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A Historical Perspective On Pandemics – With Professor Sikkenga: How does the coronavirus compare with past pandemics? How much of the media hysteria is political? Tune in to hear Dr. Jeff Sikkenga share insights from history that can benefit us in our current crisis.

Air Date: 4/01/2020

Guest: Dr. Jeff Sikkenga

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith and the Culture

Rick:

Welcome the intersection of faith and the culture. It’s WallBuilders Live and we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, the culture, the coronavirus, you name it, we’re looking at it from a biblical, historical and constitutional perspective.

Thanks for so many of you joining me last night. Is Rick Green, America’s Constitution coach and former Texas legislator. I appreciate you joining last night on our live webinar. We had a ton of folks from across the nation, looking at the constitutionality of quarantines, how this should work and how to move forward. How do we save America’s constitution in a panicked America? If you didn’t get a chance to see that webinar, you can get the recording of it on our website at constitutioncoach.com. That’s constitutioncoach.com. We’re going to further that conversation now with David Barton, America’s premier historian and our founder here at WallBuilders and Tim Barton, national speaker and pastor and president of WallBuilders.

And we’re looking at, you know, current situation, what people are facing in States across the country. And in order to do that well, we need to be looking at the big picture. And that means stepping back sometimes and looking in the context of the history of what we’ve seen in the past. Professor Jeff Sikkenga will be with us a little later in the program. But looking back in history, as we learn hey, we always say biblical, historical and constitutional perspective. And man, guys, do we need some historical perspective on pandemics?

Pandemics

David:

Well, pandemics, first, let’s define it. Pan is a Greek word that means all. And so, a pandemic is something that hits all the world. It’s not just a seasonal epidemic. It’s not just something happens in one country. It’s something that happens across the globe. So, when you look at where this pandemic is, there’s a lot of deaths across the globe at this point. In America, we’re well under 5,000 and the ones have happened are all tragic, no question about that. We hope it does not continue to rise as it is in the world. But at this point, we’re well under 5,000.

But you know, for a lot of people, this is the only pandemic they know of or that they remember. I mean, this is where history becomes really good.

Tim:

Well, in this certainly, is the pandemic, the media has made the most about, at least for the last, what, 30-40 years. Because if you back up to 2009 with the swine flu or to Ebola and I mean, we’ve had several, it seems like every two or three years, there’s a new pandemic, so to speak. But the media hasn’t made really that big of a deal about it until this one which makes you wonder how political this might be or not be. And I understand that with the world responding the way it is that you can’t say it’s purely political. I get that it’s not purely political. But it just makes you wonder if there wasn’t some of the political hostility there, would it be as big of a deal as they’ve made it? Because we’ve had a lot of these pandemics over the last decades and if nobody knows about them as much as they know about this one and this one is taken less life and impacted less people physically, again, it just makes you wonder why.

Past Pandemics

David:

Well, if you look back, Tim, you mentioned 2009 that the swine flu, H1N1, 12,000 deaths at that point. So, we’re still a long way from what it was 11 years ago for that one.

Tim:

And even in those 12,000 deaths, I think they were 61 million Americans that actually contracted that flu. And so, this again impacted way more American lives physically now, relative right that markets didn’t close, the economy didn’t shut down. But a lot of people got this flu and they’re certainly more and more deaths, might be a lower percentage than there is with this current flu. But certainly, the swine flu had a big impact.

David:

So, swine flu 2009, let’s back up to 1968. Now, 2009, it was H1N1. And 1968, it was H3N2, was called the Hong Kong flu. You, guys have any idea how many deaths with the Hong Kong flu, just American deaths, just American?

Tim:

Well, I’m going to say it’s certainly more than we’re dealing with now. So, let’s say, probably 15,000.

David:

100,000.

Tim:

Wow!

H2N1 And the Asian Flu

David:

100,000 deaths in 1968. Let’s back up to 1957. H2N1 is called the Asian flu. How many deaths in 1957?

Tim:

Well, and also, let’s point as we’re backing up in time, the population for America decreases every time we back up…

David:

It’s smaller in other words.

Tim:

So, as these numbers of deaths are growing, as a fatality number grows, that’s a greater impact on the population overall, because there’s a smaller population. So, that number is a bigger percentage of the population. So, this is 1957, you said?

David:

1957, Asian flu, how many deaths?

Tim:

Okay, well, I’m going to go under the last one of 100,000. Let’s say 80,000.

David:

116,000.

Tim:

Should have gone up. Okay.

David:

Yeah. So, we’ve been on the flu, let me jump to something else. In 1981 through 1991, we had a measles epidemic. How many a year did we lose?

How Many Deaths?

Tim:

So, you’re starting 10 years of a measle outbreak? And how many per year? 15,000.

David:

We’re looking at 10,000 a year.

Tim:

10,000, okay.

David:

So, still far above where we are with corona and that was over 10 years that that was happening up to 10 times a year. Let’s back up before that. For about 30 years, you had a polio epidemic. It lasted for about 30 years. What we’re looking at in terms of… Let’s start the first year. Let’s start with 1916. How many died in 1916 from polio?

Tim:

Rick, do you remember that number?

Rick:

No idea.

Tim:

Oh, I didn’t know if like, maybe your parents told you about it or something?

Rick:

No, no, I don’t remember that one.

A 30-Year Epidemic

David:

Alright. So, with the polio epidemic, we’re looking at 7,000 in 1916. It was continued all the way through 1949. And in 1949, it was 6,000 a year that were dying. Still far above corona. So, polio on that one for 30 years. That was the 30-year epidemic. You go to [inaudible 05:40] before that it was running and that’s the 1920s and that’s about 15,000 deaths a year. You go to 1918 with the Spanish flu, 675,000 deaths.

Tim:

That’s a huge number.

David:

That’s a huge number. These are all American deaths, not global deaths. You go to the typhoid epidemic of 1906-1907 11,000 per year death there.

Tim:

So, the point is we’ve had a lot of pandemic, and it’s taken a lot of American lives. And every time there’s a loss of life, it is a bad situation, it’s a tragic situation because you never want there to be a loss of life. But this is certainly not the first time we’ve navigated through something like this, except it seems like we’ve never had shutdowns on this level. But…

A Good Place to Look in History

David:

Well, also this is a good place to look back to history. Because if it’s happened so many times before, are there things we can look back to in history that are good indicators for what we should be doing today? Can we learn from history we advocate? Yes, you can. But you can’t learn from it if you don’t know it. And so, even as we’re looking globally, now, you take the Spanish Flu from 1918, I mean, that’s much, that’s mega times bigger than what’s going on now. So, what do we do back then? What lessons can we learn from that that will help us today?

Rick:

Dr. Jeff Sikkenga, when we return. You’re listening to WallBuilders Live.

BREAK

This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment in American history. Many today wrongly claim our founding fathers were largely atheists, agnostics and deist. Certainly, some founders were less religious than others, but even they were not irreligious. Consider Benjamin Franklin. Definitely one of the least religious among them. Yet when the delegates at the Constitutional Convention hit an impasse in their deliberations, it was Franklin who called them to prayer, invoking numerous scriptures to make his point.

Moment in American History

As he reminded them, “God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that the Empire can rise by his aid? We have been assured in the sacred writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that buildings. I firmly believe this.” So even the least religious of America’s founders urge public prayer and dependence on God. For more information about the fate of the founding fathers, go to wallbuilders.com

Rick:

Welcome back. Thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders live. Dr. Jeff Sikkenga is with us. He’s the executive director of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. And they’re dedicated to restoring America’s constitutional republic and keeping that going just like we are. So, I think you’re kindred spirits. Thanks for coming on, sir.

Jeff:

Delighted to be on with you.

Rick:

Hey, you had a webinar, specifically on the 1918 Spanish flu and kind of what we went through as a nation then so that we could learn from history. We love that. And just wanted to get you on and talk a little bit about what you guys have learned as you look back on that and lessons we could share with our audience. So, thanks for sharing some of those things with us today.

Forgotten History

Jeff:

Absolutely. You know, it’s one of those terrible events in American history that has been sort of forgotten. But it’s something if we look back at, we can really learn a lot from, get some great insights about history and past, but also that apply to the present. If you look at it, it’s amazing that we’ve kind of forgotten about it because it was a really terrible, terrible tragedy. It affected millions and millions and millions of people around the globe, including here in America.

About 675,000 Americans died from the Spanish Flu from 1918 into 1919. It affected our servicemen and women who were fighting in World War One. It had a terrible human toll. And I think it’s high time that we look back at that to find some insights and lessons for the situation we face today.

Rick:

Yeah, there were, you know, different approaches. Right? I mean, some cities or states handled it different from others and saw different results. A similar kind of situation from the standpoint of, you know, the federal government actually did far less then than it’s doing now. The States were the ones that had the police power then just as they do now for quarantines and that sort of thing. What did you learn when you looked at that in terms of what the federal government did back then versus what it’s doing now?

