Attorney General William Barr showed just how like Tweety McTreason he is on Wednesday night by lying while comparing coronavirus lockdowns to slavery. That is not an exaggeration of what he said or a translation of more veiled language. Speaking at Hillsdale College, Barr said that.
Specifically: “You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
First, “other than slavery” leaves a huuuuge space, since slavery was not in fact a simple “intrusion on civil liberties,” it was a dehumanizing system of unimaginable horror. It was a moral stain that remains with the United States to this day. It was the institutionalization of every kind of torture, out in the open, supported by the law and the structures of government. Nothing comes close.
But if something did come close to slavery as a violation of basic human rights and, fine, civil liberties in the history of the United States, it would not be public health restrictions associated with coronavirus. The shutdowns of the past six months probably don’t rank in the top 50 on a list that includes the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, more than a century of varying regimes of segregation and brutality following the official end of slavery, centuries of killing and land theft and kidnapping children into abusive boarding schools committed against Native Americans, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, laws against not just abortion but birth control, anti-sodomy laws targeting LGBTQ people, and let’s not forget the fact that forced sterilization is going on to this day, now in ICE facilities. For that matter, the 1918 flu pandemic saw some similar closures to what we’ve experienced in 2020.
But of course none of these things personally affected William Barr or anyone he is interested in allying with or appealing to. The more than 150 years of killing and rape and coercion and violation committed against people of color and LGBTQ people and others who fall outside the realm of what Barr is willing to consider fully human don’t register on him.
Barr’s statement is offensive and wildly wrong on its face. Wrong, for that matter, not just in the comparison to slavery but in the characterization of the restrictions of the past six months, which have emphatically not included a national lockdown and have only in a few places included stay-at-home orders. And the stay-at-home orders that have been imposed in some places in the United States are extremely weak sauce compared with such orders in many other countries. Nor has it been comparable to house arrest.
But Barr is not like Trump in that he doesn’t just run his mouth without thinking. This was calculated, though it may have been Barr doing in a calculated way the kind of thing Trump does instinctually, appealing to the racist, aggrieved impulses of the Republican base. Whatever Barr intended to do here, it shows yet again what a disgusting, warped human being he is and what a disgusting, warped political movement he is a part of.