Conservatives have turned how someone responds to the coronavirus pandemic — a bona fide global health crisis — into somewhat of an ideological purity test that devalues things like "public safety" and "basic health care" for the self-satisfying appeal of "owning the libs." Given the degree to which President Trump has so thoroughly injected his own ego into the country's coronavirus response, the backlash from the far-right against attempts to mitigate the speed and spread of coronavirus was, in retrospect, rather predictable.
Nevertheless I have to admit I was genuinely unprepared to see a gaggle of flag-waving (both American and Confederate) right-wingers defying their local lockdown orders to protest for the right to be infected with coronavirus. And yet, that's where we are now as a country, with rallies in multiple states from people demanding to be allowed to roam free in defiance of the stay-at-home rules meant to keep them alive and healthy.
On Wednesday, protesters in Michigan participated in "Operation Gridlock," where they drove laps around the state capitol building in cars festooned with Trump memorabilia and Confederate symbols, videos show. Their gripe, per NBC affiliate WILX, is that there's been "no action from [the Michigan governor] to promote both physical and economic health while the stay-at-home order is in effect."
In other words: They're complaining that their head of state has put their health over the total wellbeing of the economy. "There is no reason why [Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer] can't be looking at some safe ways to be opening up businesses," Michigan Conservative Coalition spokesperson Meshawn Maddock told WILX. "Instead of talking about what's essential and nonessential, let's talk about what's safe and not safe. Safe businesses and safe workers need to get back to work."
In North Carolina, meanwhile, at least one person was arrested during a separate mass protest against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's stay-at-home orders. "We are in violation of Comrade Cooper’s order,” Leonard Harrison told The News & Observer, pejoratively referring to the governor. “If I get locked up today, I’m okay with that. As North Carolinians, we need to get back to work.”
According to The News & Observer, protesters also verbally attacked law enforcement officials sent to monitor the rally. “Are you goons of Cooper or servants of the people?” one protester reportedly yelled.
Asked on Twitter why arrests were being threatened, the Raleigh Police Department stated that "protesting is a non-essential activity" — a similar response to that of the police department in Greensboro, North Carolina, where several anti-abortion protesters were arrested for violating the state's social distancing orders earlier this month.
And in Columbus, Ohio, this week, approximately 75 people protested Republican Gov. Mike DeWine's shutdown orders, where they reportedly told the anti-vaccine activist Scott Shoemaker, who was on site to cover the rally, things like "we're not afraid of any viruses." The protesters also waved signs reading "my inherent rights don't end where your fear begins."
And this is where we now are as a country: A viral pandemic has killed nearly 30,000 people in the U.S. to date, and despite efforts by local governments to literally keep their residents safe, and indeed alive, a sampling of the right wing's loudest members have decided that this is the perfect time to risk their health to make a point about government overreach and their own tough-guy American exceptionalism.
Suffice it to say, all these people who amassed in a public gathering to shout and wave signs and honk horns should probably line up for a coronavirus test sooner rather than later, just to be safe.