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Pandemic School Closures Were Political
How a cartel of liberal journalists, public health officials, teachers, and politicians used kids as pawns.
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Recently, there’s been a spate of people attempting to retcon the pandemic, rewriting history so that they’re on the right side. Randi Weingarten (the American Federation of Teachers president) and Anthony Fauci have led the way, pretending that they had nothing to do with the fact that the U.S. had some of the most prolonged school closures in the world and that they had no clue about the unequal distribution of risk and harm posed by the pandemic policies they championed.
Those of us on team reality know how much of a joke this is, just like we know the pandemic was a rational thinking test that exposed the utter conceit of our “expert class,” PhDs and MDs and media solons whom we now know share the mental agility of a footstool.
Intellectual titans these are not.
The vulnerable suffered throughout the pandemic because soft, coddled, affluent, overwhelmingly liberal1 Americans — the “Zoom class,” the Twitter-obsessed class, the my-degree-signifies-a-higher-level-of-being class, the preening self-seriousness of whom reminds you of every dweeb you wanted to kick the ass of in high school — stood to gain from a uniform, top-down house arrest mandate predicated on cruelty and casual disregard for collateral damage—including the long-term well-being of children.
It was all for naught. And it was political.
From the very start, virtually everything about the pandemic was tainted by partisan interests. Why? Because the all-consuming, knee-jerk hatred for Trump was so overblown that the same people who’d convinced themselves that American democracy would cease to exist2 if Trump were re-elected did everything they could to undermine his chances of getting a second term. If that meant exaggerating covid risks, tanking the country, and putting the welfare of children on the back burner, so be it.
You cannot tell me that Fauci, who spent more than half a century as America’s reigning health commissar, seriously thought it was wise to use a wildly alarmist, inaccurate predictive model from an epidemiologist who’s infamously known3 for creating wildly alarmist, inaccurate predictive models to convince Trump to sabotage a thriving economy by imposing an unprecedented, unscientific lockdown order that anyone with half a brain knew would have a disproportionate impact on kids and the impoverished.
Connect the dots. It wouldn’t be the first time since calamity befell the ruling class in 2016 that putatively righteous ends justified an array of troubling means.
Despite endless warnings from the media about Trump’s and Republicans’ supposed authoritarian instincts, the pandemic was essentially a case study in left-wing oppression. Powerful vested interests worked together with legions of always-online covid activists to censor dissent and demonize dissidents, shutting down policy debates by passing off value judgments as empirical science to which absolute deference was required of all, refusing to give certain stories and facts oxygen for fear of lending credence to conservative talking points, fidelity to the truth be damned.
As a result, evidence-free pandemic policies horrendously detrimental to kids were imposed long past the point at which the net negative far exceeded any positive impact. Adolescent well-being was sacrificed for the comfort and ego gratification of adults.
Betraying Children to Spite Trump
On July 7, 2020, just one week after the American Academy of Pediatrics came out in support of reopening schools, President Trump held a series of events at the White House with Betsy DeVos, his secretary of education, to demand that schools open. “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools,” he said. “It’s very important for our country. It’s very important for the well-being of the students and the parents. So we’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on: Open your schools in the fall.”
“The effect of Trump’s declaration,” writes ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis, “was instantaneous.” Teachers who were open to the idea of returning to the classroom suddenly did an about-face. The American Academy of Pediatrics “walked back its support” three days later.
I have a hard time believing this was coincidental and not about politics. Research would appear to support my skepticism.
A study out of Michigan State University found that when governors left it up to districts whether to have in‐person education in the fall of 2020, the “decisions were more tied to local political partisanship and union strength than to COVID-19 severity.” An October 2020 study from Brown University was even more explicit, finding that “the decision to return students to in-person classes this fall was strongly correlated with the county-level share of the vote won by Donald Trump in 2016.”
Contrary to the conventional understanding of school districts as localized and non-partisan actors, we find evidence that politics, far more than science, shaped school district decision-making. Mass partisanship and teacher union strength best explain how school boards approached reopening.
One editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine cited the “impending U.S. federal election” as a factor that “limited the ability of public health practitioners to seriously discuss the trade-offs involved in COVID-related decisions” like school closures. Read: cost-benefit analysis of covid restrictions wasn’t permitted by the public health establishment due to fear of hurting Democratic electoral prospects.
For decades, powerful unions have represented teachers’ interests, but the pandemic made it clearer than ever the total dissonance between what teachers’ unions want and what’s best for students.
