The GOP speaks pretty words about freedom, but what do they really care about? It’s not the principle, it’s the party.
This is a tale of two protests. In today’s politically fractured United States, multiple competing factions gather for survival under two “big tents,” one red and the other blue. Although both coalitions claim the moral high ground in the culture war, recent observations illuminate a key philosophical difference in the motivations that sustain them: for one, it’s not the principle, it’s the tribe that’s important, despite loud and sustained claims to the contrary.
The first protest: Lansing, Michigan, April 2020. With the novel coronavirus gaining a foothold in the state in early March, Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s Democratic governor, issued a “Safer at Home” executive order, closing nonessential businesses and restricting travel in an effort to contain the virus and save lives. By mid-April, pro-Trump and conservative groups began organizing weekly protests, building up to a crescendo on April 30th when armed protesters surrounded Michigan’s capitol building, chanting “let us in” and “this is the Peoples’ house” as they pushed their way past guards and into the gallery, overlooking intimidated lawmakers.
President Trump tweeted his response, encouraging Gov. Whitmer to give in, to open the economy, compromising the health of Michigan citizens in order to “put out the fire” for the good yet angry gun-toting protesters. Safety is clearly not the principle most important to the President, so much as delivering human capital stock to the owners and industries that profit from their labor.
The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2020
The second protest: Minneapolis, MN/Washington D.C./Everywhere, May 2020. On May 25th, Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, a 46 year old black man. They pinned him down during an arrest, one of them crushing his neck on the pavement with his knee for almost nine minutes, despite Floyd’s pleas for his life and the objections of bystanders. Floyd’s death sparked massive and intense protests in Minneapolis and around the country, characterized by egregious police brutality and purposeful attacks on journalists and street medics. Obviously, serving and protecting people instead of capital was not the principle topmost on the minds of America’s “finest.”
On May 31st, the Associated Press reported that as protesters threw rocks and tugged at police barricades near the White House, President Trump, shaken and afraid for his safety, took shelter in a bunker intended as shelter against terrorist attacks. The President disappeared from the news for a few days, uninterested in trying to reassure and unite a country in flames.
Only a few days later, however, Trump made his intentions clear in a leaked conference call with several state governors. Rather than suggesting that these governors give in and make deals with protesters in their states, he urged them to completely dominate and “do retribution” against their citizens, lest the governors “look like a bunch of jerks.” He followed this up by ordering federal police to shoot pepper balls at peaceful protesters near St. John’s Episcopal Church, without any warning to disperse beforehand. (Pepper balls have a similar impact to rubber bullets, and contain a chemical irritant comparable to tear gas.) All of this, so he could have his picture taken at the church while wielding a Bible, weaponizing the words of the Prince of Peace.
By urging Gov. Whitmer to surrender to the intimidation of the protesters in Michigan, potentially making her “look like a jerk,” Trump spoke volumes about his real allegiance. It’s not the principle, it’s merely himself. For all the pretty verbiage about freedom and rights, the GOP cares only about what is good for the GOP. It’s strength to abuse protesters, journalists, and medics. It’s tyranny when a Democratic leader like Whitmer stays the course in her attempt to save the lives of the same people who explicitly wish to shoot, beat, hang, and behead her for her trouble. Whitmer’s strength is real, but the “dominant” President runs to a bunker in fear, behind his little wall at the Peoples’ House, calling up the military to attack Americans who have had their fill (and more) of our country’s racist heritage and too many innocent dead.
Mr. President, these protesters are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives (and those of their brothers and sisters) back. See them. Acknowledge them. Put out the fire, if you can.
Related: The Multiple Meanings of Fair