Democrats’ Hypocrisy on Protests During Lockdown Could Damage Their Credibility

Anti-lockdown protests in Wisconsin

Following the coronavirus stay-at-home orders issued by various state governments, members of the left-wing media establishment spent two months insisting that sheltering in place was the only moral course of action amid a pandemic, and that anyone violating that order was complicit in innocent deaths. Anti-lockdown protesters were branded “grandma killers,” and major news outlets ran pieces casting aspersions on those who questioned the edict that shutting down the entire country was the only way to protect people from COVID-19. These progressives were particularly interested in the perspective of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Since March, he has remained consistent in his message: everyone, with the exception of essential workers, should remain sheltered in place until the virus is under control. Given his extensive experience and knowledge, their trust in him was understandable.

As death statistics emerged indicating that Black and Latino Americans were dying of the virus at disproportionate rates, lockdown protesters were no longer just accused of wanting to kill grandmothers, but of wanting to kill Black people, as well. Articles decrying the “whiteness” of the protests argued that white Republicans wanted to end the stay-at-home order in part because they didn’t care if Black people died of COVID-19. Major outlets like The New York Times and Vox echoed these sentiments, and the articles were shared thousands of times on social media. The prevalence of this argument suggests that it was not a fringe perspective, but a view held by a fair portion of the progressive left.

Pro-lockdown advocates often painted dissenters as being selfish, prioritizing petty luxuries like haircuts or zoo trips over the well-being of their fellow countrymen. But protesters saw it differently: many rightly took issue with the fact that people were forbidden to see their loved ones as they died in the hospital alone, and that important events like funerals and religious services were cancelled indefinitely.

Despite these concerns, however, it seemed that the vast majority of progressives were on board with maintaining the shelter-in-place order indefinitely — that is, until the tragic and senseless murder of George Floyd. After footage emerged of an innocent Floyd being suffocated for nine agonizing minutes by a white police officer while begging for his life, nationwide protests broke out demanding that all four officers responsible be charged with murder. The protests were utterly justified: police officers beat and kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people every year and almost never face justice. If anyone without a badge were filmed assaulting, shooting, or strangling another person the way some police officers do, they would be imprisoned; but qualified immunity protects the “bad apples” in our police force and allows for a culture of power abuse and corruption to thrive in our nation’s criminal justice system. But it cannot be denied that the people attending these protests are more often than not the same individuals who spent two months insisting that there was no good reason to cease social distancing, and that anyone who advocated for doing so was selfish, evil, or racist. Notably, Dr. Fauci also ceased to be a regular consultant on left-wing news outlets, as he remained firm in the position he’s held all along: any mass gatherings, including protests, risk further spreading the virus, and should therefore be avoided.

As a Democrat, I am concerned about what the left-wing media establishment’s rapid one-eighty-degree turn on this matter will do to public trust. I fear it will erode Americans’ trust not just in my party, but in the media at large. If these protests result in a massive spike in COVID-19 cases, Democrats’ failure to follow own own rules will be at least partly to blame, and we will have to forfeit the moral high ground in lecturing others on the importance of social distancing. If these protests do not result in a massive spike in COVID-19 cases, it will cast doubt on whether or not enforcing stay-at-home orders, which put countless people out of work and did damage untold to our economy, was necessary in the first place. Whether the protests result in a second wave of coronavirus or not, Democrats will be proven wrong about something.

I fear that the racial component of this conundrum, too, will do damage to our party’s image. We were told that the desire to reopen the country was motivated by racism, because Black people will comprise a larger percentage of coronavirus victims than their population size. But as George Floyd was an African-American man and his murder understandably resonated with Black Americans, many of the protesters themselves are Black. If Black protest attendees are diagnosed with COVID-19 en masse, will major media outlets lambast Democrats for endangering innocent Black lives with their flagrant violation of the rules? It is doubtful.

If we want to maintain the public’s trust, the Democratic party must cease with the hyperbole, and admit that we do not have the monopoly on morality. We can acknowledge that is a serious problem in our police forces, but also recognize that most officers are generally good. We can express outrage at the racism that still exists in our country while also acknowledging that most Americans are generally good, too. If we have our legitimate reasons for wanting to emerge from lockdown, we should assume that our neighbor does as well, and he probably didn’t protest the stay-at-home order because he is a neo-Nazi. Perhaps he was concerned for his business, maybe he feared for his ability to feed his children, and maybe he had a funeral planned for a loved one and is angry at having been denied the ability to give that person their final rites. Either way, it is a mistake to assume our ideological opponents are arguing from a place of bigotry or malice; they, like we, have their reasons for holding the opinions they do. If we fail to learn from the events of recent weeks and continue pointing fingers at others, accusing them of racism or hatred whenever they disagree with us, we run the risk of finding ourselves again with egg on our face. If we don’t change our party’s ethos, in which we assume that left-wingers are the only ones who could possibly care about the wellbeing of ethnic minorities, and start listening to the people we disagree with on issues of race and economics, we might not realize how much this public embarrassment for our party plays into Trump’s hands until it is too late.

Will Democrats heed this warning? This is doubtful, too.