On Narratives and Covid Restrictions

Are we really being blocked from getting back to normal? And if so, what is the real barrier?

green surgical masks on green background
Covid-19 by Prachatai licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

Alex Pareene has an essay at his substack that hits on an issue that I have thought about during the culture wars on restrictions and rules: We’re All Trying to Find the Guy Policing Our Behavior: Who or what is preventing us from going “back to normal” exactly? The piece starts with a “day in the life” narrative of his day as a resident of NYC in January of 2022, which sounds, to the point of the subtitle, pretty darn normal. He further noted:

Elsewhere, Disney World was officially full on New Year’s Eve. For $107 I could book a flight to Bermuda this weekend. The Knicks lost at home yesterday; a fan was spotted at the game watching The Office on mute. Vietnamese restaurant Que Viet, a Minneapolis mainstay famous for the giant egg rolls on a stick it sells each year at the Minnesota State Fair, is opening a St. Paul location. The number one movie in the country is Scream

It all seems very normal. It seems a bit uncannily normal, really, happening against a backdrop of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of new Covid-19 infections across the nation, and months of Americans dying by the thousands. And yet! To hear some people, this is a country where panicky scolds refuse to allow children to go back to school, or, in some vague sense, let people have their normal lives back.

I get that we are all tired of the pandemic and want it to go wholly, totally, and irrevocably away, but I am struck that despite a lot of protestations about some enforced lack of “normal” the reality is that life is far more normal than it is abnormal. More significantly, the main reason for the abnormal that keeps getting in the way (like flight cancellations or schools temporarily going remote, if not closing briefly) is because people are still getting sick and can’t (and shouldn’t) come to work. While, yes, there are CDC guidelines in place that dictate how to address these issues, the reality remains that it is illness that leads to the disruptions far more than rules.

Pareene’s description of his daily life is of interest because it is in New York City, where there are more restrictions (such as vaccine passports) than there are in my neck of the woods in Alabama. If life is basically normal in NYC, the pandemic practically does not exist in Alabama in terms of daily behavior (but let’s not talk about our positivity rate). We have had no real restrictions in the state since the start of the summer (if I recall the timeline correctly) and while there is some scattered mask-wearing, the reality is that general behavior is not all that different than “normal.” The most significant issue has been temporary shifts to online for some K-12 systems to accommodate staff shortages due to sickness.

Even at the university, I am struck that faculty now fairly easily and without a lot of disruption, have shifted briefly online if they do get sick and are well enough to conduct class remotely. This, itself, has become almost normal. (And, quite frankly, this is preferable even for non-Covid illnesses–stay home and rest if you are too sick, or work remotely if you are contagious but otherwise feel well enough to work. The US propensity to bring germs into the workplace needs to stop and now is a good time to learn that behavior).

Pareene’s basic assertion of general normalcy comports with my own experience over the last year, wherein I have traveled to Dallas, TX for a funeral, South Carolina for vacation, Portland, OR for a conference, and to Georgia once for business and twice for pleasure. In all of those places, from March through this past Friday, things are pretty much “normal.” And while the range of rules varied across those places, I noted that the reality was, the main rule in force was that people did what they wanted to do.

In Dallas, in March there was no statewide mandate, but there were local masking requirements, and every store or location I entered had a “masks required” sign on the door. The observed consequence for masklessness was zero.

A great example of Pareene’s title question about the guy policing our behavior was on the ferry to Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC in July. On a very full ferry the Park Ranger who read us the rules explicitly noted in the indoor portion of the ferry (which was a lot of the ferry), masks were required by federal rule. The observed consequence for masklessness was, (I bet you guessed it), zero.

In Portland, OR in November, the rules were: masks everywhere, even outside. Most people complied (local culture matters), but I must confess walking around outside by myself in the rain and wearing a mask seemed a bit excessive. So, I decided to take my chances and go maskless out of doors. The consequence of my non-compliance was, well you get the drill.

It is actually extremely hard to find the supposed tyranny in any of this and the deviation from “normal” in most places is at most having to wear a mask. And since the courts keep gutting vaccine mandates (despite the long-term presence of other vaccine mandates for decades and decades), even that bit of forces compliance is not being enforced in most cases.

I have yet to find the guy policing our behavior (even when I forgot to re-mask after eating dinner at DFW and walking around for at least 15 minutes before realizing my lack of mask in violation of federal rules).

So, while a lot of people drone on about tyranny and about wanting to get back to normal, it is actually kind of hard to pinpoint the actual tyrannizing that is going on, let alone a specific tyrant (not that that has stopped the conservative infotainment complex from trying to make Fauci into such a figure).

Of course, as Pareene notes, there is some real lack of normalcy out there, but it is due to the virus. And the really amazing thing is that all of that is largely background noise:

the normalcy is unequally distributed. “Normal” is still an impossible state of affairs for an untold number of people with immunodeficiency or hospital jobs or dead parents or lost homes. 

Indeed, while cases are milder (especially among the vaccinated) and treatment regimes far more effective, the death from this disease is still pretty staggering. The NYT has the 7-day rolling average of deaths from Covid at 2,152.3 as of this writing. That is not normal.

