I suspect this fear, more than any coherent ideology of individual liberty, is the underlying driver of these demonstrations. But the protesters’ own rhetoric is all rights and freedom — unsurprisingly, as the American belief in protected dissent is strong. Civil disobedience and conscientious objection are core to our national mythology if not consistent in our historic practice.
Whatever hypocrisy, rejection of rightful responsibility, or oblivion to unintended consequences may be in play here — and I think all those charges have some merit — that remains true. This is why the tweet from Raleigh, North Carolina, police which justified a demonstrator’s arrest by declaring protesting a “non-essential activity” rankled so many. It’s also why the most vehement denunciations of the lockdown protesters seem to run to the line of calling for demonstrators’ arrests but almost never cross it. An MSNBC panelist labeled the protesters the “Fox News, Nazi, Confederate death cult rump of the Republican party” but merely recommended less media coverage. As ridiculous as that contrast may be, the restraint is heartening. It suggests an important norm is holding under immense strain.
Yet wariness of legal restriction of dissent needn’t preclude other means of discouragement or redirection as the protest impulse rises. Instead of writing this off as a “fringe” movement, governors and mayors should hold online town halls to hear public complaints — and not just the easy ones staffers pre-screened on Twitter.