COVID-19 and Shock Doctrine: How the Rich and Powerful Are Exploiting the Public’s Confusion to Push Forward Unpopular Policies


Associated Press

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wears a facemask as he traverses the National Statuary Hall

James Connor, Contributor

In 2007, author Naomi Klein coined a term: “shock doctrine.” She describes it as “the brutal tactic of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock – wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes, or natural disasters – to push through radical pro-corporate measures.” In other words, shock doctrine is the practice of using crises to promote and pass legislation that wouldn’t be approved under normal circumstances. With COVID-19 causing disaster on a global scale, this doctrine can already be seen taking effect.
As reported last month, Senator Lindsey Graham is sponsoring a bill known as the EARN IT Act. This act would bring about dramatic changes in end-to-end encryption, putting the security and privacy of online messaging at risk. Despite the importance that this bill holds, it’s not receiving the usual attention from the public because of the ongoing pandemic. This is a perfect example of Klein’s “shock doctrine.”
The EARN IT Act isn’t the only example of the shock doctrine being enforced. State governors across the country are using COVID-19 as an excuse to close abortion clinics, as reported by the New England Journal of Medicine. These governors, who have “categorized abortion procedures as ‘elective’ or ‘nonessential,’” are relying on the disorientation of the general public to enforce policies that typically bring about protest. On the national stage, shock doctrine has been used to create a ban on the distribution of green cards, suspending permanent immigration into the country for the time being. Even outside of the United States, this same pattern is being seen. A bill being passed in the Hungarian legislature would end the legal recognition of transgender people.
Across the globe, politicians are taking advantage of the chaos and confusion brought about by COVID-19 to draft, pass, and enforce legislation that would ordinarily never see the light of day. From the United States to Europe and beyond, leaders are exploiting the public’s disorientation in a number of categories. From cybersecurity and immigration, to reproductive and LGBTQ rights, the liberties of people across the world are under attack from those seeking to benefit from the fear and confusion of the communities they serve. The way to fight back is by paying attention to these policies and refusing to let them be passed silently. While the constant news feed on the pandemic makes it difficult to remain aware of everything going on, by focusing on just a few of the policies going through Congress and calling out the ones that don’t seem right, these pieces of legislation will not go unnoticed. It’s when policies remain unnoticed that those in power can go unchecked.