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(CNN)There is something strange and circular in our ongoing fight over what freedoms Americans should enjoy.
We are precisely 20 years out from the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, after which Americans gave up a lot of individual liberties in the name of safety. Air travel, especially, was changed forever and the government began moving toward a much more expansive use of surveillance.Now we’re in a place where people are completely fine taking off their shoes and belts in public before they can board domestic flights because of a foiled long-ago plot, but have resisted wearing masks — let alone offering up their Covid vaccine status — in-flight amid a deadly global pandemic.And Republicans are accusing President Joe Biden of authoritarianism, rejecting his effort to compel companies to make employees submit to either vaccinations or regular testing. The effort, which has been announced but not yet detailed, will come through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which means it’s a matter of workplace safety.RELATED: Biden’s six-step Covid plan, explainedRead MoreRepublican governors have promised to sue the Biden administration to stop the effort. It’s a flip of the script from the Trump years. We’re still reeling from four years in which Americans saw a President consider using the military in his own country and actively and openly tried to stop the democratic process, which would have robbed every American of some kind of freedom. There is ample evidence then-President Donald Trump was reading from an authoritarian playbook in his effort to upend the election.The Republican congresswoman, Elise Stefanik of New York, who tried to help Trump object to the election he lost, argued Biden’s public safety efforts were “unconstitutional, unlawful, and an authoritarian power grab that has become a hallmark of his failed Presidency.” RELATED: Biden to GOP critics looking to challenge new vaccine requirements in court: ‘Have at it’The feds have accusations too. Further complicating questions of freedom is Biden’s accusation that states rejecting local mask and vaccination rules are incorrectly imposing their will and endangering people in the process.Vigilante abortion lawsuits in Texas are a twist on rights. Separately, his Department of Justice is suing Texas over its restrictive new law that all but outlaws abortions in the state by giving private citizens a sort of vigilante license to sue anyone who facilitates an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.Wartime measures. Biden’s vaccine requirement effort is extraordinary in terms of government intervention, compelling companies to touch many millions of workers. But this is a war against Covid-19, which has killed so many hundreds of thousands of Americans.Questions of rights. When a government can require people to stay home, when it can require them to wear a mask indoors, have become so political even though they are central to the effort against Covid-19, which has no politics. The details are still coming, but it will be challenged in court.RELATED: This is what a US endgame for Covid-19 should look like, Fauci saysA vaccine is different than putting a person in prison. There’s a difference between Biden’s decision to use the government to get people stuck with an FDA-approved vaccine and other extraordinary suspensions of rights.President Franklin D. Roosevelt rounded up and detained Japanese Americans during World War II.President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War. President Andrew Jackson forced Native Americans from their homes and marched many to their deaths.All of these were ultimately rejected by courts, but not in time to reinstate rights, restore property or give back lands.The question now is whether a shot in the arm will be viewed as a national imperative or government overreach.The Supreme Court has said the public interest in combating disease outweighs an individuals opposition to a vaccine. But it did that more than 100 years ago, in 1905, regarding smallpox, a disease the World Health Organization declared eradicated in 1979.Here’s a nugget bringing it all together. In 2002, when the country was still extremely concerned about terror attacks, President George W. Bush ordered 500,000 members of the military to get the smallpox vaccine in the off chance of a biological warfare terrorist attack.Today, American schoolkids get a wide range of vaccines, all approved by the FDA. A number of states — 15 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — allow opt-outs for nothing more than personal belief and skepticism. Those have led to a resurgence of certain vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles.A new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS and released ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 finds Americans still feel the affects of the attacks.57% say the attacks have impacted the way they live their life today 68% say the attacks had an impact on Americans’ individual rights and freedoms.Here are some interesting points from CNN’s report on the poll:Older adults, who were 45 or older in 2001, are least likely to say the attacks had “a great deal” of impact on how they live their lives now (13% say so). Among those who were children, teenagers or not even born yet at the time of the attacks, 24% say 9/11 had a great deal of impact on their lives.Republicans (72%) are a bit more likely than Democrats (64%) to say that rights and freedoms were affected by the attacks.Twenty years from now, when Covid, hopefully, is something we’ve defeated, I wonder if people will be talking about how the pandemic changed their lives and if the idea of Covid-19 vaccines will be at all controversial.
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