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This Thanksgiving Is Time for a ‘Great National COVID Repentance’

Originally published at The Epoch Times

The CDC has requested that we stay home for Thanksgiving. That’s a bitter pill. But to the CDC’s credit, it did not attempt to impose a legally enforceable travel ban. Rather, the agency treated Americans as adults capable of making appropriate decisions.

The approach worked. AAA Travel has predicted that fewer people will be traveling for Thanksgiving than at any time since 2008.

How novel — and wise. The proliferation of lockdown and other mandates has caused intense mistrust of our political, scientific, and medical leaders — and, in some quarters, irrational resistance to following basic public health measures.

The good news is that with a new presidential term upon us, we have the opportunity for a COVID reset. What would that look like? It seems to me it requires a “Great National Repentance” — in which we acknowledge past mistakes and commit ourselves to a different course hereafter.

Of what do we need to repent? Beyond mandate overreach, here is my partial list:

Hyper-Partisanship: When Pfizer and Moderna announced the development of vaccines, New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo sniffed. “On the way out the door, he [Trump] wants to be able to say, I solved COVID because I discovered a vaccine. No, it’s all B.S. He didn’t do anything.”

True to type, President Donald Trump lashed back, threatening to withhold the vaccine from New York.

Bad form by both men. Cuomo’s gratuitous insult and Trump’s hypersensitive inability to shrug off any affront sowed mistrust in the vaccines and the government’s plans to distribute them.

Failing to Give Credit Where Due: Cuomo’s charge that Trump has done “nothing” to fight COVID — a charge echoed repeatedly by the media — is both factually wrong and mean spirited. Operation Warp Speed, Trump’s mobilization of a private/public sector partnered response has been a masterstroke. Failing to credit Trump’s team for this great achievement is not only unfair but enrages the president’s millions of supporters, widening the chasm of distrust.

Too Much Trump: Trump should have taken the intense negativity half the country feels toward him into account when determining his strategy for communicating with the country. At first, he did. The president appointed Vice President Mike Pence — not exactly Mr. Volatility — to lead the Coronavirus Task Force. Then, Trump decided he should become the face of the COVID fight.

It did not work out well. Trump’s constant presence sparked conflict. Moreover, precise language and measured tones — essential in a crisis like the present — are not the president’s strong suits.

One episode stands out vividly. At the start of one press briefing, Trump inexplicably riffed on a behind the scenes conversation about how ultraviolet light might act as a COVID disinfectant. “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute,” Trump mused. “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Not only did that statement serve no useful purpose, but it allowed Trump’s enemies to invent the canard that he recommended swallowing bleach. He had done no such thing, of course. But the media and Democrats ran with the myth, deepening our divisions when we needed unity.

Media Mendacity: Too many in the mainstream media believe their job is to make Trump look as bad as possible, including about COVID. Toward that end, leading pundits proclaimed Trump inept and blamed him for every death and spike in infections. This not only harmed the administration but helped spark the rancorous divides we now see over issues such as masks and vaccines.

Stifled Debate: The press and social media companies became enforcers of COVID orthodoxy, suppressing heterodox ideas and stifling debate. The Great Barrington Declaration — in which notable scientists argued against lockdowns and school closings — is a classic case in point in which legitimate viewpoints were underreported and ill considered. Suppressing dissent doesn’t end conflict, it exacerbates it.

Enforcement Hypocrisy: “Socially distance!” public health officials told us. “Don’t gather in large crowds! Shelter in place.” To which I respond, “Practice what you preach.”

After California Governor Gavin Newsom instructed Californians not to gather in large numbers for Thanksgiving — and even to wear masks between bites of food! — he was caught dining with more than ten other people, indoors, and not wearing a mask. Oops.

The hypocrites’ list goes on and on. When thousands of motorcyclists gathered for the annual Sturgis, South Dakota rally, the media and public officials tut-tutted that the gathering could become a super-spreader event. But when huge racial justice demonstrations broke out, many of these same public health officials and pundits applauded.

So, what would a great COVID repentance look like?

  • Our leaders should trust the American people. Transparency should be increased. Debate should be encouraged. Costs and benefits of various approaches honestly presented. Most of us will do the right thing.
  • Mandates should be avoided unless predicated by clear and present need, backed by scientific certainty.
  • Trump should be thanked for his anti-COVID efforts, particularly Operation Warp Speed.
  • If Joe Biden becomes president, his strategy going forward should be scrutinized fairly by conservative press and without sycophancy by liberal media.
  • Finally — and perhaps most importantly — we need to forgive each other and assume good faith on the part of those with differing opinions.

Acting with humility and forgiveness toward each other and our leaders could restore the strained bonds of mutual affection we need for an effective fight against COVID. More than that, maybe, just maybe, the resulting goodwill could initiate a great national reconciliation in which we once again perceive those with whom we disagree not as enemies but friends.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.