The hypocrisy of the anti-lockdown protests

People take part in a protest for ‘Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine’ at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on April 15, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images
  • Many Trump supporters are mad as hell about stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and they’re taking to the streets to express their American right to protest.
  • They suddenly have a very different attitude about the right to stage disruptive protests. When their political enemies were protesting police brutality and climate change, conservatives were pushing anti-protest legislation across the country.
  • The anxiety, and even the rage, of many people who have lost their livelihoods due to the sudden and shocking economic shutdown is understandable.
  • But unless they’re truly cynical about their hypocrisy, Trump supporters should demand the repeal of anti-protest bills that conservatives flooded legislatures with for the past three years since Trump’s election.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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The coronavirus quarantine has brought out a passion for protest in a great many conservative Trump supporters.

Demonstrating against the stay-at-home orders which they see as the work of a tyrannical government out of control, they have been gathering in several cities. To drive home the point that they won’t allow their constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties to be abridged by a mass response to a pandemic, some protesters have brandished weapons. By most accounts, they’re defiantly forgoing wearing CDC-recommended masks.

The looming menace of openly-carried guns aside, the protests are cloaked in the imagery of patriotism, rebellion, and non-violent resistance.

They hold Gadsden flags and signs that accuse elected leaders of being Nazis or communists. One protester in Arizona held a sign reading: “Cure is worse than the virus.”

Overtly displaying their anger and with little regard for those who disagree with either their position or their tactics, they have blocked traffic (there’s a coordinated effort across several states literally called “Operation Gridlock“), angrily amassed outside government buildings, and at times openly flouted the law.

Their anxiety, and even their rage, is to some extent understandable.

A government action that’s been implemented to “help” has cost many of them their livelihoods. And some state leaders haven’t exactly made a great case to the citizenry that they should just follow orders because they’re well-thought-out and for the public good.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in particular, issued orders with so many contradictions and such draconian limitations on citizens’ freedom of movement that four sheriffs publicly announced they would not enforce some of the restrictions which they say “overstep[ed] her executive authority.”

There’s good reason to question the wisdom (or lack thereof) in ignoring social distancing guidelines and staging massive protests without protective gear as the pandemic continues to spread. But pushback against the lockdowns was inevitable, even if there’s good reason to believe these “grassroots” demonstrations have been concocted by well-funded conservative groups rather than grassroots organisers and have more than a touch of the Alex Jones-influenced evidence-free conspiracy paranoia.

What’s striking is that this pro-Trump “liberty” movement is so stridently embracing deliberately disruptive protest and open defiance of the law.

That’s a very different tune than they were singing very recently, when their political opponents were adopting similar tactics.

Republicans under Trump have been pushing for laws that would criminalise the anti-quarantine protests

President Trump himself has encouraged the protests, despite the fact that they run counter to his own administration’s guidance on social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This is the same Trump who has repeatedly touted himself as a “law and order” president and has never been one to turn the other cheek to people who protest him.

It may seem like a lifetime ago – but in reality it was only in the past couple of years during the Trump administration – that Republicans across the country were pushing for laws that would criminalise the very demonstrations in which they partake.

According to the International Centre for Non-Profit Law, since Trump’s election in November 2016, conservatives have pushed for laws or issued executive orders at both the federal level and in 38 states that restrict “peaceful protest rights” through punishment, deterrence or limiting the scope of peaceful protests.

But that was then, when the protesters were demonstrating against police brutality or climate change, issues to which Republicans weren’t particularly sympathetic.

This is not to diminish the legitimate concerns of anyone protesting the various quarantine orders.

This country is already approaching Great Depression-level unemployment. Even when the lockdowns are lifted, a great many businesses will never reopen. Entire industries – hospitality and tourism, especially – will only bring back a fraction of their workforce.

And despite Trump’s absurdly rosy prediction of an economic “boom” once the outbreak subsides, medical experts have warned of multiple waves of COVID-19 outbreaks that could lead to additional lockdowns.

This is going to be a crisis that in its immediate form will last anywhere from 18 months to two years. That’s why, however manufactured the current crop of protests are, there will continue to be backlash to the self-imposed annihilation of the economy to fight the coronavirus.

If they believe in the right to protest, Trump supporters should demand the repeal of anti-protest laws

There will be lessons learned from this catastrophe once the new normal becomes clearer.

The global economy will look very different. The social safety net, which has failed so miserably, will likely be exponentially enhanced. The US’ trade relationship with China may need to be completely rethought.

And while this is hardly the first time in recent memory that conservatives have taken to the streets in protest (remember the Tea Party, when the right still claimed to care about excessive government spending?), it’s an instructive lesson that rights are not determined by one’s political motives.

The right to protest is part of the rubric of the Bill of Rights. And under the Trump administration, conservatives have sought to abridge that right against agitators they saw as “anti-American.”

Now that they’re the ones that are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, protests are “American” again.

Unless they’re truly cynical about their hypocrisy, Trump supporters ought to demand the repeal of the anti-protest bills that conservatives have been flooding the legislatures with for the past three years.