And while the average daily death rate is currently not as bad as some previous peaks, it still hardly good. Ditto hospitalizations:

A lot of people have died, and are still dying. Still, I would be remiss in not noting, vaccinations matter (staggeringly so as it pertains to deaths):

Back to Pareene’s piece.

with a couple exceptions, those sorts of people, with legitimate complaints about what the unchecked spread of the virus has done to their lives, aren’t really the ones you actually see complaining so goddamn much, because most of those sorts of people don’t have the sorts of platforms that would lead me to come across their complaints. It is very much mainly people in households very much like mine (or ones that have it even easier!) that are the primary sources of the most well-publicized opining on how This Has Gone On Long Enough and It’s Time For the Democrats to Say Enough Is Enough and Make It Stop.

But, he rightly notes (as I did in my various anecdotes above) that there really isn’t a Covid Rules Police out there enforcing some bureaucrat’s rules. Rather,

What most of the restrictions on our behavior (and the behavior of most other Americans) have in common is that they are not being imposed on us by power-grabbing authority figures. They are largely decisions we made, or decisions made for us by other private actors, in response to the inescapable fact that a dangerous and highly transmissible virus is spreading rapidly throughout the city, and the state, and the country, and the world.

As such, I agree with his conclusion:

This is why I find the tenor of discussion around Covid-19 restrictions genuinely bewildering. There basically aren’t any. The United States is powering through the Omicron wave with its usual enforced individualism. The hard restrictions on our activities are, for the most part, not mandated or enforced by the state, acting at the behest of liberals who refuse to go back to normal because they are addicted to panic and quarantine; the limits are imposed by the virus that isn’t going away. My kid’s school class went remote for a while because people had Covid-19. He’s back in school now even though his principal has Covid-19. As usual in the United States, the people who won the political argument are now complaining the loudest that they’re dissatisfied with the results, and, apparently, it’s all the fault of the losers.

The reality is that, on a mass level, the policies that have won/are winning are those preferred by the anti-regulators. This has to be remembered when we have these conversations. If we had vaccine mandates for Covid akin to what is currently in place for, say, measles, we would have fewer Covid infections. If we had fewer Covid infections, we would have fewer schools closures/shifts online (same with airline cancellations).

But, again, not only did a lot of states start this school year without vaccine mandates, they also, in many cases, forbade masking rules. Indeed, states like mine made vaccine mandates illegal and forbade asking anyone their vaccine status. That we then ended up with a lot of infections in such contexts is not a surprise now, is it?

I realize, as a vaxxed-and-boosted individual who was cautious outside of his home, but who nonetheless caught Covid, that none of these measures are 100% effective. But it is not unreasonable to assume that had there been more widespread vaccination in Alabama (and Georgia–a possible source of the infection) my chances of contracting it in the first place would have been lower. Graciously, it was a very mild case.

But, again, the notion that Democrats are Covid tyrants robbing the country of normalcy is not true. First, most people are living normal lives at the moment (whatever that may mean). Second, the degree to which normalcy is derailed is because of a real and ongoing pandemic. Third, when surveying the policies the two parties have put forward to combat the pandemic, it is the Republican ones (i.e., laissezfaireing it) that have done more to ultimately disrupt our lives than things like real vaccine mandates and passport policies would have accomplished.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, COVID-19, Health, U.S. Constitution
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    If you believe that vaccine passports and masking are insidious moves to force us all into compliance with the coming Democrat-engineered Communist takeover, then yes, you’re going to believe that you’ve been robbed of your freedom.

    That’s what that loon who threatened to bring loaded guns to the school on Virginia was “venting” about.

    12
  2. James Joyner says:

    I read the piece yesterday and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. That nobody is preventing Alex from playing with his toddler inside his apartment is unremarkable. Nor is the fact that a parent with a toddler spends a whole lot of time attending to the minute needs of said toddler.

    In a larger sense, I agree with him and you. The most restrictive part of the pandemic for me was mid-March to late-May 2020, when we were pretty much sheltered in place. And there was a similar period from March 2021-May 2021 where, once fully vaccinated, I lived an almost fully normal existence outside work where, despite a 99% vaccinated workplace and before Omicron we had absurd rules in place for purely political reasons. Yet even now—when the rules are more in alignment with reality—it simply doesn’t feel anything like normal. Some of which is, as you note, a consequence of actual sickness. Some of it is political gamesmanship.

    Regardless, even if all the restrictions were perfectly reasonable throughout, two years is an incredibly long time to deviate from normal patterns when expecting normalcy to return. People are simply mentally exhausted from it all.

  3. @James Joyner: I suppose I wonder what it is that you can’t do that you need for a definition of normal as a general condition.

    3
  4. @James Joyner:

    People are simply mentally exhausted from it all.

    I agree but would still wonder as to how much actual disruption most people experience, especially as it pertains to rules being imposed on people, which is the main issue in the essay.

    3
  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Actually, I tend to look at some of these alleged restrictions as freeing. My wife won’t go to a restaurant locally due to the Omicron numbers, but is willing to do so in Boston, because of the vax mandate for restaurants. The only thing that has stopped us is the 110 mile or so round trip drive. The same thing for theaters. There’s a new jazz club in Portsmouth that I’m anxious to go to, but… While the Boston Ballet’s spring season will start soon with the requirement of proof of vax and masks. Can’t wait to go and we’ll go out to eat.

    To answer Pareene’s question, we as individuals, are putting on the restrictions, but that is an outcome from the lack of trust that is felt among the citizenry.

    2
  6. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: In terms of externally-imposed rules, it’s mostly masking at this point. In terms of pandemic-imposed disruption, it’s more significant. But I don’t think most people are separating the two.

  7. Mimai says:

    I too have observed that covid-related “rules” are rarely enforced (though this is certainly location specific). So, in a way, these rules have not been massively disruptive to people’s daily activities.

    I do think this ignores the psychological “costs” of such rules. And their shirking. I think of it like an appliance that is plugged in. Even when it’s not ON, it’s not totally OFF. That is, it still draws a low level of power, which can add up over time.

    Or to use a different metaphor, there’s the SEEN and the UNSEEN disruption.

    2
  8. Jen says:

    All around us here in NH, people seem to be acting like it’s over. Restaurants are packed, mask use varies dramatically. Plenty of friends are taking vacations…and that’s where the noisiest whiners are, because waaah, it’s uncomfortable to wear a mask on a flight.

    Some of our most careful friends and neighbors have ended up with covid recently, and what’s striking to me–at least in terms of the modified CDC recommendations–is how long the incubation rates were in the cases closest to us (neighbors). At least 7-10 days between exposure and testing positive.

    I’m fortunate. I work from home, and so does my husband. We can do contactless pickup for our groceries and order online for almost everything else. I am, however, tired of the whining.

    This will be over when it’s over and in an effort to protect the most vulnerable, government leadership should keep advocating for vaccinations and keep mask mandates in place.

    4
  9. @James Joyner:

    In terms of externally-imposed rules, it’s mostly masking at this point. In terms of pandemic-imposed disruption, it’s more significant. But I don’t think most people are separating the two

    But I think that is the point. Masking is a pain, but does it really stop people from doing what they want to do? And, moreover, are there actual consequences for nor wearing a mask?

    And, moreover, the virus-related problems are made worse by lack of rules, not the other way around. And yet, the complaints about going back to “normal” are usually about externally created rules.

    5
  10. CSK says:

    I look at it this way:

    1. There was a time, not too long ago, when the local library (an excellent one) was closed.
    2. There was a time, not too long ago, when only a certain number of people were allowed in a shop, and I had to wait outside, in bad weather, to be admitted.
    3. There was a time, not too long ago, when I had to follow arrows around a grocery store.
    4. There was a time, not too long ago, when I couldn’t leave the house, let alone travel.

    Today? I’m vaxxed. I’m boosted. Sometimes I’m required to wear a mask.

    I can handle it.

    20
  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    We now have confirmation that three rounds of Moderna or Pfizer means that absent rare complicating factors, this is no longer a fatal disease. Unless of course you exercise your personal liberty and choose to remain vulnerable.

    We lose 659,000 people a year, 1800 a day, to heart disease. But the hospitals are not overflowing with heart patients. We lose 599,000 a year, 1600 a day, to cancer, and yet we don’t seem to have a shortage of facilities to deal with it. What we have with Covid now is effectively a hospital problem. If we can manage 1.2 million heart disease and cancer deaths (and many more cases that don’t result in death) is there some reason we can’t build enough facilities for Covid and train or cross-train enough professionals?

    Absent overcrowded hospitals, in a world with wonderfully effective vaccines, we’d have no compelling reason for vaccinated people to mask up or limit their lives in any way – aside from a dislike of being sick with something like the flu. I mask up now to avoid getting the fish eye from random people, and because even if it is just a really bad cold for me, I don’t exactly enjoy really bad colds and this particular bad cold is a champion at spreading.

    Obviously mask compliance is dropping, that was inevitable and perfectly reasonable if you’re vaxxed. The people refusing to mask who should be masking are the people too fukkin dumb to get the shot. Which again, comes back to it being primarily a hospital problem, not a problem for the general public. We need to avoid the temptation to make masking into virtue signaling, like some of my fellow Angelenos who I see wearing masks while driving their cars.

    If you do want to live, but refuse to vaxx, you should wear a mask.
    If you’re vaxxed and not too worried about being sick for a week, don’t.
    If you’re vaxxed but would prefer to avoid even non-fatal, non-hospital illness, mask up.

    And if you’re a Democrat and not too afflicted with a fine moral sense, I have a question: our political enemies want to get sick and die, and our objection is what, exactly?

    4
  12. Jen says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    is there some reason we can’t build enough facilities for Covid and train or cross-train enough professionals?

    The “enough professionals” might be the hardest part.

    Many of those in the medical profession have had enough. I’m not sure that they will stick around if we loosen restrictions before covid is endemic (which it is not right now).

