This answer is disguised as an expression of freedom, but it is a twisted, paranoid and racialized version. Slate editor Tom Scocca recently defined it as a political ideology where supporters are “conditioned to believe that thinking about the needs or interests of others in any way is by definition tyranny”. This massive rejection of collective thought is, as Anna Merlan notes of vice, the cornerstone of anti-vaccine and “freedom of health” movements, which reject public health because they “do not think their choices affect others”.
Protesters fail to mention workers who keep America open, many of them fearing for their health, with no choice and in communities devastated by the virus. The result, as my colleagues at The Times described on Saturday, is “images of almost all-white protesters demanding that the governor relax the restrictions while hoisting the Trump signs and Confederate battle flags because the virus is so affecting disproportionately black residents of Michigan. “
This coronavirus protest movement is just the confluence of this ideology of perverted freedom – refined and pushed by Mr. Jones, right-wing interest groups and pro-Trump media – and the dynamics of an ecosystem online information that prioritizes conflicts to gain attention. When Infowars-style tactics meet online platforms, the result is a flattening of all nuanced arguments of science and politics in a simplified struggle between patriots and tyrants. Small demonstrations are wrongly transformed into a false national narrative.
So here we are in 2020, protesting statewide blockages to save lives as thousands of Americans across the country fall ill and die every day. It is a tragedy that a virus that demands a united front – where our public health is not as strong as that of our least vigilant citizens – comes at a time of extreme polarization. But this moment is what we have been going for years. And so the “reopening of America” protests seem unreasonable and yet completely predictable. The playbook is not new. The only thing that has changed is the stakes that are increasing every day.
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