The supreme monument to the politics of fear are the estimated million dead and $11.3 trillion cost of George W. Bush's "War on Terror".
It's 20 years since 19 al-Qaeda terrorists flew highjacked planes into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, murdering 2977 people, including two New Zealanders.
While mocked at the time, including by al-Qaeda, perhaps Bush's finest moment in retrospect was taking seven minutes to finish reading "The Pet Goat" to a class of 7-year-olds in Florida.
Bush had been elected to fight a war against "the soft bigotry of low expectations" in his country's public schools. His visit to Florida was to build support for his education reforms. How powerful might it have been had he refused to let terrorists divert him from his path?
Instead of responding to 9/11 by declaring war against an abstract noun, he might have condemned the terrorists as common criminals, declared their attack as a matter for the FBI, the CIA and the courts, asserted the superiority of American liberal democracy over Islamist barbarism, and moved to quickly rebuild the World Trade Centre taller and stronger than before.
His allies' special forces, including our SAS, might have joined the global hunt for the terrorists but without the spectacle of CNN coverage.
Osama bin Laden might have been found and killed more quickly, perhaps after a trial. Willie Apiata might still have won his Victoria Cross. The Taliban would have remained in power in Kabul, as they are again today.
To the west of Afghanistan, the liberal Mohammad Khatami or his ideological successors might still be running Iran, the vicious but secular Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad might still be brutalising their populations in Iraq and Syria but without Isis having emerged, the authoritarian but secular National Democratic Party might still be running in Egypt, and Muammar Gaddafi might be continuing with his repressive but performative politics in Libya.
The terrorists of Hamas might not have won control of Gaza and a truce maintained between Israel and Palestine run by Fatah. Inevitably, terrorist attacks and border wars would have continued, but to be dealt with as they arose.
Twenty years of hindsight is a columnist's indulgence. But these were real options and it is difficult to argue they would have led to anything worse than what eventuated, certainly for the US and its friends and allies, and most probably for those living in the Islamic arc from the Sahara to Thar deserts. There must be something to learn.
It is shocking that it even needs to be said in 2021 but liberal democracies with free and open economies underpinned by a welfare state - with governments subject to the rule of law and broadly respecting Westphalian sovereignty - are superior social systems to theocracies, empires and one-party states. Liberal values are more important than eliminating the risk of a terrorist attack or catching a virus.
Some emergency measures were needed immediately after 9/11, but Bush and his big-government neo-conservatives betrayed their nation's principles with their doctrine of pre-emptive war, their abuse of extraordinary rendition, their tolerance of torture, their explicit endorsement of building a new American Empire and their assertion of rule-by-decree under the slogan "executive order". In the manner of all politicians, always and everywhere, Bush's successors have not been keen to divest themselves of the new powers he proclaimed.
Nothing so dangerous is occurring in New Zealand, yet there are glimpses of a similar disregard for basic liberal values, driven by a similar type of fear to that after 9/11. No less than Covid for now, it's best to stamp out the very first signs of authoritarianism hard and early.
After the New Lynn terrorist attack National Leader Judith Collins knee-jerked to say her party would support passing the Counter Terrorism Legislation Bill under urgency. This was despite genuine concerns the current draft is too draconian in parts and too soft in others. Collins even wanted citizenship able to be stripped from people who commit violent crimes.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was nearly as bad, wanting the Bill fast-tracked by the end of September. It took Act and the Greens to bring calm, arguing that the state adopting new powers and inventing new crimes based on intentions not actions is – at the very least – a big step, demanding careful consideration. Andrew Little, the minister in charge of our spies, is now promising proper process.
With Covid, a small minority of academics is doubling down on maintaining New Zealand's elimination strategy even after everyone has had time to be fully vaccinated and despite the virus being globally endemic.
Arguing for the Government to delay its plan to begin liberalising border controls from early next year, epidemiologist Michael Baker worried that "as long as people are coming in who could be infected with this virus there is the ability for it to seep through tiny cracks".
He's surely right, but that more makes the case for the futility of a long-term elimination strategy than it works as an argument to maintain restrictions much beyond Christmas. Lest we doubt Baker's commitment to elimination, he suggests New Zealand could borrow ideas from the People's Republic of China to maintain it.
Beehive strategists insist neither Baker nor other prominent medical experts quoted by the media speak for Ardern. The Beehive's message remains that 2020 was the year of lockdown, 2021 is the year of vaccination and 2022 will be the year of reconnection and a return to pre-Covid liberties, with a bit more mask wearing and tracking and tracing.
We must hope those commitments mean more than Bush's "Mission Accomplished" message back in 2003. The murder of 2977 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania did not justify undermining liberal values and democratic processes. Nor does the stabbing of five people in LynnMall, or a virus once everyone has a chance to be vaccinated.
The problem is that Ardern's rhetoric has created fear about Covid out of proportion to its post-vaccination risks. For many of her supporters, the successful elimination strategy to date has become part of New Zealand's national identity, so that those supporting Ardern's own liberalisation plan are dismissed as traitors.
The Prime Minister needs to be clearer in her messaging, including who speaks for her and who does not. Nothing good comes from the politics of fear and hate.
• Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant.