Barone: 2020 – The year America went crazy

By Michael Barone |

Did America go crazy in 2020? I suspect observers years hence will think so. Because of the responses of both elite officials and ordinary Americans to the COVID-19 epidemic starting last February and to the shocking Minneapolis police video released over the Memorial Day weekend.

The response to COVID-19 was unprecedented and disproportionate to the threat.
Initially, the epidemic evoked memories of Ebola and SARS, diseases not readily contagious but fatal for roughly half of those infected. Intensive testing, contact tracing, and quarantines were indicated then and initially were hailed as effective in island countries — Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and New Zealand.

But in a continent-sized, globally-connected United States, a disease that is highly contagious but often asymptomatic could not be stamped out that way.

And a respiratory ailment with a lower fatality rate among those under 65 than a bad year’s influenza surely didn’t justify the extended lockdowns and restrictions on others (no garden seeds!) that threw the economy into sharp reversal and devastated many low-wage workers.
Worries that proved unwarranted about overwhelming ICUs resulted in responses such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order sending COVID-19 patients to assisted living facilities were deadly mistakes.

COVID-19 split Americans on partisan lines, with Democrats pushing for and Republicans pushing against strict lockdowns. Experts lionized by legacy media were often no help, disparaging international travel bans as xenophobia and then endorsing interstate travel bans, saying people shouldn’t wear masks and then that they must, bashing people who thronged to wind-swept beaches and cheering others thronging to tightly packed anti-police demonstrations.

Those “mostly peaceful” demonstrations were protests of an arrestee’s death in Minneapolis recorded in a shocking video. This incident seems to have convinced millions of Americans, with encouragement from legacy media, that the nation faced a sudden upsurge of white police officers killing innocent blacks.

Statistics tell another story. The Washington Post’s chronicle, begun when Black Lives Matter exploited the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri, case, showed that the number of police shootings of black suspects had been declining and the proportion was far lower than the proportion of violent crimes committed by (and against) blacks, as the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald pointed out.

Democratic politicians rallied to join the BLM cause, with kente cloth-clad congressional leaders kneeling in ceremony. Defunding the police became not just a rallying cry but public policy in Democratic-run central cities, with $282 million in police budget cuts in New York, $150 million in Los Angeles, $69 million in Seattle, $60 million in San Francisco, $50 million in Denver.

De-policing, whether from defunding or from police officers avoiding proactive policing for fear of career-ending confrontations, results in more violent crime. Just as violent crime rose in cities such as St. Louis and Baltimore after the BLM’s Ferguson and other protests, so from 2019 to 2020, murders have increased 72% in Minneapolis, 39% in New York, 55% in Chicago, 78% in Louisville, 51% in Portland. Most of those murdered, by the way, are black.

Murder rates shot up after Memorial Day, and while final data aren’t available, it looks like murders nationwide are up over 2019 by at least 15%. That would be the biggest one-year increase ever recorded, 12.7% in 1968 — also a tumultuous election year that saw multiple urban riots and the horrifying assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
It was a time when “police brutality” was far more common than today, and in the midst of a decade, 1965-75, when violent crime roughly tripled. It was only brought down by proactive policing reforms initiated by Rudy Giuliani in New York and pursued by many others. Murders in New York fell from 2200 to 300; now they’re on what threatens to be a continuing upswing again.

It should be noted that1968 was also the year the Hong Kong flu struck the United States and killed 100,000 here and 1 to 4 million worldwide. But we had no substantial lockdowns then, and nothing like the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendation that 87 million “essential workers” should get vaccinations before the 53 million Americans over 65, on the “equity” ground that a larger percentage of the latter than the former are black.

This recommendation was reversed after liberal writers such as Matthew Yglesias, Nate Silver, and Yascha Mounk pointed out that it would result in many more black (and more total) deaths. But it’s interesting, and chilling, that 14 highly credentialed public health experts, like the mostly white elites who have supported Black Lives Matter’s platform have gravitated in the name of “equity” to policies that result in more black deaths. It’s as if they think preserving black lives is less important than stigmatizing America as racist.

It’s been a crazy year.

Michael Barone is the senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, a resident fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, and the longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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