Farce Majeure: A letter from the publisher

Monday, March 30, 2020

It is the opinion of the Publisher of this newspaper that the Covid-19 virus has caused a level of panic disproportionate to the threat the virus poses to humanity. What began as and very much remains a public health issue has been exploited by politicians of all stripes for perceived political gain and has been sensationalized by attention-seeking media personalities.

A recent article in Foreign Affairs summarizes an incident that occurred at the onset of the Red Scare following World War II: Greece was facing a communist insurgency, and the United States was seeking to prevent the spread of communism. Among the options President Harry Truman was considering was to aid the Greek government in its fight against the insurgency. Michigan senator and bipartisan paragon Arthur Vandenberg advised Truman (perhaps apocryphally), “The only way you are going to get what you want is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.”

Vandenberg’s sentiment seemed to be guiding President Donald Trump during his March 11 Europe travel ban speech and a subsequent press conference in which the President mooted July or August(!) as a timeframe for Covid-19 to have run its course. Granted, this followed the President’s initial dismissal of the virus as a hoax. But the famously mercurial President then began to look to Easter (April 12) for America to be “opened up and raring to go.” As of yesterday, however, it appears we are back on a less accelerated April 30 schedule.

Your Publisher far prefers the President’s Easter attitude, which best reflects America’s resilience and exceptionalism. America has faced down far greater threats than the current viral panic without resorting to economic paralysis and the lockdowns imposed by some mayors and governors, lockdowns that in some cases run perilously close to criminalizing the Constitutional right to public assembly. Hiding from threats is not what makes America exceptional; assessing those threats and reacting rationally and proportionally is what makes America exceptional.

Commentators have begun to speculate what will be the legacy of Covid-19. The apparent lack of protest against draconian government-imposed lockdowns in some cities and states is my candidate for the shameful legacy the Covid-19 virus may leave if we simply accept and do not question the costs of these lockdowns. The economic costs are high and obvious – initial jobless claims were an all-time high 3.3 million last week – but the more insidious cost is to American exceptionalism itself: the willingness to trade ever more freedoms for the theater of protection by a paternal state.

The Shelbyville Times-Gazette is being proactive in applying sensible policies to contain the spread of Covid-19 and is making some short-term adjustments to wait out this panic until it passes, but we are hoping that the doors of churches will be open again for Easter Sunday and that social distancing joins the museum of quaint and short-lived panics such as Y2K and does not have as long-lived an impact on freedom as the hysteria of the Red Scare.

• Adam Johnson is publisher of the Times-Gazette