Not a lot of distancing going on at that anti-lockdown protest in Pennsylvania

Robby Soave has a post at Reason today scolding celebrities and reporters for sneering at the protests, which is fair enough. We’re in the midst of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. People are being forced into protracted unemployment by order of the state. If you’re going to mock them for demonstrating against lockdowns, at least glance at your bank account first to remind yourself that not everyone has it as good as you do.


“Check your privilege,” as our friends on the left like to say.

But if we’re going to give PR advice to the pro-lockdown contingent, let’s spare a few for the anti-lockdown group too. If I were organizing one of these things, I’d have three messages I’d want to communicate to build maximum sympathy among the wider public:

1. “We’re not in denial about the disease. We share your concerns.”

2. “We can and will take precautions to reduce transmission if the lockdowns are lifted.”

3. “This isn’t partisan. We’re just like you, average people who need to work.”

I’m not getting a strong “precautions” vibe from this scene outside the state capitol in Pennsylvania today. It’s hard to tell how many are in masks, but clearly not everyone is. And any guidelines about social distancing are out the window.


Just one big disease vector swarming on the capitol steps as a truck with “Jesus is my vaccine” scrawled on the cab drives by. Not a lot of distancing or masks in sight at this protest yesterday at the Washington capitol either:

Everyone who looks at photos of these things comes away with the same take: They remind me of the tea party. The paraphernalia is similar. Lots of American flags and star-spangled hats and shirts, some Gadsden flags, occasional dudes walking around with AR-15s, a total “live free or die” vibe. They’re protests against government overreach, like the tea-party protests were.

But debates about the proper scope of government power are a subset of the culture war between the right and left, and culture war is the last thing I’d want to signal at an anti-lockdown protest. It’s destined to polarize people by ideology. I’d want to make the demonstrations about something more universally shared, like basic economic reality. We’d all love to stay safe at home forever but that’ll lead to death by starvation instead of death by disease. We have to work. Framing the objection to lockdown orders in terms of freedom from government oppression instead of economic necessity invites the reply that the lockdowns serve the competing value of community in a time of crisis. We’re all looking out for each other by staying away from each other. In an age of infectious disease, your freedom potentially infringes on my safety.


To put that another way, a mom with a sign reading “MY CHILDREN NEED TO EAT” is a powerful message about the urgency of reopening that’ll resonate with everyone. Whereas a dude in a George Washington coat carrying a semiautomatic rifle is doing little more than right-wing culture-war cosplay.

At least he’s masked up.

A new poll from YouGov finds that the protests aren’t winning people over, at least not yet. Go figure:

The survey, conducted April 17 to April 19, found that a full 60 percent of the public opposes the largely pro-Trump protesters whose calls for governors to “liberate” their states by lifting lockdown measures have attracted intense media attention in recent days — and whose message the president amplified Friday in a series of all-caps “LIBERATE” tweets about three swing states: Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.

Only 22 percent of Americans say they support the protesters. Despite Trump’s messaging, even Republicans oppose the protests 47 percent to 36 percent. Asked whether they agree or disagree with Trump’s “LIBERATE” tweets, only a quarter of Americans say they agree…

The margins aren’t close. Seventy-one percent of Americans — and 56 percent of Republicans — say they are more concerned about lifting the coronavirus restrictions too quickly than lifting them too slowly. Only 29 percent of Americans say the opposite.


Nearly 90 percent said that a resurgence in coronavirus cases would be at least “somewhat” likely if the lockdowns ended today. That may help explain why the protests thus far have been so small, along with people’s innate fear of showing up to these de facto pox parties and getting infected.

Rich Lowry thinks it’s a sign of things to come: “If Democrats win back unified control in November, this kind of populist voice and protest — warning of government’s threat to our way of life and our constitutional rights — will once again be a major element of the opposition.” No doubt, but it’ll be much harder to take seriously next time given how the tea party’s spirit of populist conservatism decayed into populist Trumpism in the span of six years. The national debt will be a matter of momentous importance once the COVID-19 epidemic is over and we’re left staring at the bill, but we ran trillion-dollar deficits under Trump even before the virus claimed its first victim and Republicans said nothing. Trump has never pretended to care about shrinking government and speaks only very rarely about freedom, usually scripted, and yet no Republican president in my lifetime has had as passionate a following on the right as he’s had. If tea-partyism comes back into vogue under Biden it’ll be ideological muscle memory that’s to blame more than any deep commitment.


Here’s a scene from another protest at the Texas capitol over the weekend. Exit quotation from Fauci himself, speaking to ABC this morning: “If you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back… [U]nless we get the virus under control, the real recovery, economically, is not going to happen.”

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