President Woodrow Wilson’s Response

Jeff:

Yeah, one of the remarkable facts is that President Woodrow Wilson, who was present at the time, not only did the federal government not have any kind of coordinated response, he actually refused to talk about this in public. He was afraid that the American people would be frightened by that and he was afraid that it would take away from the war effort, America fighting in World War One. So not only did we not have a federal response, we actually had federal censorship of information going out on this issue. So, it was left to local communities, the families, the churches, the voluntary organizations to the Red Cross, to coordinate the response across the country. And I think it shows that what the American people can do if they have the freedom to do it and, of course, the importance of good information and taking seriously the need for good information.

Rick:

I was trying to figure out, did you notice when you look back at it anything on the economic impact, you know, it’s a part of the big debate right now, is how far we go and factoring in the long-term effects as well. And I tried looking at charts and finding things and it seemed to not have, of course, it’s mixed in with the war. So, it’s hard to tell. But it seemed to not have the devastating economic impacts that we’re concerned about now, of course, they didn’t do an economic shutdown. So that may be why. But did you see anything on that?

Economic Effect

Jeff:

There was some economic effect. It depended a lot on the localities. One of the things we see is that it was really left to Local governments, City governments, State governments to respond as they thought best and the responses varied widely. So, in New York City, for example, there was partial shutdown of things like businesses or extension of working hours. Seattle shut down almost completely, including businesses. Philadelphia was open for business as usual. So, there was a wide variety of responses.

And I think to some extent that mitigated the series of the economic disruption. And I think also we can’t forget, look, we live in the modern day today, our economy is so interconnected. So cross State lines, as you know, things like Amazon working all the way across the country. And I think in those days, the economy while it was nationalizing, it was more local, so that I think the effects were felt more locally than they would have been today.

Rick:

Now, when you say they shut down all the businesses, I couldn’t find anything showing that. Even in Seattle, it looked like they curbed hours. Like they tried to keep, and New York did this too, they tried to keep the, you know, public transportation from being overwhelmed and that, you know, eight o’clock and five o’clock. So, in Seattle, they went to ten to three, but they still let most people still go to work.

Restricted Businesses

Jeff:

Well, that’s true. They did, but they curb them a lot as you said and certain kinds of businesses were under even further restricted.

Rick:

Yeah, yeah. Like we’re doing now, theaters and public gatherings, which I think most of us are, you know, frankly, I don’t want to go to a movie right now with anybody else. You know, so some of those public gatherings. I’m just concerned about the difference between closing those things that are entertainment or social gatherings versus closing those things that are normal, got to go to work kind of things and not only leaving it to what a bureaucrat decides is quote-unquote necessary. That’s what I think we’re doing different than Spanish flu and maybe that turns out to be the answer, maybe it turns out to be what kills the economy, I don’t know. But it does seem different for… I think St. Louis did get. They had about a day and a half that they shut down. Pretty much everybody downtown and then armistice happened and you know, everybody flooded the streets. So, there wasn’t much of a shutdown at that point. But…

Jeff:

Yeah, and I think it also points to the fact that we’ve gotten much more used to government intervention in things like business and in the market today. And so, government’s response is very often to intervene in a way that was just starting really in 1918, and 1919 with the progressive movement, it hadn’t reached the level that it is now. So, the idea that government would wholesale shut down businesses was pretty far removed from most people’s thinking.

Local Verses Federal

Rick:

Yeah. Yeah, no doubt about it. And then this is going to be almost like an experiment what we’re doing now in terms of how far we’re going statewide, at least. I mean, that was the other thing I was going to ask you about was State versus City. We’ve looked at our program a lot at the State versus Federal. But State versus City, it didn’t look like a lot of statewide bands or coordination as much as citywide back then. Did you find the same thing as you looked at it?

Jeff:

Yeah, you got that right. It was, again, there was a very strong, America had a long and strong tradition of local government and local freedom and that included in response to this pandemic. So, we saw, you know, States did have some coordination of activities, State governments would give recommendations, even the Federal government that the division of sanitation, as it was called then, gave recommendations and guidelines for how to act in the flu epidemic. But it really was the Local governments that we’re on the front lines, in from a bottom up point of view, rather than more of the top down statewide actions that we see today.

