COVID-19, Heightened Rhetoric and the Intersection of Race and Economics!
Over the past several days, protests of defiance against state government-mandated shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have become increasingly personal and political, with the protestors’ not-so-subtle support of President Trump. Though over the past few days, the commander chief has adopted a more passive/aggressive stance in his agenda. Truckloads of angry and unhinged protesters have taken to courthouses, statehouses and other public venues in an effort to voice their dissatisfaction and flex their politically reactionary muscles toward what they consider (incorrectly, I might add) to be a deeply unacceptable infringement upon their civil rights.
In various pockets of the nation, these men and women have brazenly expressed their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, complete with guns, signs, bullhorns, confederate flags, ironic swastikas and various other trappings of white supremacy. Interestingly and notably, they engage in such scurrilous activity under the guise of claiming to promote liberty and freedom. Indeed, some of these protesters and their conservative supporters have even gone as far as to invoke the legacy of founding father Patrick Henry and renowned Civil rights activist Rosa Parks. As can be imagined, the latter comparison has provoked considerable outrage among many on the political, social and cultural left. Talk about insulting the grand legacy of a civil rights activist, humanitarian and icon.
Here are just some of the actions that have occurred:
- In Washington State, organizers compared their protest to the “shot heard around the world” before the Revolutionary War.
- Also in Washington state, one GOP legislator claimed an ongoing “rebellion” against Democratic Governor Jay Inslee, hinting that if restrictions continued, “we’ll see what a revolution looks like.”
- In Denver, protesters carried signs saying things like, “Dangerous freedom over gov’t tyranny.”
- In Michigan, signs have broadcast messages such as, “Live free or die” and “Heil Whitmer,” a reference to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, even as some protesters toted rifles.
While these men and women are likely to represent a cross-sampling of both political parties, the fact is that the vast majority of these individuals identify as Trump supporters and as either Republicans or apolitical. To be sure, these protests were not a spur-of-the-moment, overnight development. On the contrary, the largely unruly crowds that have been congregating mobs in Michigan, Colorado, South Carolina, Virginia and elsewhere did not arise out of nowhere, they are the well-backed elements of well-organized activism supported by well-financed, right-wing, multi-millionaires, billionaires and corporations. Thus, they are the political offspring of a garden variety of right-wing groups and the usual assortment of perverse, self-righteous purveyors otherwise known as the “Trump base,” which counts small government groups, gun rights activists and anti-science, anti-vaccine advocates among its members.
While it is probably safe to say that most Americans (save for the most deranged) are eager to see shops, restaurants and other businesses reopen eventually. Even capitalism’s harshest critics are aware that a stable economy is in the best financial interests of the working people of this nation. That being said, what most people understand is that we are in the midst of a serious crisis, the likes of which we have not seen in more than a century. Thus, it is imperative that we proceed judiciously, sagaciously and cautiously as the public attempts to work its way back to normal; a reality that in itself may very well become a new normal.
Truth be told, no reasonable person can deny the racial, xenophobic and religious factors that underlie a number of these protests. Trump’s initial push onto the political scene included an abundance of aggressive, harsh and politically retrograde messages. Racism, sexism and xenophobia quickly became common fare throughout his odiously divisive candidacy. While there were multiple examples of irresponsible rhetoric emanating from Trump’s campaign, the most striking and pointed message was his promise to “Make America Great Again.” While such a statement could mean varied things to different people, the message that Trump was espousing to his largely right-of-center, Tea Party, birther-obsessed crowd (and to those in the country who are non-white) was an unambiguous, unapologetic return to a time when white people were in control — white men in particular.
Indeed, during his unsettling tenure as president, Trump has delivered some appetizing comments to more than a few white men (and some women, for that matter) who long for the days when heterosexual, able-bodied white men ruled and Latino and other dark-skinned, non-white immigrants were largely non-existent. A world where blacks and, in some cases, Jews were occasionally seen, certainly not heard from, supposedly ”knew their place “ so-to-speak and were deprived of any sense of dignity, fairness and equality.
A world where women were largely relegated to second-class status, were of no competition in the workplace, had to often quietly overlook or turn a blind eye to infidelity or spousal abuse and were largely relegated to objects of sexual objectification. A world where gays and lesbians were seen as less than human, regarded as deviants, perverts and unworthy of any form of respect; disabled people were seen as quasi-human, burdensome and semi-tragic figures; and authoritarianism was the order of the day. Yes, for a sizable percentage of this segment of American society, these were indeed the “good ol’ days.”
Thus, the current modern right is a movement driven in large part by the grievances of a motley crew of disgruntled and angry white men who feel that they have been deprived of their due respect and deference. Moreover, they are under the assumption that they have been forced to surrender the power that was “rightfully theirs” based on the superiority of their race and gender. They see Donald Trump as the man who will return them to their supposed rightful place of authority. Disillusionment, confusion and resentment have become the current state of affairs for some of the men who fall into this category. It has become a sad spectacle to witness.
Historian, Public Speaker and Cultural Critic Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor at East Tennessee State University and author of the recent book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press), which is available in paperback and Kindle via Amazon and other major book retailers. He can be read via facebook, linkedin and twitter @bleachbred