Editor’s note: In March 2020, attorney Woody White, who also then was a New Hanover County commissioner, wrote this editorial “Life needs to go on” during the early stages of the pandemic. The Business Journal invited White to reflect on the past two years since, for this column.
I wish I had been wrong two years ago this week, at the very beginning of the COVID pandemic, when I submitted an editorial to the GWBJ warning about the next level of decisions that politicians were about to make and how I hoped they would get it right.
I warned of the importance of our leaders to be measured and thoughtful in how they balanced the interests of our daily lives and the freedoms that define us as a nation with those of how to confront an unknown virus.
Once the initial hysteria abated, I hoped that moderate but reasonable policies would be put in place on how to move forward and that politicians would make decisions based on data and analytics, not on polling and emotion.
Early on, the discriminating person suspected that COVID would evolve endemically and probabilities were high that we would have to learn to live with it for a long time. This suggested that whatever was to be done should not be extreme in any direction, but instead should be the product of democratic methods and not of edicts by fiat.
My piece began with a disclaimer that I had no idea what the future held and like everyone else, I was worried about the unknowable and the uncertain. But I worried for different reasons than others because my personal experience in government had taught me to be wary of those that want to do something just for the sake of doing it, and I warned that government decision-makers were on the cusp of cooking a “spicy menu for an unintended consequences buffet.”
This was a fancy way of saying that I hoped the large decisions that loomed would be made carefully.
I really wish my piece had aged poorly. If it had, it would follow that fewer people would have been harmed by the wrong decisions made by our policymakers.
We all know what happened.
Without debate and with punitive censorship of those who tried debating, which included deplatforming from social media sites and shouting down reasonable voices of dissent, illegal and heavy-handed measures were enacted by power-hungry politicians and bureaucrats, desperate to be seen as problem-solvers.
Their arrogance gave no quarter to humility. These people destroyed businesses, tore families apart, deprived children of their basic right to be educated, caused cancer patients to die pre-maturely, allowed inflation to run amuck from unbridled borrowing and divided us as a nation more than ever before in our lifetimes.
The “spicy menu of unintended consequences” was shoved in our hands faster than anyone could have predicted, and the buffet lasted longer than anyone imagined it could.
Domestic violence increased, precipitously, as did child abuse and neglect. Alcohol consumption reached a crescendo, and the downward trend of death from drug overdoses reversed.
Jobs that gave people purpose and meaning were destroyed overnight when the economy was shut down, and many lost a lot more than a paycheck. Some lost a lifetime of effort, of purpose, things not replaced by stimulus checks or PPP loans.
A few will argue (although a declining number, now that the polling has turned) that these measures were necessary, they saved lives, that “the science” was calling the shots. But rational and objective people now know these statements are false, and that COVID policies were weaponized for political agendas in the larger national war being waged for power.
The election rules changed, not by democratic processes, but by bureaucratic rule-making and executive overreach. Fiat. Presidential candidates said vaccines were bad. Then they said they were good. Politics mattered more than science.
Our public health leaders, and the politicians who exploited their mistakes, failed us. They misled us about the origins of the virus, about the best practices to implement in its presence, about the efficacy of masks and later, vaccines.
But perhaps the worst part of it all, and the long-lasting impact that has irreparably damaged public confidence in our basic governmental institutions, was the unwillingness of our leaders to tell us the truth once they knew it.
They could have opened schools much earlier than they did. They could have admitted that shuttering the economy was devastating, extreme and wrong. They could have said that masks were more about theater than they were about being an effective tool to combat an airborne microbe. And they could have refrained from telling us the vaccine was a panacea that would “stop the virus in its tracks” until they knew whether this was true. Which it was not.
But they have said none of these things, taken no accountability and have refused to own up to the fact they were wrong and that almost all the decisions they made hurt the greater good instead of the other way around.
If I thought it was all done out of misplaced benevolence or honest mistakes, I guess I would feel better about it. But I know the truth. And so does most everyone else.
These were the things I warned about two years ago. And I hate being right about it all.
Woody White is an attorney in Wilmington.