    2
  13. gVOR08 says:

    Ah, but you’re missing the point. GOPs need COVID tyranny to run against so there will be COVID tyranny. Real or drummed up by FOX etc., whatever works. How much real CRT is there in K-12? How many real fraudulent ballots?

    15
  14. Kathy says:

    The observed consequence for masklessness was zero.

    The immediate consequences observed might be zero. You could have made the same observation about 4 of the maskholes in our office.

    Then they caught COVID, which I count as a mid-term consequence.

    5
  15. Dave Schuler says:

    Here in Chicago there are a half dozen or so COVID-19 directives in force. If wearing masks in public and showing vaccine passports to eat in a restaurant, go to a gym, or “enjoy entertainment venues where food or drink are being served” is normal, it’s normal here.

    1
  16. Modulo Myself says:

    The thing is the pandemic lifted many restrictions on our behavior. Looking busy in order to get paid is a restriction. So is showing up on time for things for no reason whatsoever and sticking around for the exact same lack of reason. Covid blew a hole in this. If you work from home, you don’t have to fake it.

    I suspect that most of the people who want to go back to ‘normal’ love these restrictions. They want offices and the daily grind and forced behavior. Covid took this away from them, and they want it back. But they’re never going to get it. I had a conversation with someone who graduated and she got a job out of college working from home. Basically, she’s never ever had to look busy or worry if she took too many coffee breaks, and her attitude is fuck that, because what other attitude could you have?

    7
  17. MarkedMan says:

    It’s probably too late but it would have been wonderful if some nationwide group had asked their members to go to as many supermarkets as possible and take a picture of customers waiting in line at the checkout counter. It would be very useful to know what an area was like before deciding to locate there. My wife and I are considering locations for retirement and would like to eliminate any areas where local or state officials and the general public consider loons on the internet a better source of advice than the CDC. It would also be useful for companies who are considering new locations. If they want to attract intelligent and motivated professionals they can avoid areas that were unmasked during the pandemic. And if they are looking for low wage, low information, gullible factory workers, they can take the opposite tack.

    4
  18. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If we can manage 1.2 million heart disease and cancer deaths (and many more cases that don’t result in death) is there some reason we can’t build enough facilities for Covid and train or cross-train enough professionals?

    Cancer and heart disease aren’t contagious. The healthcare workers who care for those patients aren’t bringing cancer home to the family. They also aren’t being regularly harassed because heart disease isn’t real.

    But, yes, we could spend our way out of this, increasing hospital capacity, hiring doctors and nurses away from other countries, and then the add-on effects of hospital overcrowding. And it would be a big boon for the funeral services industry. And likely help social security, if we gloss over disability from long covid.

    5
  19. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Well, you might consider Massachusetts, if you can stand the winter weather. Seventy-six percent of the populace is fully vaxxed, and 94% have had at least one shot. Great medical care, great scenery, great museums, galleries, libraries, universities (and all the advantages that come with them). Highest IQ of any state. And the food shopping in New England is supposed to be better than anywhere in the U.S.

    A lot of people retire to Cape Cod.

    3
  20. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: The Northeast is the strong favorite.

    1
  21. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Jen, Sleeping Dog, Darryl and His Other Brother Darryl (I think), and I await you and Mrs. MM.

    1
  22. Jen says:

    @CSK: I love New England, but we are seriously considering Vermont or Maine for retirement. New Hampshire needs more Massachusetts expats to balance out the Free Staters.

    3
  23. steve says:

    “is there some reason we can’t build enough facilities for Covid and train or cross-train enough professionals?”

    Everyone geared up for the first surge and it was OK. The problem is that it keeps happening over and over. It is difficult especially because you get rapid, big surges and because a lot need the ICU. So you need a lot of specialists and fast. Then all of a sudden you dont. It takes a long time to train people to do ICU care. Once trained they need to practice regularly to maintain skills. Someone has to pay them to do all of that. As this keeps going on some of the people that have the skills are leaving. It is exhausting and draining to keep seeing people die and the abuse by the anti-vaxxers is the final straw.

    Steve

    10
  24. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: Thanks. Our daughter graduated from Emerson a few years ago. We definitely enjoyed Boston whenever we visited

    2
  25. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I do think the lack of enforcement is beside the point. When we had our most severe lockdown in 2020, there were no COVID police. And even when masking was the law, there was flouting. But that very fact makes people angry and stressed. Unless you’re a complete sociopath, you know that people think you’re an asshole if you’re flouting the rules. And thinking that half your fellow patrons at the grocery store are assholes is stressful. That brief period where no one was expected to mask was a blessed relief because of that.

    3
  26. Scott F. says:

    @gVOR08: I was going to go with green M&M’s not really being sexually oppressed, but I’m with you. As long as the COVID controls can effectively be made the bogeyman, the Republicans will make them out to be so.

    1
  27. @Kathy: Well, sure. But the point was about rules being enforced.

