Earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had big news — the city is opening up its iconic Lakefront Trail after months of being closed off as part of a COVID-19 lockdown.
That Lightfoot kept the trail closed even after Chicago had experienced large-scale Black Lives Matter marches — thousands just last weekend during the “Drag March for Change” — is one small instance of the flagrant social distancing hypocrisy across the country in recent weeks.
If it's OK for throngs of people to pack the streets, and shout and chant to protest the death of George Floyd, it ought to be permissible for someone to ride a bike along the lakeside while keeping to him- or herself. In fact, one involves sustained interaction with other people, and perhaps fights with the police, while the other is a solitary activity, or one undertaken with a friend or a spouse.
Yet, Mayor Lightfoot welcomed the protestors — "We want people to come and express their passion," she said — and still kept the trail shuttered.
Many of the same officials who were most zealous in locking down their states and cities instantly made an exception for Black Lives Matter protests. Their rigidity became laxity in a blink of an eye. Their metric for reopening wasn't the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines or any other public health measure, but the "wokeness" of the activity in question.
Visiting the deathbed of a loved one with COVID-19? Absolutely not. Having a proper funeral? No way. Gathering more than about 10 people at a graveside? No one should be allowed to put the public at risk in such a way.
Bringing thousands of strangers to march together for hours in spontaneous, disorderly groups? Thank you for your commitment to positive change.
Attending a church service? Well, maybe in a couple of months.
Holding a struggle session with religious trappings where people confess their racism and vow to work to defund the police? Please, let’s have more.
The wholly unserious Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan professed to be deeply disturbed by a protest against her arbitrary lockdown rules, even though it largely consisted of people driving around the state capitol in their cars. She spun nightmare scenarios of a spike in COVID-19. That didn't stop her earlier in the month from joining an anti-police brutality march with hundreds of non-socially distanced people, explaining that it was "an important moment to show my support."
Virtue signaling is now an essential activity in Michigan.
To believe the leaders of Blue America, SARS-CoV-2 is the first virus in human history to have a social conscience — virulent enough in the ordinary course of events to justify the most restrictive social controls; not such a big deal if it might get in the way of marches for social justice.
The likes of Mayor Bill de Blasio have justified the different standards by arguing that fighting racism is important. Well, so is mourning your dead, keeping your business from being ground to dust and worshiping your God. It's a sign of a ludicrously blinkered worldview to believe that a protest march deserves more consideration than these other elemental human needs.
Another argument is that the protesters are willing to put their health on the line for their cause, a sign of their deepfelt devotion to their cause. But, until recently, it was said that anyone going outside wasn't just endangering themselves, but the most vulnerable people in our communities. Why wouldn't that be true of the Black Lives Matter marches, too?
Don't expect consistency, or even a serious attempt at it. More than 1,000 public health experts signed a letter calling the protests "vital to the national public health," thus immolating their credibility on a pyre of motivated reasoning. It's social distancing for people and activities they find uncongenial, and different rules for their ideological allies.
What a contemptible betrayal of the public trust.
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review