Cuomo’s Thanksgiving troubles remind me of an encounter years ago at Reagan National Airport.
While waiting toward the back of a long and slow-moving security line at Reagan National Airport some years ago, I noticed a congressman and his young aide standing a few passengers ahead of me. I was impressed that this relatively well-known lawmaker was waiting patiently with everyone else instead of pulling rank. Then, of course, he pulled rank.
The congressman whispered to his companion, and the two men proceeded to the front of the queue, where they flashed their badges and were escorted through security ahead of the rest of us.
On some level, politicians have always believed that they deserve special treatment, that the ordinary rules don’t apply to them. They have pushed for limits on school choice for the poor while sending their own children to private schools. They have advocated for gun control and defunding the police while being protected by armed security guards. They have denounced the influence of money in politics while courting wealthy donors at closed-door fundraisers.
But the coronavirus protocol breaches we’ve witnessed this year could wind up being far more consequential if they lead to less support for nanny-state policies. Conservatives, who are more constitutionally averse to busybody politicians making decisions for people, were always warier of lockdowns and the rationale behind them. What has changed since the spring is growing skepticism of public-health edicts among liberals.
People in reliably blue states (California, New York, Oregon) as well as in the states that made Donald Trump a one-term president (Wisconsin, Michigan)—have been standing in line for three and four hours to get a Covid-19 test before traveling this week. These people are perfectly aware that infection rates are rising and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly cautions against celebrating the holiday with people outside your household. Alas, many of them don’t seem to care anymore. According to the American Automobile Association, there could be as many as 50 million Thanksgiving travelers this year, only 10% less than in 2019.
This is a form of mass civil disobedience like nothing the country has seen since the 1960s. Some of it is born of Covid fatigue, to be sure. But the endless parade of politicians flouting their own rules surely has also played a role. It began shortly after the spring lockdowns and if anything has become more commonplace, even farcical.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi violated lockdown orders to get their hair done, which sounds like something a Kardashian would do. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney sneaked out of state to dine at a restaurant in neighboring Maryland because eateries back home were closed to indoor customers. When Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and members of her staff traveled to Delaware to celebrate Joe Biden’s presidential victory, they violated Covid quarantine requirements. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who tweeted in July that “wearing masks in public should be mandatory,” has been spotted several times in public not wearing a mask while she was indoors and chatting face to face with others.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom was caught dining indoors with lobbyists at a restaurant in violation of his own pandemic rules for the state. And in New York, which has recorded more coronavirus deaths than any other state, public outrage finally forced Gov. Andrew Cuomo to disinvite his 89-year-old mother and two adult daughters from Thanksgiving dinner in Albany.
What’s going on is not simply hypocrisy but an infantilization of the American public. There’s a widespread assumption among liberal elites that the rest of us are incapable of calculating risks and taking necessary precautions to ride out the pandemic, and it’s insulting. Messrs. Newsom and Cuomo and Mrs. Pelosi may take the virus seriously, but they’ve weighed the odds of becoming infected and acted accordingly. They figure they probably won’t get it, and even if they do, they’ll be fine after a few days. They know that most people don’t become seriously ill and that the already high survival rate has been climbing as we’ve learned more about treating the virus.
The decision of so many millions of Americans to buck public-health warnings, trust their common sense, and spend Thanksgiving with loved ones is a welcome indication that people may be tiring of all this condescension. How the political class responds is another matter. These are the same politicians who had no shame about gathering at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in July to eulogize the late Rep. John Lewis even while millions of grieving Americans were barred from giving their own loved ones proper funerals. Then again, I doubt the congressman would have minded the special treatment any more than he did when he cut the line at Reagan National Airport.
This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images