  28. Dude Kembro says:

    From the WSJ, today, ‘Schools May Be Open—But They’re Struggling’:

    Schools should be open, pandemic or not, much of the public says. If only they all had what they need to function…

    “Everybody’s kind of freaking out,” said Delia Marcus, 17. “We haven’t really learned anything.”…

    …While many officials and parents nationwide push to keep kids in school and away from remote learning, Omicron has left many schools short of the essentials needed to operate, like teachers, substitutes, bus drivers, cafeteria workers—and sometimes students themselves.

    Americans are mad because we can’t admit that what’s disrupting our lives isn’t evil teachers and nanny state liberal restrictions but COVID itself and our refusal to do what’s necessary to reduce its spread.

    They wanted COVID to be hoax, to be a mild flu, to be a plot by Bill Gates and Fauci, to be something that we can wish away without consequence. So don’t mask, don’t get vaccinated, elect Youngkin, trash the experts, block the mandates, open the schools and — voila! — all the frustrating disruptions would disappear.

    But whoops! Turns out the virus doesn’t watch Fox News and doesn’t care how much applause Bari Weiss gets from Bill Maher’s audience. The virus is still going to infect people, and still cause disruptions.

    Which, obviously, is all the fault of Biden and Democrats. Because of course it is.

    COVID-downplayers and denialists are the dog that caught the car. They’re mad they won the argument.

    13
  29. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.: I was just thinking that before all these covid restrictions, the M&Ms were sexier and more carefree. It’s socialism, I tell you!

    1
  30. Scott O says:

    @Steven Taylor
    “ In Portland, OR in November, the rules were: masks everywhere, even outside. Most people complied (local culture matters), but I must confess walking around outside by myself in the rain and wearing a mask seemed a bit excessive. So, I decided to take my chances and go maskless out of doors. The consequence of my non-compliance was, well you get the drill”

    You were lucky, the FBI was busy going after people saying Merry Christmas at the time.

    2
  31. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “But that very fact makes people angry and stressed. Unless you’re a complete sociopath, you know that people think you’re an asshole if you’re flouting the rules.”

    I think there is something to this, and in some people’s minds we won’t be back to normal until no one is wearing masks, and there is no talk about COVID restrictions.

    I also think Tom Tomorrow has the correct response.

    1
  32. mattbernius says:

    @steve:
    Thanks as always from your perspective from inside the health system. I think we need to stop referring to what ya’ll have been through as a “marathon” because marathons end and there is still no end in sight for you. I hope your system is providing adequate mental and emotional care for staff–not to mention PTO.

    1
  33. wr says:

    @James Joyner: ” Unless you’re a complete sociopath, you know that people think you’re an asshole if you’re flouting the rules.”

    Well, gosh, if only there was some way to stop people from thinking you’re an asshole. I guess eliminating all rules is the only way, because otherwise as soon as you start flouting them, there go all those other people thinking bad thoughts about you.

    It does seem to me that there has to be a simple solution to the problem of people thinking you’re an asshole whenever you flout the rules, but it’s just escaping me right now.

    5
  34. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “And thinking that half your fellow patrons at the grocery store are assholes is stressful. ”

    You mean you waited until Covid to start thinking that half your fellow patrons at the grocery store are assholes?

    3
  35. James Joyner says:

    @wr: Sure. And I dutifully wore my mask even when I thought it was silly. But the notion that it’s no big deal because I’m not going to be arrested if I don’t comply is simply untrue.

    @wr: There’s a difference between suspecting that a large number of people are assholes and having the particular ones who are being blatantly obvious. And, I, for one, find it stressful. “Why isn’t this jerk wearing a mask?” “Why, given that wearing a mask is voluntary right now, is this jerk wearing one but like a bib?” I never had to worry about these things before.

    1
  36. Andy says:

    It’s been a busy weekend, so I’m just catching up on OTB threads now and won’t get back to the earlier ones where there are replies waiting for me.

    In general, I agree that most people are mostly back to normal. I think this is yet another case where very online people and media types are panicking and catastrophizing while “normies” are exhibiting a much better sense and calculus for risk and correct policies. And at least in my experience, most people I know personally on the right and left have come to the conclusion that protecting oneself and family from Covid is a personal responsibility and the tools to achieve that are readily accessible and free to everyone. So there’s a strong sense that inconveniences to try to protect people who aren’t interested in protecting themselves are not worth it, much less more aggressive measures.

    But, again, the notion that Democrats are Covid tyrants robbing the country of normalcy is not true.

    That is indeed the case, but again, I think there is a big segment of the small group of really online people who, at least online, act like covid authoritarians. This is just a reason, though, to ignore this loud online minority.

    Third, when surveying the policies the two parties have put forward to combat the pandemic, it is the Republican ones (i.e., laissez–faireing it) that have done more to ultimately disrupt our lives than things like real vaccine mandates and passport policies would have accomplished.

