This week, the price of oil futures collapsed catastrophically. In fact, the prices collapsed into negative territory in the near term. This bizarre situation, prompted by lack of consumer demand and lack of storage facility, led the irrepressible Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., to tweet: "You absolutely love to see it. This along with record low interest rates means it's the right time for a worker-led, mass investment in green infrastructure to save our planet." This tweet was too dumb even for her – an extraordinary bar, given her past commentary – and she deleted it. But she then reiterated the point in a follow-up tweet, characterizing the rock-bottom oil prices as a "key opportunity" to "create millions of jobs transitioning to renewable and clean energy."
Needless to say, investing in expensive green energy at a time when oil producers cannot give away oil is peak stupidity. But the Boston University economics major's faux pas merely underscores an uncomfortable truth regarding this pandemic and its aftermath: For the most partisan, every crisis is an opportunity to push political priors.
The most obvious agenda item for those on the political left has been the growth of government. Dan Balz, chief correspondent of The Washington Post, drooled while saying: "For the first time, many Americans are looking to government for their very economic survival. In time, that could make them look at government differently." Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote for The New York Times that the "unequal impact of the pandemic and economic collapse are forcing us to rethink the assumptions of our system." Among those assumptions: the free market economy (Sanders terms the free market "the path of greed and unfettered capitalism"). The New York Times termed the coronavirus a "new frontier in the fight for civil rights" and quoted race hustler the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is calling for a government commission to investigate the "racism and discrimination built into public policies" that result in racial health disparities.
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Precisely this attitude – that every crisis is a new weapon in the war for more expansive government, and in favor of a complete rethinking of the constitutional bargain – will lead more and more Americans to view shutdown orders with skepticism. It is one thing to lock down populations on a bipartisan basis with clear goals – goals like preventing coronavirus patients from swamping the health care system. Most Americans will go along with that, and most Americans are willing to grant policymakers the benefit of the doubt.
But when politicians begin to reveal ulterior motives for such shutdowns, Americans begin to ask questions. When politicians simultaneously take measures that obviously do nothing to combat the coronavirus – measures like locking public parks where people are social distancing, or banning Americans from buying gardening supplies but ensuring access to abortion remains fully available – Americans begin to wonder whether their politicians are trustworthy. And when politicians meet such questions with hysterical accusations that the questioners simply don't care about human life, Americans grow even more suspicious.
Crises require trust in authority. But authorities must earn our trust with well-founded, sensible policy. They must be transparent about what they are doing and why they are doing it. When authorities instead suggest openly that their agenda isn't solely curbing the coronavirus but remaking America along the lines of their own political priors, they lose our trust. And they should.