The healthcare worker lawsuit is more significant than many people realize.
The U.S. District Court for our area has refused to stop the state from enforcing its vaccine mandate as the affected healthcare workers’ lawsuit proceeds. In practical terms, this means that the burden of the disagreement will fall on those workers forced out of their jobs during that time, rather than on the government.
A lawyer might remind them that temporary restraining orders are a high bar and all is not lost, but in politicized cases, that resonates more as an attempt to keep hope alive than to evaluate the prospects of success. The workers should be very skeptical that the courts in New England will fall on the side of freedom, regardless of how the law ought to apply. The principle that liberty is the American default has been flipped on its head; when government wants to do something — which is to say, when the people with power want to do something — the burden falls on individuals (often at great expense) to prove that it cannot.
To be sure, the people involved probably don’t think they’re participating in the erasure of the United States as the exception to the tyrannical rule, but at this level, it’s awfully easy for the subconscious to rationalize. From the perspective of a very significant percentage of people (even in New England), the response to COVID-19 was a terrible overreach that did tremendous damage to our health, the economy, and our civic structures. Think of the psychological, intellectual, and political repercussions if those people with power acknowledged this reality! The vaccines offer a path out of these thorny brambles without having to acknowledge that it was panicky injustice to force us to crawl through them in the first place.
Judges are part of the class that shares incentive to insist on that path, whether consciously or subconsciously.
This leaves the freedom loving with nothing but people power, but there’s reason for concern, here, as well. As noted in this space, healthcare workers have been following the example of progressives in blocking traffic. This approach is scheduled to continue with a protest at Governor Dan McKee’s house, with organizers planning to leave shoes at his step so “he has to acknowledge us when he has to clean them up.”
The response of government will be important to watch. Will authorities crack down on littering when they looked the other way for protests that were closer to rioting last year?
Even if our governing elite accepts the right of Rhode Islanders to protest for non-woke causes, however, the dynamic is different. When radicals do these things, their populist performances create space and pressure to pull officials who generally agree with them farther to the left. When conservatives (or just people who are fighting for liberty) do them, we’ve got a much higher bar: getting government to act against its interests and beliefs.
In the long run, that’s going to require changing the people in government — not just, as we learned with President Trump, elected officials, but the layers of functionaries in the bureaucracy, and even non-government institutions like the news media. That’s a long, sustained effort, and while I desperately want to be proven wrong, I’m skeptical, here, too.
If the healthcare workers lose in court, does their protest build into a movement or go away? Well, some will get vaccinated. Some (to my knowledge) are already moving to other states. Some will find other work. So, how big is the remainder? And how politically credible?
Thus, tyranny simply rolls over freedom, because it’s so much easier and more natural for the people to allow themselves to be smoothed under its wheels. Stopping this is the great puzzle of our time.
Featured image by Emanuel Leutze on WikiArt.