    Looking again at “normies” and not elite or the very online, I don’t think there is much support even among Democrats for those policies. Despite the very clear authority that states have to issue vaccine mandates, none have chosen to do a general mandate and the record is still mixed when considering mandates for public employees. New York City is, AFAIK, the only municipality in the country that’s trying a general mandate that applies to something approaching everything and even that is limited to workplace enforcement. Vaccine passports are only in place in a handful of super-blue municipalities and even there only apply to some businesses. Most normies are skeptical of these policies, it’s not just GoP obstruction.

    And if you look in Europe, which is mostly composed of nation-states with much higher levels of social trust and cohesion, there are no population-wide vaccine mandates for Covid. Austria will be the first to attempt this in February. In most of Europe, vaccination mandates are similar to where they are in the US – mostly confined to health care and public employees.

    Finally, I would just note, as I do here very frequently, that process matters. How a policy is achieved is often more important than the policy itself particularly if one is concerned about legitimacy.

    A case in point is Austria’s upcoming mandate which was enacted by parliament. Representatives of the people of Austria voted for it and approved it. In contrast, I’m not aware of any state here in the US that has subjected mandates or attempted mandates or other serious measures to any kind of democratic legitimacy. And certainly the federal government has not either.

    It’s clear from SCOTUS presents that state governments have the authority to require people to get vaccinated. And the federal government may have that power as well contingent upon the authorization of Congress. Yet none have done so and those who argue most strenuously for a general mandate seek to avoid having anyone actually vote on it, preferring instead to rely on government fiat. Even in NYC, the mandate there is still tied to existing workplace regulations.

    My position has always been that government-imposed covid restrictions (or government restrictions generally) ought to be subject to democratic processes. Emergency actions might be necessary for the early stages of a crisis, but we are now two years into this, and actions taken by the government ought to have democratic authorization and legitimacy. That goes for those who want more covid restrictions as well as those who want to prevent others from imposing any restrictions.

  37. Just to add clarity (although I reread the post and I think I was pretty clear).

    1. My main point is that whatever lack of normal we have, and we definitely have quite a bit of abnormality, it is being created primarily by the virus itself, not contra a lot of complaints in the mediasphere, by power-mad bureaucrats.

    2. The degree to which there are rules, those rules are not that hard for most people to ignore.

    3. Most of us are living life not that differently than before. Apart from the significant lock-downs in the Spring of 2020, life is not as disrupted as some suggest.

    But yes, I acknowledge the mental toll of all of this.

    FWIW, I started my day dealing with work-related Covid issues, so the beat definitely goes on. I had some to deal with over the weekend as well. Although, to a point I made in the post, I would note that if everyone involved had been vaxxed and boosted, the issues in question would not have been issues.

    In other words, the lack of application of the truly needed procedures (vaccinations in full) are helping to keep the frustrations going.

    Again, the case positivity rate in Alabama is a direct result of insufficient vaccinations.

    3
  38. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    And likely help social security, if we gloss over disability from long covid.

    Get ready for the future political block of rural white people living on COVID disability who spend all their time complaining about Government welfare spending

    2
  39. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    3. Most of us are living life not that differently than before.

    I’m still living my life significantly differently than before: I try to avoid leaving my home on weekends, just because I hate being around people who clearly don’t care. Just last week I made the mistake of going to the grocery store on a Saturday because I didn’t get a chance to shop during the week like I normally do and ended up in line behind a guy, unmasked, who was obviously sick with something and coughing all over the place and had to get out of line to go to another and people were giving me the stink I like I’m the bad person for not wanting the plaguerat hacking his pestilence all over my food.

    1
  40. @Andy:

    ought to be subject to democratic processes.

    My perhaps too-tired-for-Monday-morning-already immediately snarky response is: I wish we had some. That response is at least semi-serious, however.

    At a minimum, our legislatures (national and state) are designed for slowness and obstruction and hence they do not respond

    I agree about the problems with emergency orders. I agree that Congress should be acting on all of this. And that the reality of the dysfunctional nature of Congress is at the heart of a lot of this.

    A case in point is Austria’s upcoming mandate which was enacted by parliament. Representatives of the people of Austria voted for it and approved it.

    And this makes for an excellent comparative counter-point to the US that fits into what I usually write about. Austria has effectively one veto gate that needs to be opened to enact such legislation: the parliament. While it is bicameral, the first chamber has all the legislative power it needs to do what you have described. Further, Austria has PR and a multiparty system. The people vote and parliament is a decent representation of the the population’s political preferences. A government is formed and it can then govern until the next election. It is a very different democratic context.

    2
  41. @Stormy Dragon: Fair enough.

    But, to my point, the “rules” aren’t creating those conditions.

    And I still maintain, as noted, that “most” people are not behaving as you are.

    I feel the need to continually stress, I am not saying that everything is, in fact, utterly normal.

    And FWIW, there are still aspects of my own behavior that I have modified as a result of the virus.

  42. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think that explains the lack of legislative action at the federal level and it should also be noted that our system is much more federalized than Austria.

    But what explains the lack of Democratic action i at the state level? A few regulars here live in California for instance, and Michael and others have written about how the GoP has no power in the state anymore. The roadblocks that exist at the federal in both partisan political and structural terms do not exist in California (and other states). What then, is the reason for the lack of legislative action and authority?

