My last President’s Message named five big things we’ve learned in the COVID-19 era. But there are more.
The first lessons were: Fear and greed are far more potent than we realized; the pandemic was predictable, but mass lockdowns were not; politicians eventually do what they think will get them reelected, no matter what the science du jour indicates; sometimes lawmakers would rather blame political rivals than govern; and government transparency still unites the philosophical right and left.
The next five are:
The taproot of federalism remains deep. One might have expected a global emergency to cement the preeminence of the national government at the expense of the states, but that didn’t happen. Instead, officials in each state used their own laws and resources to implement their own pandemic policies. No one had to tell them to do this, and they didn’t wait for permission from Beltway Overlords. In a crisis, Americans don’t reflexively wait for cues from Washington before acting. The 50 proverbial “laboratories of democracy” still experiment, test, fail, succeed and learn. State initiative is federalism in action, a bedrock principle of American governance. Just about every part of the national government is too big and intrusive, but the states still matter mightily.
Government officials substitute ad hoc policies for emergency plans already on the books. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders deviated from Michigan’s formal pandemic plan. She persisted for months until we sued and the state Supreme Court ruled her orders illegal and unconstitutional.
Authorities lie to us, yet nothing happens to them. This isn’t a new lesson, but even I am shocked that Dr. Anthony Fauci is still the most influential U.S. medical expert on the pandemic, after admitting he wasn’t quite truthful at least twice. He downplayed the effectiveness of masks to try to prevent a run on them. Later, he understated the number of vaccinated persons required to reach herd immunity, due in part to a poll that indicated only half of Americans would accept a vaccine.
Pandemic lockdowns and restrictions compound unintended consequences. One policy change in one part of the world generates unintended consequences whose effects are dampened by relative stability elsewhere. But hundreds of large, simultaneous, new pandemic policies around the globe combined to disrupt supply chains, labor markets, capital flows, mental health, education, politics, crime, social cohesion and more. Robust systems have become unreliable and unpredictable.
Education reform may be the brightest silver lining of the pandemic. K-12 schools’ acutely painful failures have been on full display since March 2020. Parental dissatisfaction is at record levels. The need for more educational choices is palpable. That’s why we are suing state officials on behalf of five families and the Let Kids Learn coalition. Gov. Whitmer recently vetoed legislation that would have advanced our school choice ideas. That only puts her on a collision course with millions of Michigan parents, present and future, who will not tolerate schools that can’t, or won’t, teach.
We’re making sure the lessons of COVID-19 aren’t wasted or forgotten.