Newsom: Curfew, Lockdown & Hypocrisy

  • California Governor Gavin Newsom orders statewide curfew and restricts dining.
  • These events are days after state officials have been caught breaking COVID orders.
  • Do these events make Newsom and others hypocrites?

We might be so over Corona already, but it isn’t over us yet. Like some European countries, California has reinstated a curfew order. This time from Saturday for one month’s duration. In the words of our governor: “Together–we can flatten the curve again.”

Newsom: Due to the rise in #COVID19 cases, CA is issuing a limited Stay at Home Order. Non-essential work and gatherings must stop from 10pm-5am in counties in the purple tier. This will take effect at 10pm on Saturday and remain for 1 month. Together–we can flatten the curve again.

Many of us assumed that a curfew order was coming. Newsom obviously told us as much, but interestingly, he also said, “Now, before you jump in terms of your mindset, and whether it’s a good or bad idea, we are assessing that as well.”

I’m very interested to hear what criteria he used whether or not curfew is a good or bad idea. In an ideal world, we would have lockdown and imposed curfews, and everyone would follow their duty to obey the law.

Yet I am sceptical of both lockdown and curfew’s efficacy. First, because people will find a way around the orders. For example, a group of Irish lads found a loophole around Ireland’s lockdown. They simply had to book cheap flights to use the essential-deemed airport bars. Second, according to The Guardian, only some police departments will enforce the order. What exactly is the point of curfews then if it won’t even be enforced across the board? Furthermore, in the same Guardian article referenced, experts at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health cast doubt upon the efficacy of curfews because they do not stop high-risk activities from occurring–in fact, curfews may lead to more infections by increasing the desirability for the “indoor house parties that are being blamed for the current spike.”

Yet even if across-the-board COVID restrictions worked, why should we follow them? There has been real damage done by our political leaders. Governor Newsom broke his own COVID orders by attending a birthday party that included more than the maximum allowed of 3 households, maximum allowed number of 6 people, and lacked mask-wearing. But the real damage is the small details. First, Newsom claimed that the party was held outdoors. This later turned out to be false. Second, two guests were senior officials of the California Medical Association, a powerful interest group.

Gov. Newsom apologizes for attending a party, which he falsely claimed was outdoors.

The hypocrisy does not end there. California legislators recently flew to a luxury Hawaiian resort funded by The Independent Voter Project. Don’t let the name fool you though. According to The SF Chronicle, the group is not only funded by AT&T, Eli Lilly and Co., Pepsico, Walmart, and the Western States Petroleum Association, but it “is best-known in Sacramento for spending tens of thousands of dollars each year to bring dozens of lawmakers to Maui.” However, the real kicker is the fact that Californian legislators flew to the event just days after Newsom urged Californians not to travel out of state.

As a Yale University study showed, nobody likes hypocrites because hypocrites falsely signal that they behave morally. Every time Newsom condemned people for not being vigilant against COVID, he was signaling that he would never behave in such a manner. Rather than directly lie (which people seem to prefer), Newsom is now seen as intentionally misleading people. And as we all know, nobody likes to be taken as a fool. Basically, had Newsom simply gave a sincere apology and didn’t lie, the public would be much more forgiving.

Of course, this is if we assume that Newsom was behaving in a hypocritical manner. I think there is ample reason to believe that he did. In his apology, Newsom does say that he has to hone up for what he has done. So far so good. Rather than state whether or not he blames himself, Newsom clearly fails to accept blame.

He says: “I want to apologize because I need to preach and practice. Not just preach. And I’ve done my best to do that. We’re all human. We all fall short sometimes. We’ve been out three times. […] We had an early dinner but didn’t matter. I shouldn’t have been there. I should’ve turned around. So when that happens you gotta pay the price, but you also hone the mistake. You don’t ever make it again.”

Newsom criticises people for not following state orders. Is he a hypocrite?

If I can be generous, I would say fair enough (and think privately, he’s only sorry because he got caught). But Newsome continues, later he saying: “When I say minimize mixing, I mean it. And covid fatigue is exhausting. I’m empathetic beyond words.”

Rather than truly sound apologetic, Newsom gives the impression that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Rather he simply did what a large percentage of Californians have done: break COVID orders.

According to Notre Dame philosopher Benjamin Rossi, the lack of being able to accept blame is the constitutive feature of hypocrisy. Interestingly, being able to accept blame is not restricted to blame from others, but it also includes blaming oneself. In other words, if Newsom blamed himself (and overtly showed this) and made his apology personal, then the public could have very well been more sympathetic. Rather than say he is empathetic, and that he should have known better, he could have humanized himself–he too is suffering from covid fatigue, and he blames himself for succumbing to temptation.

But even if we are generous to Newsom and try to be understanding, there is a glaringly obvious problem. It’s not that Newsom may have only gone out three times. Rather, there is significance in the manner in which he went out, how he may have lied about being indoors (was it a slip of the tongue or was it intentionally misleading?), and finally, how he ordered a subsequent curfew and lockdown just days after he said that he was empathetic to COVID fatigue. And this significance is on a far higher magnitude than the legislators who went to Hawaii. After all, it is Newsom, not the legislators, who consistently criticizes those who break COVID orders, and it is Newsom who literally orders us how to behave.

As this post goes to press, today at 10 PM local time, California will ban outdoor dining. Many businesses will suffer. Some may never return. While California enjoys mild year-long weather perfectly suitable for outdoor dining, our governor may very well force us into the enclosed, poorly-ventilated spaces that facilitate COVID-19 transmission. Unfortunately, for a governor who has done so well in leading California in the war against COVID-19, voters may never forgive him for restricting safe dining when he himself partook in risky dining. Only time will tell if Californians will punish Gavin Newsom in the 2022 election.

What do you think about the philosophical literature on hypocrisy? Do you agree that Gavin Newsom and/or the Californian legislators are hypocrites? Do you think the curfew and dining restrictions are warranted? Let me know in the comments!

Cover Image: Riviera Village, Redondo Beach, CA

Paul Geerligs

Paul Geerligs

Philosophy grad student on a journey to relate philosophy to everyday life. Dutch/Mexican/Californian.
Los Angeles