Prolonged school closures and the not-at-all-inevitable harm perpetrated on children nationwide was a decision based not on health, but on partisanship, in no small part because of the symbiotic relationship between teachers unions and the Democratic politicians they fund. As Naomi Wolf writes in The Bodies of Others, school boards with new, broad powers and a rather ridiculous authoritarian zeal used seemingly centralized scripts and policies to keep schools closed and bully concerned parents—even requesting that the FBI investigate them as “domestic terrorists,” just as dissident parents were targeted in the Soviet Union, and just as they are today in Communist China.
Hoping to bring attention to the damage being done to kids, Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg became the lead author in a study of schools published by the CDC in its “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” in January 2021. The study found that covid incidence in open schools was 37% lower than in the surrounding community. Logically, Høeg believed this study would lead to the prompt reopening of schools, or at the very least start a dialogue focused on doing so. However, “the CDC actually came out with stricter reopening guidelines following our study, and that was the opposite of what I had expected,” she told Tablet’s Alex Gutentag.
Dr. Høeg would later learn that the CDC had considered input from teachers’ unions over the very science the organization had published in its own journal.
Last July it was revealed that now former CDC Director Rochelle Walensky met with parents just once leading up to the release of school reopening guidance. On several occasions, Walensky claimed she’d consulted parents’ needs for the guidance despite her calendar showing the sole 30-minute meeting. And as parents were granted just one session, teacher unions had constant access to her and other high-level CDC officials while influencing last-minute changes to guidelines.
Yellow Journalism 101
On July 18, 2020, about a week after the American Academy of Pediatrics walked back its support (presumably) in response to the Trump administration advocating for schools to open in the fall, the New York Times published one of its many sensationalist pandemic headlines: “Older Children Spread the Coronavirus Just as Much as Adults, Large Study Finds.” The subheading read, “The study of nearly 65,000 people in South Korea suggests that school reopenings will trigger more outbreaks.”
It was, of course, a bunch of bull. Some researchers tried to bring attention to the study’s conclusions, which weren’t supported by the findings themselves.
“That study had methodological ﬂaws that several of us pointed out,” Joseph Allen, the director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard’s school of public health, said. “But the headline took off.” Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist and leading voice against the pandemic response, tweeted, “I personally know parents who changed their whole next year because of the article. ... The takeaway people got was 10-year-olds can transmit as much as adults.”
For the New York Times, this was standard operating procedure. Par for the course. And it even contradicted the paper’s own reporting: Just 18 days earlier an opinion column written by epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo and pediatrician Joshua Sharfstein stated:
The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that the harm to children from not having in-person education outweighs the risk. Children are 24 percent of the American population but account for only 2 percent of Covid-19 cases. In the United States, school-age children have been hospitalized at a rate of 0.1 per 100,000, compared with 7.4 per 100,000 for adults ages 50 to 64. Very few deaths among children have been reported. … Children play less of a role in the spread of Covid-19 than in the spread of influenza.
On August 31, 2020, another alarmist article was published by the Times: “U.S. Coronavirus Rates Are Rising Fast Among Children.” Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci pointed out that this piece, too, was wildly misleading.
So it went, with rags like those above selling belief instead of facts, the steady stream of yellow journalism and its contradictions further eroding trust in the press during a time when trust in public institutions was absolutely imperative.
With its new business model centered on error-ridden moral panics, the mainstream media has arguably done more harm to the country since 2016 than during all the years before then, going all the way back to the days of the penny press. Indeed, you could make the case that during the pandemic, nothing was so pernicious as the mainstream media’s perverse efforts to normalize toxic political tribalism and tabloid-like terror headlines, working within a defined ecosystem to impress a narrative upon the population while devoting remaining resources on the wrongness of the rival faith.
The resulting epistemic free-for-all in which the truth became wholly a matter of perspective and agenda is why legacy outlets rallying to the colors in support of anything and everything that came out of Fauci’s mouth, including the diktats pushed down by subservient government officials, played a key role in generating and perpetuating the delirium that warped parents’ perception of the danger covid posed to both themselves and their kids.
We witnessed what happens when the hazards of risk misperception are more significant than the actual risks of a novel coronavirus, and a framework of “permanent emergency” is allowed to persist long past the point of there being any meaningful emergency at hand: The gradual erosion of constitutional rights and civil liberties under the pretext of “an abundance of caution” and “public safety,” and the sacrificing of adolescent welfare.
Normalizing Fear at the Expense of Kids
Fear is the lifeblood of authoritarianism. As the strongest of emotions, it’s capable of overriding the mind, making it the preferred tool with which to psychologically manipulate the public and to otherwise reify manufactured hysteria that authorities rely upon to “justify” subversion of freedoms.
In his 1941 book Escape from Freedom, the philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm identified how the human craving for security and stability in the face of disorder and uncertainty gives rise to authoritarianism. Now, decades later, numerous studies have empirically shown how insecurity is linked to the rise of autocrats and the erosion of democracy.
One need not be conversant in history to realize as much. It is enough to simply survey the present and reflect on the recent past.
Fear is, after all, what made possible the pandemic’s techno-fascistic culture, with its bewildering array of draconian diktats imposed without legislation, cost-benefit analysis, or scientific citation; and how a confederacy of Big Tech robber barons, the security state, public health officials, the mainstream media, and unscrupulous politicians orchestrated and executed what Robert F. Kennedy Jr. aptly described as “2020’s historic coup d’état against Western democracy.”
Stoking fear and paranoia by terrifyingly narrating the pandemic in the direst of terms, sensationally reporting on new cases but never recoveries, new hospital admissions but never discharges, this confederacy so badly warped people’s understanding of covid risk that in heavily Democratic areas like Los Angeles kids were told to wear masks while playing instruments and jogging.
It was kids who bore the brunt of the omnipresent fear campaign their elders so easily succumbed to and subsequently propped up. Not only did they tell kids that they might kill grandma by hugging her, but they subjected them to a simulated atmosphere of a deadly plague reinforced by mask and social-distancing policies and a never-ending stream of state-sponsored propaganda and doom-laden media commentary. Previously rational adults of sound mind and constitution devolved into paranoid schizoids who led young people to operate with the understanding that they were waking up each day to a world in which invisible, airborne particulates threatened their existence 24/7—this, even though the risk of serious covid illness in children is comparable to their risk from the flu.
To the adolescent mind, fear might as well be a deadly pathogen. Early exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety can have lifelong effects on brain architecture, and not even a toddler’s limited capacity for storing retrievable memories can inoculate the brain from the ramifications of an overactive amygdala. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone can recall later on in life being afraid as a kid; if the circumstances from which the fear is derived persist long enough, the damage is done.
There’s extensive and growing scientific evidence that excessive exposure to fear at a young age can impair early learning and adversely affect later performance in school, the workplace, and the community. Multiple studies in humans have documented problems in cognitive control and learning as a result of “toxic stress,” which, when chronic, can contribute to permanent memories forming the basis of pediatric maladaptivity, disrupt the efficiency of brain circuitry, and lead to both immediate and long-term physical and psychological problems. This is especially true when stress-system overload occurs during the most sensitive periods of brain development (typically ages 1-3).
This same stress-system overload can significantly diminish a child’s ability to engage in typical social interactions for the duration of life. Behavioral neuroscience research in animals tells us that the prefrontal cortex is highly sensitive to the detrimental effects of excessive stress exposure. For children, this leads to what’s known as “conditioned fear,” which is exactly what it sounds like: A learned tendency to perceive threats and risks even in familiar social circumstances, with the logical adaptation being a perception of the world as a hostile and threatening place.
The covid cult’s radical discontinuity with the past is not about “moving on and moving forward,” but saving face and deflecting responsibility. It’s infuriating to see the same censorious, sinecured, professional midwits who most fervently called for prolonged school closures now pretend as though their arguments were limited to “what was known at the time” and treat the harms caused by the policies they promoted as self-evident. The truth is that these people eschewed rational cost-benefit analysis in favor of political gamesmanship, leading a concerted campaign of censorship and demonization of dissenting voices in support of premises that have had devastating consequences.
The American public education system is now nothing less than a shit show. The collapse of educational pathways and structures has left urban school systems in shambles with chronic absence, horrible test scores, and student violence the new norm. Over a million students have left U.S. public schools and enrollment continues to decline. And pediatric hospitals are still seeing enormous surges in mental health emergencies and suicidal thoughts.
Dysfunction among children and adolescents has arguably never been worse, and now we’re dealing with an entirely foreseeable academic, social, and psychological disaster that will reverberate through society for years to come. Yet, not a single official or politician responsible has resigned, apologized, or been held accountable in any way, and the people who pushed the policies leading to this disaster have refused to engage in any self-reflection. Public health experts, academics, Democratic politicians, teachers unions, social justice activists, and the mainstream media—the fault lies with them. These people cared more about “resisting” Trump, virtue signaling, and petty political gratification than about adolescent welfare. Kids deserve to see a reckoning, a full and accurate accounting of who’s responsible for the institutionalized abuse and emotional torture they were subjected to and how it happened.
David Leonhardt of the New York Times: “Americans who identify as ‘very liberal' are much more worried about Covid than Americans who identify as ‘somewhat liberal’ or ‘liberal.’ Increasingly, the very liberal look like outliers on Covid: The merely liberal are sometimes closer to moderates than to the very liberal. . . When it comes to Covid, there is abundant evidence that the most liberal Americans are exaggerating the risks to the vaccinated and to children.”