Rick:

Which kind of makes sense from a from a due process and other perspective, you want the folks that are closest to you when you’ve got a police power that could restrict your liberty to the point of keeping you at home or isolating you in a government type place, you’d want it to be Local government that you appeal to.

Different Approaches

Plus you want, I guess, different approaches, like you said, you know, in a rural area, say in Northern California, you might not need to shut down there as much as a Los Angeles type situation. So, leaving that flexibility, kind of follows our model of federalism down to the state level, I guess.

Jeff:

That’s right. And the reality was, even though a large percentage of the American people were affected by the Spanish flu, it varied a lot from locality to locality, not from state to state, but even within states. So, I said, rural areas were hit differently in lots of places than cities. Places like Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia was hit particularly hard. So, it made sense that there were different responses. And again, I think people, we didn’t have the interstate highway system, then we had trains, of course. But I don’t think we had the same volume of people and goods moving from place to place. So, when things were more localized, local responses, very awesome would be sufficient.

Rick:

Tell me more about the Ashbrook Center. You guys are very focused on constitutional self-government, so the importance of civic duty not just constitutional rights, but constitutional responsibilities.

Constitutional Self-Government

Jeff:

Absolutely. Our mission is to strengthen constitutional self-government. Our goal is to keep alive the vision of the American founders of a free and self-governing people. And we do that by educating our fellow Americans, whether it’s students, teachers, citizens, in the history and founding principles of the country. That’s how we carry out our mission.

We’ve been going since 1983, when Ronald Reagan personally inaugurated the center, came here to Ashland, Ohio to do that. And since that time, we’ve become a national organization reaching out across the country to help our fellow Americans understand the principles of the country to understand our history as a struggle to live up to those principles of freedom and to take the responsibilities of self- government seriously.

Rick:

You guys are also, you know, very much into going back to the original documents. I noticed that and looking through the Ashbrook Center, which, of course, we love it at WallBuilders but the idea of actually studying the declaration and the Constitution and getting your students to really know those things. I mean, that shouldn’t be novel and education, right, but it kind of is. I mean, I was really excited when I was looking through what you guys do.

Ashbrook Center

Jeff:

Absolutely. Our focus is in education is on the primary historical documents. You know, we think we can learn from the past for today, but that means we got to go to the past. We got to go to the original sources. We always are encouraging students and teachers to supplement or even replace their textbooks, which as you know, are often boring or biased or sometimes both. And to replace those with the words of the past, with the words of people who lived what we’re talking about.

So, why read what some professor has to say about the constitution? And I say that as a professor who teaches the Constitution. Why read about what some professor has to say about the Constitution when you could get back and read the Constitution itself, when you could read the Federalist Papers and all the great sources from the founding? So that’s what we focus on across the whole scope of American history, from the Puritans to the present. And we look at those fundamental documents of America that tell the American story and we let people discover that for themselves through these primary documents. It’s a great way to learn. It brings history to life for us.

Rick:

So, you mean this stuff they wrote 200 years ago, it’s just not a bunch of old documents. It’s out of date and doesn’t matter today?

Jeff:

It’s alive and we hope well. We want to make sure it’s alive and well. But look, those are eternal trues and there as true today as they were then.

Constitution Alive!

Rick:

That’s right. That’s right. So, encouraging. We actually call our constitution class, Constitution Alive. Not that we’re, you know, the living, breathing document types were originalist, but it is alive. I appreciate you saying it exactly that way. Well, Dr. Sikkenga, I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for your time today and let’s do this again. And folks that want to learn more about the Ashbrook Center ashbrook.org for Yale’s direct website. Right? And then they can also go to Ashland University to learn more.

Jeff:

Yes, and we’ve got another great website, also, a project of the Ashbrook Center called teachingamericanhistory.org or tah.org. Great primary documents for citizens, for parents who are homeschooling their kids now or have always been, those great primary resources for them as well.

Rick:

Excellent and for teachers in the fall as they go back to school, Lord willing, same thing. Right? You guys do a lot of training of teachers.

TAH.org

Jeff:

We sure do all the way around the country. And over 2 million visitors have come to that website to get the documents that tell the story of America. So, we want to encourage students, teachers, parents, citizens, come to tah.org, find those documents. Come to ashbrook.org look us up and see what we’re doing and we want to help you educate your children and grandchildren.

Rick:

Wonderful. Wonderful. Love it, sir. Thank you very much. And let’s do it again soon.

Jeff:

Look forward to it. Thanks for having me.

Rick:

Stay with us, folks. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.

