the old aristocracy, but the result is the same. Ultimately, it is believed that we humans can never know enough to manage our affairs. Our freedom in this progressive dispensation is not the freedom of men who find their way into the world and take responsibility for providing as much as possible for themselves and their families with food, shelter, health care and the like, but instead it is the freedom of Lifestyle liberalism – the postmodern version of bread and circuses. Don’t worry about your pretty head with political judgments and public order. Run with us and enjoy your joys as they come.
It could be that today’s politics are so tense and intense because, thanks to Covid and the lockdowns, there is no longer a circus to be had and citizens get restless when they realize what is being taken from us would-be know-it-alls.