The headline likely created alarm among many readers, but for many others the response was “Good for them.” Those among us who believe that our economy was unnecessarily tanked and that Americans were too willing to acquiesce to “shelter in place” orders have taken solace in witnessing citizens decide to get back out there, permission or not. Americans have seen what covid-19 is, and what it isn’t, and are increasingly determining precaution levels for themselves.
Oh, but they’re not just risking themselves, we’re admonished, they’re selfishly putting others at risk. Yes. Americans put each other at risk every day, either by spreading illnesses, driving their cars into each other, sharing deadly drugs and alcohol, and interacting with many other hazards. Risk is part of living. Masks? They have a role to play. And when the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree on what that is, we’ll circle back.
Meanwhile, Trump’s refusal to mask up hurts him with the media, which energizes his base. It’s a mathematical certainty that the level of enthusiasm for Trump among his supporters increases in proportion to the level of media criticism he receives. Both will be off the charts by November.
Second on our list is Twitter v. Trump. After years of wailing and gnashing of teeth by the left (and many on the right) about Trump’s tweets, Twitter has caved and appointed itself Trump’s watchdog. It is a monumentally flawed decision that will almost certainly be walked back, lest social media’s Section 230 legal exemption in the 1996 Communications Decency Act be endangered.
There are those among us who have never understood why social media platforms should not be held responsible for their content, just as are newspapers, magazines and traditional broadcasters. Yes, so doing would severely curtail the irresponsible content that bombards social media. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Can we also require everyone online to comment using their real names, or is that too much accountability?
Twitter began its new police action with a bizarre first choice — Trump’s opinion that mail-in balloting would lead to fraud. Will Twitter begin flagging every user’s predictions? No. As far as the president’s supporters are concerned, Twitter has merely proved the long-held suspicion that conservative opinion is much more harshly policed by the social media giants. It’s another campaign issue in Trump’s favor.
Finally, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has been universally condemned, including by Trump. Everyone — left, right and in between — seems to grasp that Floyd’s killing was atrocious. Even in the whitest parts of rural America, there are few who do not understand why protests sprang forth.
But peaceful protests in multiple cities soon morphed into violent demonstrations that for some portion of participants were obviously unconnected to Floyd’s death beyond its usefulness as a springboard to perpetuate anarchy and chaos. Trump’s various tweets encouraging forceful responses, followed by his unambiguous Rose Garden comments Monday evening, were alternately deemed callous, incendiary or, of course, racist.
Trump’s declaration of himself as the “law and order” president is undoubtedly calculated, a la Richard M. Nixon in 1968. But it is also right in the eyes of millions of conservative and conservative-leaning Americans who think “law and order” is an obvious responsibility of government, especially when it comes to violent crime, rather than a racist dog whistle. One sentiment winding its way across the Internet in various forms insisted that white people shouldn’t tell black people how to react. In fact, people, white and black, can and should tell other people, white and black, that peaceful protests are welcomed but violence and destruction will not be tolerated.
Americans of all stripes sympathize with peaceful protesters, but if the president’s opponents are perceived as apologists for riots and anarchy while Trump positions himself as protecting Americans from violence, November’s winner is easy to predict — as Trump well knows.