Five Thoughts on Right-Wing Protests

April 28, 2020 John Drabinski

Here are a handful of thoughts in the moment: protestors demanding the economy “open up.’

1. Has anyone actually crunched numbers? I’d love to see numbers by state. How many total people showed up? And what percentage is that per state? And, together, what percentage is that for the whole nation? Let’s get a grip. The national media, no matter their orientation ideologically, gasses up these losers in ways that distort reality so severely  that we can (forgivably) forget where we actually live and what’s actually going on. Politicians reveal themselves as regular quarantined folks by making decisions based on these dumbfuck protestors. Whose numbers are near meaningless in context. Especially as national polling indicates widespread support for isolation and stay at home orders. Support while the economy collapses around us, I might add, which is no small thing.

2. It’s boring and trite, yet urgent and must be said. If you pooped your pants because a second- or third-tier NFL quarterback took a silent knee off camera to protest police murder of Black Americans, but you don’t get enraged about these open it up protesters who are actually endangering millions of us, then you are plainly and simply an anti-black racist. Get that stuff straightened out. Ahem. I’ll leave it at that. Kaepernick remains a moral and political index on race.

3. I don’t think this is primarily racially motivated by the protestors, even though we all know that black and brown people will be disproportionately effected by coronavirus infections, the surge in “open up!” protests came just as the virus started to be described in terms of that disproportion, and the protestors (predictably) showed up with a lot of confederate flags. The racism is there. Of course it is. Racism is always there, wherever throngs of white people gather. But I don’t actually believe that’s motivating people. I think the motivation is more akin to (or literally) a cult: join for a cause and be willing to die for it. The cause is “freedom” and being “freedom loving,” which has its own kind of racial code, but isn’t reducible to it. Join and be willing to die. That sounds like the military, which is actually a cult of its own, but in that cult you get paid, get training to protect yourself, get training toward a profession, and have the offer of support for education after finishing your service. In this freedom cult, you promise to accept your mortality and premature, unnecessary death, yet there is no compensation for anything. You just die and cause the death of others with a symbolic reward: you stood for “freedom.” Never discount the power of symbols. This is a whites-only symbol, though, judging by the protesters.

4. I think the racial element in this is the rage against the idea of “handouts.” Whiteness and the virtue of work – not pay, just the fact of work – is one of our deepest ideologies and one of the key sources of the racial wage. A constant point of rage for poor and working class whites – and across all classes, actually – is what handouts mean and how morally and politically disgusting they are. A stimulus check is humiliating to these people because it makes them feel like what they’ve constructed as Black people, with all the abjection that comes with that construction, and such a thing is absolutely intolerable. They’d rather be dead than like their image of a Black person. Image, not reality, to be clear. But they live from images. We know that.

5. Whatever the numbers of protestors, I think most of the motivation here is the ideology of “free citizen.” Rancher libertarianism. It’s an awful ideology but has deep roots, and it’s something I know pretty well from having grown up in Idaho, where conservatism is driven by this version of freedom rather than moralism and Christianity. That’s why the protests draw out militia types: constitution fetishists, freedom absolutists, complete and total individualists. The idea of mandatory stay at home orders stokes every last strand of their paranoia, for sure, but also their most cherished political commitments – as awful and empty as they might be. There’s also the problem of a media and entertainment saturated culture, where limits to our entertainment are completely unacceptable. That’s what we have now. Sure, it’s crazy-making, no one likes staying at home and away from loved ones, but yeah it’s a potent thing in our culture. TV isn’t enough. Netflix tries! Yet here we are, armed citizens getting angry and trying to kill thousands upon thousands so they can go out for a burger.

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