They marched in Michigan. They marched in Ohio. They marched in Minnesota. They marched in Kentucky. They marched in North Carolina.
And more marches are coming.
They marched to supposedly “liberate” their states from oppressive government control in implementing stay-at-home orders to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Yet, even as they carried themselves with bluster and defiance…they marched in fear.
They marched against common sense. They marched in support of ignorance. They marched not as the rebels they believe themselves to be, but as puppets to a propaganda machine.
Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot to be afraid of right now, and the terrible toll stay-at-home orders are having on the economy is certainly high among them. Even under best-case scenarios, it will take years to come back from the economic hits the nation and the world are taking…and many in the margins, living paycheck-to-paycheck or worse, will be permanent victims of those hits.
But the panicked push to end those orders is not only callous of the significantly larger number of lives lost if we “reopen America” too soon, they are ignorant of the far greater impact on the economy if we go back to “business as usual” before the spread of the virus is greatly diminished and we have widespread monitoring available. (A vaccine, of course, will be the closest thing to an “all clear,” but even optimistic predictions suggest one won’t be available until 2021.)
Yes, “liberators,” as bad as the economy is now and may remain for some time, it could become so very much worse. We’ve seen how quickly this virus spreads, and a major second or third wave of COVID-19 could shutter stores again; make a large number of people wary of ever returning to restaurants, bars, theaters and other public venues; and put even more small businesses at risk. And, coldhearted as it is to think about death rates in this regard, if we call off stay-at-home and social distancing measures too soon, it will mean the loss of millions of consumers…who also happen to be our fellow human beings.
The death toll due to COVID-19 is already a worldwide tragedy (165,000-plus victims globally at this writing), but if we aren’t vigilant about best practices to diminish its spread, it could become historically catastrophic. Even if one takes the shallow “America first” view, we are leading the world by vast numbers in both confirmed cases and deaths, with over 40,000 U.S. fatalities as of this writing.
When 2,996 people died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we were told life could no longer be the same and we needed to be forever vigilant. That’s true. Even if the military response to 9/11 was misguided, ineffective and tremendously costly in both lives and money, there is no doubt 9/11 made us realize how vulnerable we could be from an attack. But somehow, with a death toll already 13 times higher than inflicted by those terrorist attacks and sure to rise significantly more, some believe the best response is to shrug it off and get back to business.
Of course, state and municipal governments need to do everything they can to expedite getting more businesses up and running, limiting stay-at-home rules and refining social distancing guidelines as they can. Some cities and states will be able to do this sooner than others and, if monitoring can be enacted widely, even badly affected areas may be able to do that as confirmed cases remain high. But the economic recovery from COVID-19 needs to be done in step with the health crisis, not apart from it. And that means prioritizing the health emergency first.
But the “liberate” movement – spurred by a president who, failing miserably at leadership in his biggest test, has decided to rally the troops of #TrumpCult by appealing to the spirit of “I want mine and I want it now” – does not recognize that the toll on the economy is also hitting people who support stay-at-home strategies. (By the way, polls show the vast majority of Americans do support the measures.)
For some in this so-called liberation movement, it may simply be a matter of not taking the longer view – not understanding that this is our moment of sacrifice, as rationing was for the American public in World War II.
However, for a sizeable portion of the mobs showing up in these demonstrations, it’s clear that misinformation and wild conspiracy theories are driving their actions. The fringe theories include that Bill Gates was behind COVID-19, it’s all a plan to impose worldwide socialism, and, of course, that the virus was hatched as a plot against Trump.
From Breitbart to Alex Jones to QAnon, there are countless sources of wild fiction masquerading as fact and they spread like wildfire on social media. President Trump (who appeared on Jones’ show as a candidate) has embraced bullshit “journalism” fully. These days, he even finds right-wing messaging favorite Fox News too critical and has taken a shine to OAN (One America News Network) – propping this American Pravda up as a legitimate organization in the circus of the White House COVID-19 press briefings.
In perhaps the most unsettling of Trump’s many disturbing statements during the pandemic, after essentially throwing his arms up and leaving informed response to the nation’s governors, he took to his beloved Twitter to call out to his base: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA! and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
The Virginia callout was the most troubling. It was a shameless dog whistle to extremists who see gun rights under constant threat, even though we remain a nation with some of the least-restrictive gun laws in the world, even as mass shootings have become expected and quickly forgotten. Trump was trying to position stay-at-home orders with recently passed, sensible gun laws in Virginia, even though the legislation had nothing to do with COVID-19 response. (While gun shops have been deemed essential businesses in some states, there are very good reasons to close them in a crisis like this for those who care to see.)
With a nation more and more divided in what they define as “news,” and opinions overriding facts when it suits people, it’s hard to know how to battle against the glaring lies of a loose-cannon president.
As someone who is lucky enough to have a job right now, I do not want to diminish the concerns of those whose livelihoods are at risk. We should press for the best response by local and federal authorities to alleviate their struggles. But whatever that entails in the short run, the way this crisis impacted our economy in just a matter of weeks should spell out, clear as day (all-caps for the #TrumpCult), that fixing our broken social safety net is the best path to avoiding the worst effects of financial crises – and we are bound to have more.
This pandemic has taught us that national borders mean very little and state borders mean even less. From pandemics to climate change, we need to be citizens of the world before citizens of any nation if we are really to prepare for these kinds of events. And more are coming. Cross-border crises, whether disease or disasters, are simply part of our future.
But the “liberators” prefer to find comfort in conspiracies, rallying against perceived enemies in the statehouses and, astonishingly, seeing a savior in the White House.
It’s understandable why they cling to such madness. COVID-19 has shown how little control they have, how fragile and at the mercy of nature we all are, and how much hard work is needed to reinvent our nation and our world so we might not be in this kind of jeopardy again soon.
They are scared. Scared senseless.