The Atlantic Calls Out ‘Anxious’ Liberals Who ‘Can’t Quit Lockdown’ — Progressives Have ‘Veered Away’ from Scientific Evidence

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 19: A woman in personal protective equipment (PPE) holds up signs at a standout protest organized by the American Federation of Teachers at the Massachusetts State House on August 19, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. The group is calling for a uniform requirement for all districts to …
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A recent article in The Atlantic calls out liberals for continuing to adopt excessive Coronavirus restrictions, despite CDC guidance, as “an expression of political identity.”

The essay, published Wednesday and titled “The Liberals Who Can’t Quit Lockdown,” begins with staff writer Emma Green stating that “progressive communities” have had some of the “fiercest battles” over COVID-19 policies, with some liberal policy makers having “left scientific evidence behind.”

Addressing those “lurking” liberals who “aren’t quite ready to let go of pandemic restrictions,” Green states that, for them, “diligence against COVID-19 remains an expression of political identity—even when that means overestimating the disease’s risks or setting limits far more strict than what public-health guidelines permit.” 

Noting that surveys have depicted Democrats as expressing more worry about the pandemic than Republicans, Green writes that, “People who describe themselves as ‘very liberal’ are distinctly anxious.” 

Recalling that a third of “very liberal people” were “very concerned” this spring (after the vaccine rollout began) about serious illness from COVID-19, Green writes how one study encapsulated this.

According to the study conducted by University of North Carolina political scientist Marc Hetherington, “forty-three percent of very liberal respondents believed that getting the coronavirus would have a ‘very bad’ effect on their life.”

Though Green expresses understanding for initial concerns when the virus was less understood, she writes that progressives “stressed the scientific evidence, and then veered away from it.”

“Last year, when the pandemic was raging and scientists and public-health officials were still trying to understand how the virus spread, extreme care was warranted,” she writes, noting that scientific knowledge of COVID-19 has increased since then. 

Green attributes part of the reaction to an opposition by liberals to then-President Donald Trump and his handling of the pandemic.

“For many progressives, extreme vigilance was in part about opposing Donald Trump. Some of this reaction was born of deeply felt frustration with how he handled the pandemic,” she writes.

“It could also be knee-jerk,” she adds, before quoting Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who, criticizing those on the left who would oppose Trump at any cost, told her that “If [Trump] said, ‘Keep schools open,’ then, well, we’re going to do everything in our power to keep schools closed.”

“We went the other way, in an extreme way, against Trump’s politicization,” the professor added. 

Green describes how times have changed while emphasizing the importance of updating personal behaviors accordingly.

“The spring of 2021 is different from the spring of 2020, though,” she writes. “Scientists know a lot more about how COVID-19 spreads—and how it doesn’t.” 

“Public-health advice is shifting,” she adds. “But some progressives have not updated their behavior based on the new information.” 

Noting the “eagerness” of these progressives to increase protection against the virus, according to Green they may be “underestimating other costs” in the process.

“[V]igilance can have unintended consequences when it imposes on other people’s lives,” she writes. “Even as scientific knowledge of COVID-19 has increased, some progressives have continued to embrace policies and behaviors that aren’t supported by evidence, such as banning access to playgrounds, closing beaches, and refusing to reopen schools for in-person learning.”

Green then quotes Gandhi, saying that the excessive caution is eroding trust in public health.

“Those who are vaccinated on the left seem to think overcaution now is the way to go, which is making people on the right question the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Gandhi says.

“Public figures and policy makers who try to dictate others’ behavior without any scientific justification for doing so erode trust in public health and make people less willing to take useful precautions,” Green adds.

Noting the current wide accessibility to COVID-19 vaccines, Green writes that many progressives “continue to listen to voices preaching caution over relaxation,” while singling out Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for stating he wouldn’t travel or eat at restaurants though he is fully vaccinated despite CDC guidance of the safety of such activities.

Green also calls out California Governor Gavin Newsom for refusing in April to guarantee that state schools would fully reopen in the fall despite studies demonstrating that “modified in-person instruction is safe.” 

Criticizing leaders in Brookline, Massachusetts, for deciding to keep a local outdoor mask mandate in place despite the CDC’s relaxed guidance, Green also notes that despite low outdoor transmission risks, many continue to wear masks and “scolding is still a popular pastime” when it comes to masks. 

“At least in San Francisco, a lot of people are glaring at each other if they don’t wear masks outside,” Green quotes Gandhi as saying.

Green also describes how some have taken to attributing the push for reopening schools to whites and white supremacy.

“In Somerville, a local leader appeared to describe parents who wanted a faster return to in-person instruction as ‘fucking white parents’ in a virtual public meeting,” she writes, adding that “a community member accused the group of mothers advocating for schools to reopen of being motivated by white supremacy.”

Green then asserts those who are still overly cautious with COVID-19 protocols are living in the past.

“When vaccinated adults refuse to see friends indoors, they’re working through the trauma of the past year,” she writes.

“When they keep their kids out of playgrounds and urge friends to stay distanced at small outdoor picnics, they are continuing the spirit of the past year,” she adds.

In response to Green’s article, many prominent figures took to Twitter to express support.

I’ve been saying this entire time – there’s a segment of our population who want to continue living like this and it’s bizarre and macabre,” wrote “The View” co-host Meghan McCain. 

“This is an excellent piece,” wrote New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman. 

“Excellent piece,” wrote author and media columnist Daniel Gross. 

“Lots written about vaccine hesitancy,” he added. “Less written about vaccinated hesitancy.”

“If ‘science is real,’ as the slogan goes—then you can take your mask off on the hiking trail,” wrote ABC News senior national correspondent Terry Moran.

“Anti-science progressives should get called out just as much as anti-science Trumpists,” he added. “Great story here by @emmaogreen.”

“Really great @emmaogreen on a phenomenon every single person i know has been talking about: how did such a sizable segment of the ‘i believe in science’ demo slide into calling a very, very wide range of things literal murder,” wrote fellow Atlantic writer Kaitlyn Tiffany. 

On Monday, USA Today columnist Steven Petrow wrote that he kept his mask on during an early morning walk in Miami despite there being no requirement to do so.

“Coming from North Carolina, where masks were still required in public, I had mine on,” he wrote. “I understood there’s no such requirement in Florida, where folks are free to wear — or not wear — a mask outdoors.”

Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.