It’s human nature to resist admitting errors. If this pattern persists enough, and the errors are big enough, it can become a psychopathology. To prevent this is why every great religious tradition instills a discipline of penance and contrition. Through one means or another, it is crucial to admit, honestly and completely, when one does wrong, accept responsibility, and make a firm purpose of amendment to not repeat the error.
The hope is that this habit becomes ingrained in ways of living. This way we can be better people and build better societies. Without contrition, with the taking of responsibility, errors and evils go unchecked and devour progress both personally and societally. This is especially true for epic, sweeping, and gravely consequential sins: there must be an accounting.
This is what is most worrying about the past three years. Truly, whole institutions, habits, laws, expectations, and hopes have been dashed against the rocks—by governments all over the world working with formerly trusted people in media and business—under the excuse of virus control.
We live with the carnage and will for decades. Some people will never recover. Millions of businesses will never return. Lives went into enormous upheaval. Many people died unnecessarily. Nearly everyone alive today has a tragic story to tell. It compares with war in terms of the scale of disruption and tragedy.
And yet we are nowhere near, as a people and culture, connecting the dots and coming up with a clear narrative about what precisely happened. Daily we see stories in the mainstream press documenting increases in excess deaths, falling life expectancy, illiteracy among the young, ill health in the working-age population, rampant substance abuse, widespread depression, falling birthrates, and a loss of trust.
And yet very few of these stories ask, much less answer, the question of why. The reason is as obvious as the excuse for not mentioning it. The lockdowns and mandates—totalitarian in their essence—were widely supported in nearly all elite circles of opinion. And none among them is willing to stand up and take responsibility.
This week, Anthony Fauci told the New York Times: “show me a school that I shut down and show me a factory that I shut down. Never. I never did. I gave a public-health recommendation that echoed the C.D.C.’s recommendation, and people made a decision based on that. But I never criticized the people who had to make the decisions one way or the other.”
That is complete rubbish. He said publicly dozens of times that he was the one who advised the lockdowns. He defended them at every opportunity. He warned against opening and returning to school. He was the ultimate alarmist about gathering with family and traveling. He has been a proud proponent of the lockdowns at every step. But now that there is some regret out there and a growing public anger about what happened, he is refusing any responsibility. He says it is all the CDC’s fault and he was merely passing on the recommendations of some agency with which he was not involved. Maybe one is tempted to call the CDC and find out who there is responsible. I guarantee you that you will find no one. These days, everyone is blaming everyone else.
So we end up with a grotesque absurdity. Billions of lives were profoundly affected and wrecked all over the world. And yet it is nearly impossible to find a single person who will stand up and plainly say: I gave the order and now I regret it. This complete lack of penance or even admission of guilt is rampant at every level of government all over the world.
Making matters more complicated, many of those involved are gone from their posts. Donald J. McNeil, the first reporter in the United States to drum up public hysteria, is gone from the New York Times. The Cuomos are gone from government and media. The bureaucrats who headed the CDC are gone. Many governors are gone and many officials have snuck away from their posts. There has been massive turnover in the tech companies too.
Michael Lewis’s book “The Premonition” celebrates the mind of Carter Mecher of the Veterans Administration for being the first to see that lockdowns were the key to solving the pathogenic problem. And yet apart from this book, and the interviews he freely gave to the author on the condition that he be made the hero, no one has heard a peep from the guy in three years.
A few days ago, a thing called The COVID Crisis Group released a new book. It’s called “Lessons from the COVID War: An Investigative Report.” There is no PDF. You have to buy it. The lead author is the well-known fixer Philip Zelikow, who wrote the 9-11 Commission report. Included among the team is none other than Carter Mecher himself, who bears more responsibility for school closings than anyone else. Also there is Rajeev Venkayya, the one-time Bush administration official who is widely credited with having invented the very concept of lockdowns.
In other words, the people who did this to us are the very people who have tasked themselves with “investigating” whether they did a good job. Their conclusion is that not all went well and that’s because we didn’t have enough centralization, preparedness, coordination, and funding. In other words, the entire report is a whitewash and a plea to repeat the entire thing except worse.
To get a sense of this group, I watched their press conference. One speaker in passing spoke of Donald Trump as a “comorbidity on the body politic,” in that patented sniffy academic tone you get from this set, and everyone laughed and agreed. That he was the president elected by the people and could very well be again matters not at all. It is a doctrine among these people that Trump is a stand-in for all evil things. On that, they can count on full agreement among each other and their social set.
We can expect zero in the way of honesty, accountability, or contrition from this group. And yet there they are. The Washington Post says that this is the most authoritative voice out there and that is the end of the story. Sadly, Trump himself has yet to speak about what happened in any clear way. He is in a position to out this whole group while admitting that his bureaucrats rolled him. But he has so far refused.
Our times are very much like the days following a terrible war, especially World War I. Even now, there is no clear explanation for how so many nations found themselves shipping off so many young men to trauma, injury, and death, and then redrawing the map of Europe in ways that would guarantee many more decades of conflict.
It happened and there wasn’t anyone willing to stand up and take responsibility for the disaster. A settled opinion among the victors was that it was all Germany’s fault but no serious historian believes that is the whole of the story. The scapegoating of one nation created the conditions that led step-by-step to the rise of an even more virulent, totalitarian, and deadly version of the thing the war was trying to bring to an end.
There were some efforts toward accountability after the “Great War,” especially in the United States, to investigate the causes of the war and especially the “munitions manufacturers” who got rich from it. One result was the 1934 book “Merchants of Death” by H.C. Engelbrecht and F.C. Hanighen. It is a sweeping follow-up to John T. Flynn’s 1931 classic “Graft in Business.” Both were best sellers because they exposed the racket of war in hopes of never repeating the experience.
The closest thing we have today to account for what happened are the interviews on The Epoch Times, the content of Brownstone Institute, and an excellent map for a real commission from the Norfolk Group. As for the people who were in positions of power, none are willing to accept responsibility. They are all like Fauci, blaming others while giving themselves a pass.
If this keeps up, there is no reason to believe that we will learn anything, much less get justice. We simply cannot let that happen. It would be grossly irresponsible just to move on from this and pretend like all is well. What happened was and is an epic scandal. A tiny group of intellectuals, bureaucrats, grafting corporate moguls, and media figures set in motion conditions that utterly wrecked societies the world over, and profited from doing so while the rest of us have been left with drastically diminished lives and liberties.
Yes, Fauci is responsible. They all are. No one should let them get away with claiming otherwise.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and ten books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown.