Covid-19 Police State: How will Americans react when restrictions on their movements are no longer voluntary?


When the Checkpoints Come

How will Americans react when restrictions on their movements are no longer voluntary?



“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” The first line of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is pregnant with the novella’s whole plot, wherein a military dictatorship turns fertile women into sex slaves. When authoritarian control descends in fiction, it often does so like this, through narrative retrospect. From the vantage point of the future, the past’s mundane trifles become newly absorbing. Atwood’s gymnasium is meaningful because sleeping there is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

Today, as COVID-19 tears across the globe, signs of authoritarian control are making the jump from fiction to reality. In China, which already operates a massive and very real security state, facial recognition, phone data, and helmet-mounted thermal cameras have helped authorities control the outbreak. These efforts are so widespread, they have already been propagandized, in promotional videos wherein drones disperse groups of people playing newly dangerous sidewalk games of mah-jongg. But even democratic states are taking extremely invasive measures to control the virus. All of Italy is on lockdown: no school, university, theater, cinema, nightlife, sports, funerals, or weddings. When Italian police see people on the streets, they send them home. French citizens, also under lockdown, now need to carry a signed travel pass when leaving home. “We are at war,” French President Emmanuel Macron said of the measure.


The United States is next in line. San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California, are on lockdown. New York City might follow suit by the time you read this. New York State, along with New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, and others, has closed restaurants by decree of law. In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser forced one resistant restaurant group to comply with a similar order. In Washington State, where the U.S. outbreak is among the worst, entertainment and recreation facilities have been shut down. Likewise New York’s Broadway theaters. More retail and service businesses fall to the exigencies of the pandemic every day. Ordinary life is suspended, indefinitely.

The spread of the coronavirus is likely to get worse before it gets better, and more extreme restrictions like the ones already seen in Europe and Asia might be coming to America. Israel has started tracking the cellphones of infected people, and the U.S. government reportedly wants to do likewise. Already, we can feel this dark prospect creeping into daily life. On Tuesday, during a drive to a (responsibly social-distanced) family hike, our friendly minivan passed a menacing black Suburban parked on the side of the road, the blue lights of its official authority flashing. What would have been a surprising oddity a mere week ago now seems like an ominous forecast: Soon, perhaps, papers might be requested, temperatures might be taken, passage might be prohibited.

How would we respond?

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-police-state-america/608365/

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