COVID marked the twilight of America’s arrogant ‘expert’ class

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At some point, the US Congress stopped legislating and handed over most “rulemaking” governing Americans’ lives to the administrative state’s sprawling bureaucracy. The brainchild of progressive President Woodrow Wilson, the modern administrative state is rooted in a disdain for the messy give-and-take of politics and a preference for rule by an enlightened clerisy.

“Trust the experts,” in other words. Over the century-plus since Wilson’s presidency, the federal mandarins themselves, as well as many citizens and lawmakers, elevated the slogan to the status of dogma. To question the ­numerous agencies of the federal government and their armies of ­“experts” became tantamount to questioning science itself. 

Then came COVID-19. The virus dealt an irreparable blow to the credibility of our ruling class and its ­appeal to its own authority as a ­coterie of highly credentialed and capable experts. 

No single person exemplifies this fall more than Dr. Anthony Fauci, who attained celebrity status during the pandemic as the ­nation’s leading immunologist and forward-facing spokesman for our public-policy response. 

As Steve Deace and Todd Erzen detail in their new book, “Faucian Bargain: The Most Powerful and Dangerous Bureaucrat in American History,” Fauci has repeatedly contradicted himself throughout the pandemic, waffling on what “the Science” demands at any given moment, while still always seeming to err on the side of draconian overreaction.

The treasures yielded by recent Freedom of Information Act ­requests by BuzzFeed and The Washington Post only underscore the point. Perhaps most damningly, the FOIA requests revealed a February 2020 Fauci e-mail explaining that store-bought face masks are “really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected, rather than protecting ­uninfected people from acquiring infection.” He added that the “typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material.”

Yet a month after Fauci’s ­unearthed mask e-mail, Americans were required, with Fauci’s blessing, to wear masks pretty much ­every time they left their homes — and mask-skeptical posts were censored or deleted by the ruling class’ private-sector enforcement arm, Big Tech. 

None of this is to even broach the separate question of extensive lockdowns, which were never justified on the scientific metrics: Not too long into the pandemic, we saw how ultra-restrictionist states fared no better — indeed, they often fared worse — than those where leaders moved to reopen sooner in defiance of Fauci’s urgings. 

Then there is the Democratic Party’s and the media’s inexplicable 180-degree turn on the plausibility of the Wuhan lab-leak theory. The expert class and its mouthpieces are coming around to the view that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, which was conducting dangerous coronavirus research (partially subsidized by the US taxpayer) and which happens to be located at the epicenter of the pandemic. 

The lab-leak theory was always plausible, if not probable, but those who promoted it as a possibility from the onset — such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), then-President Donald Trump and Post columnist Steven Mosher — were routinely lambasted as bigoted conspiracy theorists. In the case of Mosher, Face­book went so far as to ban his thoughtful — and prophetic — February 2020 Post column.

There was never any compelling reason to dismiss the lab-leak theory out of hand, and in retrospect, it seems that those who did so were likely motivated more by “Orange Man Bad!”-style anti-Trump derangement. 

The Biden administration has now called for a 90-day intelligence-community review into the origins of the pandemic. That’s welcome news for those of us who have called COVID-19 a “Chinese Chernobyl” ­demanding serious geopolitical accountability since Day One — but sad news for those who may have assumed that our elites possess a shred of intellectual honesty.

American politics is in the throes of a populist moment. That moment is characterized by widespread distrust of elites and an ever-widening chasm between the ruling class’ prerogatives and the wishes of the American people. As we finally begin to emerge from COVID-19, that chasm will only grow wider. The ruling class has sullied itself one time too many.

 Twitter: @Josh_Hammer

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