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Joseph Serwach

Now We Know How They Felt When Prohibition Was Repealed

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Joseph Serwach
Joseph Serwach
 30 days ago

Reading Michigan's newest mask rules teaches us how Americans felt when liquor was re-legalized in 1933
Americans in Paris celebrated the end of Prohibition in 1933New York Times public domain file via Wikimedia Commons.

Reading Michigan’s newly published mask rules, we finally realized exactly how Americans felt when Prohibition ended in 1933.

Prohibition, like the 2020–21 mask rules, was designed to protect public health. Throughout the 1920s, health concerns inspired a Constitutional amendment essentially barring liquor sales and driving bars “underground.”

Prohibition was supported by “the science,” with more than a century of policy experience showing the debilitating impact drinking had on public health, families, and society.

A massive political movement, including a Prohibition Party, pushed through the 18th Amendment in early 1919, winning its final burst of political backing as America was defeating Germany in World War I (most of the big U.S. brewers at the time were successful German-Americans).

An anonymous critic at the time lamented that Prohibition “goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

Mobster Al Capone, who made a fortune and gained great power in the underground alcohol trade, added, “Prohibition has made nothing but trouble.”

At the time, it was seen as rural America pushing its values on urban, immigrant-dominated areas. So many, especially in cities, immediately defied the rules, going to illegal speakeasies and smuggling in the banned brews.

The unspoken questions, a century ago — and now
Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol in 1921.Public domain Chicago Daily News photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Over time, support for banning “the bans” escalated, and today we can’t quite fathom how alcohol was ever banned in the first place.

And yet, as we throw off our masks, at least a small part of you has to wonder, “is doing this good for my health?”

It probably doesn’t help, but…

It feels good.

You look at the photos of people celebrating the end of Prohibition, downing pitchers full of beer and booze, and wonder if they asked themselves the same questions as they celebrated their newfound freedom to drink. Alcoholics Anonymous would be founded just two years after Prohibition was repealed.

After a year of attending Catholic daily Masses while wearing masks, it felt glorious to remove my mask, and yet, you look around the church at the people still wearing their masks. After a year, you learn about “mask personalities,” the types of people you meet in mass meetings:

  • The people in the N95 and surgical masks seem most concerned about health.
  • The ones in fashionable masks and gaiters (I plead guilty) seemed more concerned with fashion, looking good, “fitting in,” and making a stylish statement.
  • Those who have removed the masks are similarly “making a statement” whether they intend to or not.

Soon, hopefully, we won’t be able to guess people’s political views by looking at the cloth around their faces. Looking at the people around me in church, I wonder how many have more faith in the protective power of masks and vaccines to protect than God’s ability to do the same?

When the email arrived from my gym today saying masks are now “optional” while working out, I knew I no longer had an excuse to stay away from the gym.

After a year of outdoor daily hikes and dog walks, I’ll be returning to the gym next week after more than 14 months of missing my beloved Hamburg Fitness health club with its pool, hot tub, sauna, locker rooms, and weights.

A review of the new Michigan mask rules: a parable?

A future parable? This morning, the State of Michigan released its new rules allowing those who have been vaccinated to go without masks while the unvaccinated must wear them.

But the list of exceptions is long and slightly amusing as you try to picture the scenarios state officials pondered in compiling the list:

  • Children under 2 and people who can’t medically tolerate a mask.
  • People “eating or drinking” in a restaurant or private home.
  • People who are swimming.
  • People receiving medical or “personal care” where removing masks is necessary.
  • People being asked to identify themselves by showing their faces.
  • People communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel.
  • People engaging in a religious service.
  • People giving a talk to an audience, assuming they are at least 12 feet away.

The new changes in behavior came rapidly after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released new CDC guidelines on Thursday.

President Joe Biden raised eyebrows by saying Americans who have received their vaccinations “have earned the right to not wear a mask.” Conservative critics immediately condemned the remark, paraphrasing Donald Trump by saying Americans get their rights from God and not the government.

The bigger, more important societal question: where do our rights come from, and who decides when and whether they can be taken away?

Will future generations chuckle at the above list of mask rules the way modern Americans chuckle at the idea of Prohibition?

Most importantly, will we choose the healthiest behaviors when we again have the right to choose on our own rather than merely following the rules?
Principles of the Prohibition Party (1888).Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.