As the continued coronavirus lockdowns come to be gradually recognized as the grave error that they were, we must acknowledge the discomfiting fact that every single elite institution in the world got the pandemic response spectacularly wrong.
Governments were wrong. Virtually every nation, to varying degrees, went along with the CCP-inspired radical new lockdown model, as did most subnational governmental bodies.
Academics and experts were wrong. Leading scientists went far beyond their expertise in calling for sweeping policy changes, while the universities themselves scammed their students by switching to virtual learning but demanding full tuition.
The media was wrong. Most mainstream outlets fell in line as enthusiastic propagandists for the lockdown-and-mandate regime, mocking and censoring dissenting voices.
The entertainment industry was wrong. Actors, musicians, athletes, and other prominent cultural influencers used their considerable public sway to promote a “new normal” from whose worst impacts they were shielded.
International organizations were wrong. The World Health Organization misled the public again and again, while the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, and others saw the crisis as a springboard from which to implement a set of long-desired social changes.
Billionaires and major corporations were wrong. These institutions, which one would ostensibly expect to be the most libertarian, went above and beyond in acting as enforcers for mask and vaccine mandates. Indeed, some (no names need be said here) had a financial interest in perpetuating lockdowns.
The legal system was wrong. While the Supreme Court may have overturned the Biden vaccine mandate, the same federal court system—including many conservative judges—were frequently happy to allow “public health” to serve as a constitutional workaround. So, for that matter, were many once-respectable civil libertarians.
There were a few exceptions, mainstream figures who were willing to go against the grain and speak out against lockdowns. But they were just that: exceptions. The overwhelming majority of these institutions were clearly and unequivocally wrong.
Never before has anything like this happened; it is a historical first. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is now widely considered to be a mistake, but even that did not receive unanimous institutional support. It was denounced by prominent celebrities, and several major allies, including France and Germany, refused to fight. Imagine if there had been such high-level dissent from the lockdown regime.
The simple truth is that everyone to whom we would look for guidance during a time of crisis completely bungled this one. The economic and social damage done by lockdowns will take decades to repair, and it has come about thanks to a group of leaders who confidently, self-assuredly, and condescendingly led us all in the wrong direction.
The damage to public trust, however, may be worst of all.
Contrary to some popular sentiment, it is not a bad thing that we have experts or elite institutions. None of us, no matter how bright or diligent, are able to solve every complex problem for ourselves. Reliance on expertise is a heuristic, and on the whole a useful one. The same goes for talented artists, news organizations which keep us aware of important information, and businesses which provide valuable consumer products. None of these are bad in their conception.
Citizenship in a free society requires a certain healthy skepticism of these institutions, but it also requires some base level of trust. Institutional trust was badly battered in the Trump years, but it was still strong enough in March 2020 that when President Trump and Dr. Fauci stood side-by-side and told us that we would have to serve our nation by social distancing for two weeks, most of us went along.
That trust has now been lost. It is highly likely that a large section of the public will never do what elite institutions tell them to again—and will in fact do the exact opposite. They will reflexively see a group of power holders who are at best incompetent and at worst malicious.
The problem with crying wolf, though, is that sometimes there is a real wolf. The next pandemic might be more serious. But if the “experts” try to sound the alarm, the public will have no faith in them—and justifiably so.
The only hope we now have is to so thoroughly and transparently reform these institutions that they might regain some measure of public trust. It is not enough to move on from this purgatorial era of lockdowns, as we are (hopefully) now starting to do. After World War II, we did not merely bask in the victory. We also took steps to hold the direct perpetrators responsible and ensure that the lessons learned in the war would not be forgotten.
The same must be done here. We must have a full, exhaustive public audit that exposes exactly how and where it all went so badly wrong, how the most powerful people in the world could have come to implement a policy so massively misguided as planetwide lockdown, and to hold the globe in thrall to that self-evidently insane policy for two full years. Bad actors must be removed from these institutions whenever possible, and reforms must be put in place to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.
If we can have a commission to investigate the riot at the Capitol on January 6, we can certainly have one dedicated to plumbing the depths of this great error.
It seems highly unlikely at this point that the major institutions will do anything other than stubbornly double down on their mistakes. But they must change. In the face of such massive failure, the only alternative to institutional reform would be institutional destruction, an outcome for which none of us should hope.
Jason Garshfield is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Townhall, RealClearPolitics, and numerous other publications.