The Danger and Stupidity of “Reopen the Country” Protests

Groups of Americans took to statehouses across the country over the weekend, staging protests to “reopen the country” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. President Donald Trump egged the protestors on, tweeting all-caps pleas to “LIBERATE” states with Democratic governors.

By now you’ve probably seen footage of the protests; any one of the disturbed videos, pictures, or protest signs are enough to dismiss the actions completely. Plus, a fair chunk of the protestors were business owners and people simply hoping to go shopping or get their hair done—making them easy for comedians like Tim Robinson to lampoon.

The protests are idiotic and represent a loud, ignorant minority. And that’s exactly why they might work.

It doesn’t matter that Americans overwhelmingly favor COVID-19 shutdowns. Nor does it matter that the protests aren’t representative of the workers who’d actually be risking their lives to placate them. The “reopen” protests are a vocal minority likely astroturfed by major conservative benefactors and encouraged by Fox News—much like the Tea Party movement in 2009, which ran roughshod over the Republican Party and became its dominant ideology.

In fact, reopen protests are even more cynical than the Tea Party, openly prioritizing the economy over human life. But the choice America faces isn’t “either/or.” The country has more than enough economic power and resources to keep the country shuttered indefinitely, pay workers’ salaries, provide universal healthcare, and fund adequate COVID-19 testing.

But the media is historically gripped by aggrieved white groups protesting government oppression. Fox News compares reopen protestors to American revolutionaries and other organizations classify them as a working class movement only to be ignored at one’s peril.

Ironically, that sympathetic-sounding media coverage is exactly what could lead to the reopen protests actually gaining political clout. It’s the Tea Party playbook rewritten a decade later, only this time it’s co-signed by a supportive president who doesn’t care if American citizens live or die.