image with President Trump surrounded by quotes about right-wing protests to end coronavirus stay at home orders


Do back politicians calling for immediate national living wage checks and Medicare for All

What are we to make of the “Reopen America” protests? Over the last couple of weeks, small rallies have been held in many states demanding that governors—many of them Democrats—rescind the stay-at-home orders they’ve previously issued on the advice of public health officials and let everyone get back to work. The protestors represent an array of organizations. Running the gamut from right to hard-right politically. With the leadership and funding coming from the harder end of that rather narrow spectrum, according to the Guardian.

The question that many on the political left—including myself—are now asking is: What are we to make of this predictable phenomenon? Government at various levels (federal least of all) says we’re in the middle of the most deadly pandemic humanity has faced in 100 years… and, until scientists come up with effective treatments and ultimately a vaccine, the best we can do is to shut down business as usual and ask as much of the population as possible to stay home.

Understandably, the vast majority of people agree this is what we have to do and have just tried to make the best of the situation.

But inevitably, some people are unhappy with the shutdowns and want everything to go back to the way it was before. When they are told that’s not possible, they assume any one of a number of conspiracies—some old and some new—are in play. Don Quixote-like, they then tilt at windmills by purposely violating social distancing rules and congregating in public in numbers large enough to allow the swift spread of the virus that some of them inevitably harbor.

Yet among them are working people who are being economically savaged by the stay-at-home orders and have good reason to be concerned about how they’re going to get through this roughest of patches in long memory with no money coming in as bills mount.

State governments and the federal government are doing little to help the working and middle classes. And however much such protestors might personally agree that staying home is the only way to stop the coronavirus crisis from overwhelming our busted healthcare system, that knowledge isn’t paying their bills.

Seemingly only getting the country back to work can do that. At least that’s the received wisdom from the capitalist punditocracy that passes for thought leadership in the extremely limited political economic dialogue that’s allowed in the corporate-controlled American mass media (in both its private and “public” variants). But is that really true?

For a broadly socialist perspective on this quandary, I drafted my friend, colleague, and sociologist Nicole Aschoff, my friend, colleague, and historian and researcher Suren Moodliar, and my friend, mentor, and noted documentary filmmaker Fred Johnson to help me think this situation through.

We all agreed that tens of millions of ordinary people are being abandoned by government during the pandemic. So it’s difficult to be angry at the workers and small business people involved in the protests, however deluded we might think their actions are. But we also feel that hard right organizations—including some outright fascist, nazi, and white supremacist groups—are making hay while the sun shines in organizing such demonstrations. And that is unacceptable, if unsurprising.

What’s shocking to all of us is the amount of coverage marches and rallies ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred people are getting.

It’s no mystery that flag-waving manifestations are red meat to typical TV news show producers at both regional stations and national networks. The rule in broadcast journalism, and also in the worst of mainstream print news outlets, is “if it bleeds it leads.”

Protests of whatever size offering a counternarrative to the “official line” on the pandemic—despite directly attacking immigrants and African-Americans by calling for vastly increasing their already higher chances of dying from COVID-19 due to being more likely to be working low-wage front-line service jobs and lacking decent health care options—are, therefore, a perfect way for TV news to please the right wing while throwing their hands up when criticized and saying “it’s news, we have to cover it.”

The fact that they are helping to build what would typically be considered insignificant political theater (as is virtually always the case when the anti-corporate left wing stages similar, and typically larger, actions) into an actual political force seems to matter not at all. Even as they continue the normalization of people carrying semi-automatic weapons like AR-15s (easily and commonly modified into nearly-fully automatic weapons by deploying “bump stocks” of the type used in the Las Vegas massacre, according to the Washington Examiner) while demonstrating outside seats of government in the states that quixotically let them do so.

Neither Nicole, Suren, Fred, nor I have any problems with standard Second Amendment claims that people should be allowed to own pistols and rifles with very limited capacity magazines—as long as they are not stockpiling arsenals and only use them in a limited range of acceptable settings like practicing at gun ranges, hunting on public land, or self-defense at home. But we have a big problem with protestors being allowed to intimidate their political opposition with displays of firepower that would seriously tax the ability of law enforcement to bring to heel should the enraged gun nuts decide to use it.

Because as Fred put it, there are certain restrictions that are the price of admission for living in a democratic society. And banning the possession and public display of assault weapons that allow individuals to personally kill a large number of state legislators, cops, and bystanders is one of them.

Regarding the merit of the protests, from a public health perspective we think they are an extremely dangerous development and should be treated as such in the news media. But from an economic perspective, we think that they are a symptom of a federal and state governments that are generally doing a terrible job of ameliorating a terrible pandemic and that the threat to the livelihoods of most working and middle class people in the nation must be taken seriously.

To wit, we believe the press corps—particularly the broadcast media—needs to spend a great deal more time covering proposals like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Paycheck Security Act” bill that would provide government salaries to out-of-work Americans (and immigrants that are the backbone of several key sectors of our economy) up to $90,000 a year per worker. And take the focus off questionable demonstrations that are openly bankrolled by the Koch Brothers-funded groups like the Convention of States—according to the Washington Post (paywall)—and an array of other craven supporters of corporate power over the public good in the United States.

Because “dying for Wall Street,” as the new social media meme goes, is not the cure for either the pandemic that ails us biologically or the runaway capitalism that is destroying our democracy.

All that will result from prematurely “Reopening America” is a dramatic spike in the already scandalously high numbers of people infected and dead from the coronavirus—and a fattening of the bottom lines of those oligarchs (like Jeff Bezos, already $25 billion richer since the beginning of this year, according to Business Insider) that least need it.

We’ll be better off as a nation if we back letting scientists run our public health policy, and passing a suite of new laws that allow working people to survive the pandemic and thrive in the aftermath. A wall-to-wall living wage from the federal government for all that need it and a real national “Medicare for All” health system will both go a long way toward that goal. 

Such reforms will result in people currently facing bankruptcy (and worse) quickly falling away from the nascent reactionary protest movement as that threat recedes. Improving their attitudes toward government in the process.

This will leave only the fringe right—and an increasingly unpopular federal regime with disturbingly similar views in its top echelon—calling for “reforms” that would ultimately kill large numbers of innocent people—many of them black and Latino. Who just happen to be in groups they revile with the irrational hatred of the psychopaths they are.

Making them a much more tractable problem: Mere lunatics that can be managed by a revived and properly funded public mental health system—or the justice system for those that continue to menace legislators with over-powered assault weapons.

Remedies which could also apply to President Trump and his ruling clique, my colleagues and I hasten to add. Since the anemic Democratic presidential campaign of Joe Biden looks unlikely to take out that most dangerous of threats to public health at the ballot box. Should a November election be allowed to proceed. Which is an open question at this point.

Apparent Horizon—recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism’s Pandemic Democracy Project. Contact for more information. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2020 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.