In the face of this decisive opposition to the president’s wishes, the president’s supporters are borrowing the tactics of the early Tea Party: protesting in aggressively obnoxious ways to entice the TV cameras to overlook their tiny numbers and fringe membership: Confederate flag wavers, militia cosplayers, anti-vaxxers. The Lansing protesters used their cars to impede ambulances. They brandished guns on the steps of the step legislature. Behave obnoxiously enough, and the television cameras will disregard your scanty numbers. The Lansing protests have been joined by even smaller protests in California and North Carolina, each numbering fewer than 100 people.
And of course, America’s most powerful cable-news network is more than a passive victim of disinformation. As with the Tea Party a decade ago, so now with the anti-lockdown protests: Fox News acts as the coauthor of the pseudo-events staged for its cameras, as in thisfanciful graphic showing half the United States colored red in protest, as if the whole country were aflame rather than a few hundred oddballs.
For Trump, it’s win-win. Either he pushes the country to trade poor people’s lives for the pursuit of economic recovery, or he gets a cable-TV culture war to distract his supporters from the troubles he himself aggravated by his own negligence.
President Trump’s bad leadership has inflicted terrible hardship on Americans. Trump’s Plan A is to use the pain of that hardship to justify more bad leadership. His Plan B is to use the pain as a way to shift odium: Don’t blame me, the guy who failed to prepare for the pandemic. Blame the governors who are now forced to respond to my failure.