    My theory is that mandates and other restrictions are not popular except among a relatively small number of mostly online people. IOW, legislatures don’t bring this up because they know it wouldn’t pass.

  43. Andy says:

    And I’d note that is the case here in Colorado – we have unified Democratic government but everyone realizes that mandates and wide restrictions are not popular.

  44. EddieInCA says:

    Normal?

    In the last seven weeks, I’ve done the following:

    Flew to NYC Dec 2 on a crowded American Airlines flight.
    Took the Airtrain and crowded subway from JFK to Manhattan.
    Ate in several NYC restaurants where I had to show my vax card.
    Went to see the Harry Potter play on Broadway.
    Went to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree. (Wall to wall people like a mosh pit at a concert)
    Flew back to Los Angles Dec. 5th on a full Delta flight.
    Went to LACMA to see the official Obama Portraits (packed with people).
    Went to the immersive Van Gogh Exhibit (packed with people).
    Went to the Rams/49ers game at SoFi Stadium with 80,000 other people.
    Went to the Rams/Cardinals game at SoFi with 80,000 other people.

    All the while working with 125 other people daily, and having 1-3 positive Covid cases every single day.

    Despite my activities, none of it was “Normal.” If this is the new normal, it’s not normal.

    2
  45. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    But what explains the lack of Democratic action i at the state level? A few regulars here live in California for instance, and Michael and others have written about how the GoP has no power in the state anymore.

    Can’t speak for the other Californians, but locally in Los Angeles, the state doesn’t have to get involved because the local municipalities are doing it themselves. In Los Angeles County, “Everyone 2 years of age and older must* wear a mask in all indoor public settings, venues, gatherings, public and private businesses and at outdoor Mega Events, regardless of their vaccination status.”. Remember, Los Angeles County, the county alone, has more population than 41 states.

    In the City of Los Angeles, “All patrons who wish to visit indoor restaurants, movie theaters, hair and nail salons, coffee shops, gyms, museums, bowling alleys and performance venues, must show proof of vaccination to enter”.

    No need for the state to get involved here.

    1
  46. DK says:

    @Andy:

    The roadblocks that exist at the federal in both partisan political and structural terms do not exist in California (and other states). What then, is the reason for the lack of legislative action and authority?

    My theory is that mandates and other restrictions are not popular except among a relatively small number of mostly online people.

    Gavin Newsom was elected in a democratic process. When a “relatively small number of mostly online people” tried to recall him — thinking, incorrectly, that his COVID measures are unpopular here — California rebuked them and endorsed him.

    Biden’s federal government was democratically elected. Literally. He got 7+ million more votes than his opponent, with a popular mandate to take COVID mitigation seriously.

    Federal and state legislatures are elected. At the federal level this has undemocratic elements, but still. These voted-in legislatures have created agencies with regulation power, under authority of elected governors and elected presidents.

    So I don’t get this “government fiat” talk, we’re self-governed: it’s called elections. Leaders are making the decisions they’ve been elected to make — delegating as necessary to civil servants seated and empowered by elected officials.

    We don’t need a plebiscite vote on every COVID directive. Most of us in California understand this and found the attempt wasteful and irritating. If we don’t like how Newsom, Biden, legislators, mayors etc decide and delegate, we’ll vote accordingly in the next election (see Trump, Donald).

    3
  47. DK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But yes, I acknowledge the mental toll of all of this.

    You’re being diplomatic and good for you. I am less so. Americans are tiresome and weak. It’s pathetic and embarassing, really.

    My grandmother grew up black and female in rural Georgia. She lived through the Great Depression, WW2, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights struggle, the sexual revolution (that finally allowed her to get a credit card without a man’s consent), Watergate, 70s inflation, the 80s crime wave, Bill Clinton’s sex mess, 9/11, the Great Recession, Obama, and finally the whitelash to Obama, electing a neofascist birth bigot over her beloved Hillary. She passed on just before his inauguration.

    She had a strict “no whining” rule. Some of my cousins thought her overly-tough, lacking in understanding and empathy for their problems. Their problems. I laughed in their faces.

    Meanwhile, we’re “stressed” over the “disruption” of wearing a mask in a store and what people will think if we don’t. Poor us.

    We are a lucky people to live now, because modern America could never make the sacrifices necessary to successfully defeat the Third Reich. Which explains a lot about Putin’s current behavior.

    8
  48. Stormy Dragon says:

    @DK:

    What were her thoughts about people whining about whining?

  49. @Andy:

    But what explains the lack of Democratic action i at the state level?

    It is the same basic institutional design: bicameralism with a separately elected executive.

    It is a system the is not well suited to proactive policy-making and, moreover, that is prone to want to give the elected executive emergency powers because it is easier.

    There is also the simple fact that national party politics affects local partisan behavior as well.

    2
  50. Andy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Can’t speak for the other Californians, but locally in Los Angeles, the state doesn’t have to get involved because the local municipalities are doing it themselves.

    Thanks, I don’t follow state politics outside of Colorado very much. Why do you think this is a municipal/county thing and not a state-level thing? Why is the state legislature not passing legislation to enact those policies state-wide?

    @DK:

    What you are describing is an elected dictatorship. But things don’t actually work that way. Executives like Biden and Newsom are supposed to administer and manage the policies set down by legislatures.

    The point here is that neither one has the authority to impose a vaccination mandate, except in certain limited circumstances that apply only to certain limited groups of people (ie. health care workers and public employees) that are largely based on authority that was established before Covid. They cannot do what Austria is doing without – at a minimum – legislative approval. So the point is that if one desires an actual vaccine mandate, then it should and must go through the democratic process.

    And no one has said anything about a plebiscite – that’s what legislatures are for.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    There are plenty of countries in Europe that don’t have our institutional design and also are not authorizing general vaccine requirements. That leads me to the conclusion that institutional design isn’t the major factor here. My view is that the primary reason there are no general vaccine mandates is that they are not politically popular – not just here in the US, but pretty much everywhere.

  51. @Andy:

    There are plenty of countries in Europe that don’t have our institutional design and also are not authorizing general vaccine requirements.

    I was responding to what I thought was your position that we needed more democratic feedback and not a reliance on emergency orders.

    I was not suggesting that better democratic feedback would result in specific policy outcomes.

  52. DK says:

    @Stormy Dragon: What are your thoughts about whining about people whining about people who whine?

    Who’s on first? What’s on second?

  53. DK says:

    @Andy: You’re describing an inability to accept that agencies and civil servant positions are created, empowered, and overseen by democratically elected legislative bodies, and thus the democratically elected executives in charge of those agents already have all the legislative authority they need.

    The OHSA and CDC and [insert regulatory agency here] weren’t created by dictators, they were created by Congress. The idea that they are supposed to just wait around for legislatures to approve their regulations is silly. It might be better for optics for legislatures to weigh in, but even our very right wing Apartheid Court has approved every vaccine-or-test mandate but one.

    Congress did not intend for the OHSA to sit around doing nothing, waiting for Congress to approve every workplace safety mandate it issues. The Act creating the OHSA, passed and signed into law in 1970, authorizes it to “assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Those words are just one example of the legislative authority you’re looking for but can’t admit.

    1
  54. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    Why do you think this is a municipal/county thing and not a state-level thing?

    The answer to that question is in my response above. People forget how big California actually is, including you. As I said, my COUNTY has more people in it than the entire state of Colorado… BY 4.7 MILLION people. So our county mandate covers 10.4 million people. Colorado has 5.7 million people – in the entire state.

    Californa has 12% of the nation’s total population. It has 4 counties with more than 3 million people. It has 4 of the top 10 counties in the country, by population.

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/241702/largest-counties-in-the-us/

    So statewide might make sense for a state like Colorado, or Nebraska, or Georgia. It makes no sense in California.

    1
  55. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I was responding to what I thought was your position that we needed more democratic feedback and not a reliance on emergency orders.

    Yes, that is my main point, using various mandates as an example. And further, I’m skeptical of those who wish to avoid democratic accountability by relying on emergency orders and the expedience of executive and administrative authority. Such methods were necessary in 2020, they are not necessary in 2022.

    @DK:

    The problem with your position is that there is no limiting principle. If an agency has the authority to do literally anything as long as the horseshoe lands somewhat close to its nominal purpose, then Executive branch power is essentially unlimited. That same logic was used, just as one example, by the Bush administration to declare that certain enemies of the US were neither battlefield combatants nor mere criminals by the Bush administration.

    I think this post from Lawfare makes the same point, in particular this part:

    In an era when agency statutes are several decades old, it’s not necessarily unreasonable for presidents and agencies to try to make do with the authorities at their disposal. After all, there are often new problems that older statutes might not have anticipated. The question is what to do in the face of ambiguity. Should presidents go back to statutes that might have been written several decades ago, in the context of different policy issues, and consider how they apply to agency actions in the present day, or should they await new instructions from Congress? Should any of that change in the context of an emergency? The Occupational Safety and Health Act, for example, is from 1970. The idea that part of the president’s job is to root around in his bag of authorities to see what might be helpful to address a pressing situation will trouble you more or less depending on what you think the Constitution says about the president’s job and that of Congress.

    I do think there is wiggle-room for Presidents to apply statutes to new situations, but that ability is limited in both scope and time.

  56. Andy says:

    @EddieInCA: @EddieInCA:

    So statewide might make sense for a state like Colorado, or Nebraska, or Georgia. It makes no sense in California.

    I’m well aware of the size difference regarding LA county and don’t think it’s irrelevant to my question. California has a population of ~40 million. As big as LA County is, that is still only 1/4 of the state. Why does statewide action not make sense for the remainder of the state’s population? LA County is not California.

  57. Dude Kembro says:

    @Andy:

    The problem with your position is that there is no limiting principle.

    There are multiple limiting factors: public opinion, courts, legislative oversight, and elections. We’re seeing all of these limitations happen in real time, right now. This is democracy, however flawed, in action.

    1