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Opinion The American right’s hypocritical embrace of the anti-vaccine Canadian truckers

A woman crosses the street in front of vehicles parked as part of the trucker protest in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press via AP)

If you aren’t a regular viewer of Fox News, you might think the network is consumed only with stories about frightening Black people and perfidious liberals. Not so — Fox also finds heroes to praise, the righteous and the brave who will defend the principles they espouse.

Like shutting down traffic as a form of protest. Turn on Fox today and you’ll find one host after another — Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson — waxing poetic on the noble cause of the “Freedom Convoy." This is a group of Canadian truckers who descended on the capital city of Ottawa to protest a requirement that those who cross back and forth over the U.S. border be vaccinated.

Not only have they shut down large portions of the city, but they’ve also been honking their horns at all hours, in an apparent attempt to drive residents out of their minds.

Now Republican politicians are getting into the act: After GoFundMe announced that it would be returning money raised for the truckers, whose ranks include a variety of far-right cranks, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas announced they’d be mounting investigations of the company. And of course, Donald Trump — who as president loved nothing more than sitting in a truck like a big boy — expressed his support for the truckers.

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It’s somewhat ironic that DeSantis would come to the defense of these protesters, because in the past he hasn’t looked on the exercise of that particular right with a great deal of sympathy. Last April, he enthusiastically signed a bill that makes it a felony to block traffic in a protest and “grants civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road," as the Orlando Sentinel put it.

A similar law passed in Texas, as it has in a number of conservative states. Oklahoma’s version gives drivers both civil and criminal immunity for injuring or killing protesters.

J.J. McCullough: Why Canada’s trucker protest is inflaming its national anxieties

But of course, that was when everyone considered blocking traffic to be a protest tactic associated with the left, including demonstrations after George Floyd’s murder. When right-wingers do it, it’s entirely different!

The animating idea here appears to be that the value of free speech and the forms it takes should be judged solely on whether they’re motivated by ideas you agree with. