Political Stunts Bring People Freedom ... of Consumption

A week ago, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order rescinding his state’s mask mandate and said all businesses could open in full capacity. The decision flew in the face of advice from local and national health officials, and was shortly after Texas’ largest city became the first in the world to record cases of every major COVID-19 variant.

Nevertheless, Abbott’s order took effect today. And how did Texans celebrate? By consuming, of course.

Fox News sent Will Cain to a diner in McKinney, Texas, cowboy hat and all, to commiserate with celebratory diners. There was no worry about COVID variants or vaccine rates—just hearty breakfast orders and declarations of freedom. Not to be outdone by Texas or last week’s other reopening announcements, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared last night that his state would be lifting COVID restrictions and opening to full dining capacity effective Friday. Abbott tipped the first domino and it looks like all the Republican governors are falling.

This is exactly what Republican politicians have wanted all along, so it’s not exactly surprising to see it happening too soon (and against the advice of health experts). Still, it re-poses the question of exactly what freedoms were taken away by lockdown orders in the first place. It’s not difficult to imagine a much more sinister, overwrought version of lockdown orders that actually restricted speech or force people to stay in their homes. That certainly isn’t what happened in Texas or anywhere else. There are no inalienable rights at stake here. But even if the hypothetical slippery slope is the center of the argument, all that’s really been taken away from Americans is their right to consume whatever, wherever, and however they want. Consumption is the modern American’s only true form of freedom, the only area in which they can express any level of demand or autonomy, and taking that away is akin to political imprisonment.

The irony of Republican governors following Abbott’s lead is that there’s a decent chance the Texas governor made his announcement as an out-and-out political stunt. Just days earlier, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis handily won a CPAC straw poll of presidential favorites (excluding Donald Trump). DeSantis doesn’t really have anything to his name besides being the governor who loudly challenged COVID-19 and invited businesses and sports leagues to come to his state to operate just before infection and death rates skyrocketed again last summer. Between Abbott’s single-digit showing and desperate desire to save face following Texas’ energy crisis, he wanted to do something just as loud and bold as DeSantis—so loud and bold he’d be ridiculed by at least half the country.

It doesn’t matter to Texans, though—they’re free to dine at restaurants and traipse through malls and department stores to their hearts’ desire. The freedoms they “protested” for all those months ago have returned, along with the niggling anxiety that going out to eat is the only thing many people deem worth fighting for.