This Precarious Moment

Hi, this is David Barton. I want to let you know about a brand new book we have out called, ‘This Precarious Moment: Six Urgent Steps That Will Save You, Your Family and Our Country. Jim, Garlow and I have co-authored this book. And we take six issues that are hot in the culture right now, issues that we’re dealing with, issues such as immigration and race relations and our relationship with Israel and the rising generation millennials and the absence of the church and the culture wars and where American heritage is, our godly heritage. We look at all six of those issues right now that are under attack and we give you both biblical and historical perspective on those issues that provide solutions on what each of us can do right now to make a difference.

These are all problems that are solvable if we’ll get involved. So, you can grab the book, ‘This Precarious Moment’ and find out what you can do to make a difference. ‘This Precarious Moment’ is available at wallbuilders.com.

Rick:

We’re back on WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. Back with David and Tim Barton. Guys, getting some of that historical perspective. But, man, I mean, it’s so important to keep this in perspective, otherwise, you do kind of lose control. And a lot of the stuff that happened in the past is being spun out, you know, by the media to be either worse than it was or that we implemented more government measures than we actually did. So, we’re trying to keep that accurate for folks so we can stay reasonable and how we respond.

Federal Government Isn’t the Answer

Tim:

Well, it was interesting to me when he talked about how that Woodrow Wilson and his administration downplayed the whole thing. Right? Like, this isn’t a big deal, guys. 600,000+ people are dying and it’s in the middle of World War One and certainly, want to keep the priority on World War One, so let’s not focus on this thing. It’s not as big of a deal. But I thought it was also kind of very telling of where America was as a nation and culture, that they weren’t really looking to the federal government necessarily to solve those problems. And the response didn’t come federally. It didn’t even come specifically on a State level. It came at a closer local level, a city to city kind of resolution of, well, this city does this and this city does this, which makes way more sense of how our nation should operate with more power being given to those at the local level. And it seems today, we’ve just gone a different direction wanting the federal government to be the one to help solve these problems.

David:

I mean, Tim, is what you’re that back then, we really look to the local government to make those decisions. We really did back then believe that Local government was the best government and so, they made more decisions than the state government did and much more than federal government. And yet, you and I were talking off air, Tim, that we’ve seen reports recently of how people are now calling 911 at the State level when they run out of toilet paper. I mean, we’ve come to such a reliance on government that we think government should help us when you run out of toilet paper. Oh, my gosh! What happened to the local control, local reliance, less government is more freedom? I mean, that’s one thing that I think would be really good to keep in mind as we look back over previous pandemics and how we’ve handled them.

I mean, government is not the solution that can help facilitate and it does have a role, but closer to us as much better, much healthier.

 Policing Ourselves 

Rick:

And all the way down to local meaning even just your own family. I mean, remember, we had Matt Krause on last week and he talked about, hey, when we police ourselves better and we govern ourselves better, we don’t have to have so much of a heavy hand from government, this statewide edicts instead of local and then as individuals and families making good decisions about not, you know, going out if you don’t have to and all those other decisions that everybody is making.

But we just, you know, we need some common sense from our leaders as well, not overreacting, not panicking, you know, but not ignoring it, not doing nothing, but finding that right balance. And that requires really having some good constitutional perspective, being able to look into history like we did today and learn from the past, but also just look at those principles and look at the proper role of government, how far it should go and then how to govern ourselves better as well. So, we’re going to continue to look at all of those things. We got to Foundations of Freedom Thursday tomorrow and then Good News Friday coming up later this week, to look at some of the good things that are happening out there. There are in fact, a lot of good things happening.

A Historical Perspective On Pandemics – With Professor Jeff Sikkenga

But what we also want to do is encourage you to make the most of your time at home. So, go to wallbuilders.com today, get some of the resources and materials that we have there, a wealth of information and programs you can do with your family. Take advantage of this time, you know, it’d be really easy to just sit back and complain about what’s happening. But on the other hand, what can we do with this? What can we do to make sure, you know, we pick up the pieces and we’re even stronger on the other side of it?

As I mentioned at the top of the hour, we had a webinar last night in which we had tons of people from across the nation join us and talk about some of the solutions. You can get the recording to that right now at constitutioncoach.com. And that’s also the place where you can sign up to be one of our Constitution coaches. We’ve got a free license for you right now so that people can host these classes during this time at home. So be sure to check that out at constitutioncoach.com. And then be sure to join us again tomorrow for WallBuilders Live. We appreciate you listening to WallBuilders Live.