Free to Die: The Rise of Anti-Lockdown Protesters

Reopen America Protester with anger disgust

“To be, or not to be” . . . that’s the famous question asked in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Our version today in America . . .  whether to follow the stay-at-home approach advocated by medical experts, or ignore their guidance. The photo above captures the two opposing perspectives. A Denver protester is snarling in outrage: “This is the land of the free. Go to China!” A calm medical worker blocks her path. This is not an isolated incident. Across America, gun-toting, MAGA-hat wearing, anti-lockdown protestors are agitating for the economy to be opened immediately . . . or else. Most Americans agree it’s a false choice. We need both our health and our jobs, but in that order – lives ahead of livelihoods. So what is really going on here?

The answer is emotional manipulation rooted in getting supporters to deflect blame and anger. People are hurting, hence the need to turn their anger away from The White House to scapegoats like China, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Democratic governors, or reporters for asking why Donald Trump has been so slow and inept at handling this crisis. Such manipulation is a survival tactic meant to protect just one person: the President and his re-election prospects. Trump is gambling, as usual. In this case, not with creditors’ money on behalf of his casinos and hotels but with our lives, by taking any chance he can to get the economy rolling again. And why not? That’s Trump’s modus operandi. The situation brings to mind this anecdote about risk taking. As Adolf Hitler was preparing to invade Russia in 1941, his henchmen Hermann Goering begged the Fuhrer not to take such a big, foolish gamble, to which Hitler abruptly replied: “I always gamble.”

Trump has called the protesters “very responsible people.” A White House economic advisor, Stephen Moore, has compared them to civil-rights champion Rosa Parks. Never mind that some of the protestors come to these shoulder-to-shoulder, social-distancing-flouting rallies waving Confederate flags. In politics, anger and disgust have their own internal, intuitive logic. Anger means you hit out (verbally or otherwise) at opponents, the “vermin” you’re disgusted with. Will the driver of the aptly-named RAM 1500 vehicle slam into this scrub-clad medical worker, as happened to counter-protestors in Charlottesville? No, no violence occurred this time around, thank god. But if virus history repeats itself, then forget the anger and disgust that divides us as a country. Those emotions are distractions. What we need to feel is fear given what happened in 1918, when the second wave of the influenza pandemic was deadlier than the first.

Trump’s Trump Tower Press Conference Tirade

Tuesday’s press conference was meant to be relatively mundane, a matter of talking about the President’s infrastructure re-development initiatives. In the greater scheme of things, important but a yawn all the same. What we got, instead, as citizens of America was a look into Donald Trump’s soul and maybe, just maybe the effective end of his young presidency.

The administrative figures flanking Trump or in the vicinity within Trump Tower weren’t having a good time. Look at this still image of National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, on Trump’s left. And back by a blue curtain set up for the event, there was White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly: the guy brought in to restore some discipline to a radically dysfunctional White House. Reports are that the staffers in attendance and those watching the live footage back in Washington, D.C. reacted with dismay and worry. They were left stunned and numb by what they were witnessing. Some of them apparently doubt that Trump’s presidency can recover. Even more striking, some of them apparently doubt Trump’s capacity to handle his Oval Office duties—an assessment now shared by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in questioning the President’s “stability.”

As for Trump himself, however, he left this free-riffing press conference reportedly elated. What a relief, he felt, to be free of the shackles he wore earlier this week. To let his staff force him to give that earlier, teleprompter-chained account of his reaction to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia was by comparison such a drag. What does a freely emoting, raw Trump look like? Here’s his emotional profile, reflecting how often he felt these emotions while answering reporters’ questions after he finished his formal, initial infrastructure remarks at Trump Tower.

Trump Press Conference Emo Profile

What’s noteworthy here?  As I wrote about earlier, happiness hardly exists for the guy. Across the levels of happiness from joy down to mere acceptance, that upbeat emotion was in short supply on Tuesday. The difference is that on this occasion of extreme venting, frustration (anger) clearly won the day, with derisive skepticism and dislike (disgust) next most common. Sadness took a back seat this time around, relatively speaking—though there were plenty of moments when Trump closed his eyes in disappointment regarding how the press treats him.

More interesting still was how the President felt regarding the topics he touched on. Our emotions turn on when something matters to us. So notice which topics Trump was most engaged by, as well as the degree to which his emotions per topic were positive vs. negative (the appeal score). Is senior advisor Steve Bannon at risk of losing his job? You’d have to say so, when only a critic Trump detests, Senator John McCain, gets a bigger emotional thumbs-down from the President. More importantly, was the President, in fact, holding the so-called “alt left” as much to blame as the alt right for the events in Charlottesville? The results here show Trump more negative about the alt left’s role, though the “fake news” press, Trump’s CEO critics, and the prospect of Robert E. Lee’s statue and those of other Confederate leaders being removed are all topics that draw even more ire from this president. In positive terms, only the economy does better than Trump’s favorite topic—himself—which would have got the most positive score if not for Trump’s snorts about not being appreciated enough.

Trump Press Conference Cartesian

When I said a look into Trump’s soul in opening this piece, I meant it. Totally unvarnished Trump is something to behold. Let me wrap it up here with a mini photo album of Trump’s various looks during the Trump Tower press conference on Tuesday:

  • There’s the “Cheerio look” as Trump refutes his CEO critics. Note how the President’s upper lip and lower lip simultaneously extend upward and downward in disgust, transforming his mouth into an O-shape.
  • There’s Trump feeling venomous anger as he insists he’s more perceptive than the media (“I watched … very closely, much more closely than you people”).
  • There’s Trump wincing in sadness because he’s not being given enough credit for having “condemned many different groups.”
  • There’s Trump happy to be discussing himself (“Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville?”
  • And finally, while I’ve long hoped that Trump was no worse for our country than the former, scandal-plagued Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a businessman himself, there’s Trump aping that country’s former fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, given this smug expression.

Heaven help us all.