Toronto police officers stop at a red light as they patrol on their service horses April 2, 2020. Health officials and the government has asks that people stay inside to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP

 “The virus is harmful, but the destruction of rights is fatal.” Edward Snowden.

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stomping down on a human face – forever.” – George Orwell, “1984.” 

I’m having trouble sleeping these days. My nights are vexed by bad dreams. My days, too. The worst of those dreams come when I’m not sleeping at all. The worst come when I’m wide awake and reading all the latest developments in this war on an enemy we can’t even see. 

It isn’t plague or death or sickness that haunt my dreams, though, it’s that boot. 

It’s already upon our faces, of course. It’s just that, for the moment, we’re assured that it’s only temporary. It’s there only in the name of public safety, so THAT’S OK. 

But is it OK? Are we sure that the government crackdown on people assembling in groups is going to go away the day it’s announced the coronavirus pandemic has been conquered? 


Are we absolutely certain that when the smoke has cleared, there won’t be sparkling new laws in place forbidding large social gatherings as we prepare for the next bad bug to come wafting along? An ounce of prevention, don’t you know. That’s what the new normal is all about. 

Can we be certain that the notion of “authorities” telling us where we should go, what we should buy and what we should do with our leisure time is just a transient thing? Does anyone doubt that on some level, the cold black heart of government is just filled with glee at this opportunity to track and control every movement of every American in all aspect of their lives? There is even a sprawling army of citizen soldiers willing and ready to snitch out their neighbors when social distancing violations are suspected. 

Is this new network of citizen informants just a fleeting thing? Are you sure about that? After all, the Los Angeles mayor went before the cameras just a few days ago and declared, with some delight, that “snitches get rewards.” Plenty of people applauded that remark. They were giddy with excitement about it, even, and ready to do their own part to help the cause. 

Right now, around the country and the rest of the beleaguered world, government officials are ordering people indoors. Yes, you can go out for some things, but THEY get to say what is essential activity and what is not. THEY get to say who is essential enough to roam about and who isn’t. THEY get to say what you can buy and in what quantity. 

Are all of the new rules, restrictions and regulations in this new normal just a matter of benevolent authorities doing their darn best to keep us all safe? Are they going to relinquish these new powers happily when COVID has burned itself out? Is that what governments are known for historically? Willingly giving up power? 

Some of us have been issued papers to carry around as proof of the essential work that requires us to be outdoors. Really. Papers. As if the whole world hasn’t felt enough like a bad dystopian novel already, now we have to present documentation to prove our obedience to the rules of the new normal, lest undesirables get out into the world. 


But it’s only temporary, right? After this nightmare has ended, we can throw those documents away and go wherever the hell we want? 

They said that all the broad surveillance, warrantless searches and gropings at the airports were temporary, too. In the terror that seized us after 9/11, we believed them. They were, after all, just keeping us safe. THEY know the drill: When it comes to controlling the people, you never let a good crisis go to waste, and when the Patriot Act 2.0 for the Pandemic Age is quietly signed into being, chances are good we’ll all be nothing but obliging about that one, too.

As our leashes become shorter, there have been a smattering of police officials – sheriff’s, mostly – who have come right out to assert that they have no interest in making a way of life out of controlling our every movements. They take no pleasure in rousting small groups of people, they say, or in stopping travelers to determine where they are going and with whom 

“We will not be setting up a police state. Period,” said Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols, and I love him for that. Sheriff’s are elected to their offices and they swear oaths to the Constitution meant to keep us free. 

But sheriffs and their deputies are also tasked with enforcing the laws of the land and when new laws, new rules and new measures come floating down from above, they don’t have the ability to pick and choose which they will enforce and which they will not. 

If the government decides that nobody should be allowed to keep guns or fully stocked pantries in their homes, will the police say, “hell, no” and refuse the dirty task of confiscating the goods? Some of them, maybe. Not all of them.  


If the government decides that certain people should be confined to quarantine camps, and be held there by force,  is anyone going to object? Do you suppose your neighbors will come to your defense when they drag you off? Probably not. They’re likely the people who ratted you out to begin with. For your own good, of course. Because this is all in the interest of public safety, you see, and it’s only temporary. 

Small business from one edge of the country to the other has been, not merely wounded or hobbled, but obliterated, the last vestiges of our traditional main streets going down with them. But it was all a matter of protecting the public from sickness, so that’s OK. It’s all OK because once this is over, those businesses will spring back up like wildflowers that have been trampled underfoot, right? 

I wonder if anyone believes that anymore. In my bad dreams, I envision a day where, if you want something, you’ll have to get it from one of the big corporate stores or from some government-approved supplier. No more friendly neighborhood bar on the corner or hot dog joint where you know the owner by name. In the new world, either you order it from the big boys or you go without. And don’t forget to pay digitally, mister, so Big Bro can keep track of your personal inventory. 

Don’t like any of this? Think the government is overreaching and snatching powers not needed to combat the virus? Good luck crying foul, my friend. Complain too much about your lost liberties and you’ll be castigated as an irresponsible scoundrel who is putting the lives of others at risk. Who clearly hates old people. Who ought to be hosed down and locked up for the good of all. Fear has made us that desperate; so desperate we’re demanding safety at any cost. 

I don’t believe that notions of individual freedoms have ever been as unpopular as they are right now, and that’s more terrifying to me than any malady of the flesh. Maybe one of these nights, I’ll be blessed with a good dream, one where we live under a truly benevolent government whose only interest is keeping us safe while enabling to be as free as can be. But I might as well dream of sweet singing mermaids rocking me to sleep because historically speaking, governments are about power and control, not genuine kindness and sincere good will. 

“Government is force,” George Washington mused. “Like fire it is a dangerous servant — and a fearful master.” 


The founders said plenty of things, in fact, relevant to the situation we find ourselves in. 

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety,” Ben Franklin is reputed to have said, “deserve neither liberty nor safety.” 

It’s an idea that’s always worth bearing in mind. It’s worth bearing in mind now more than ever. 

What’s most horrifying of all to me is that if we emerge from this new normal into an even newer and infinitely WORSE normal, the majority of the people are going to be grateful, even as their old rights and freedoms lay in tatters around them. They’re going to THANK the authorities for keeping them safe by doling out so many new laws, rules and limitations we so clearly need. 

Most people are not going to simply accept the boot stomped down upon their human face, they’re going to applaud it. 

I only hope that when we come out the other side, we’ll fight to get those rights back as hard as we fought to give them up. 

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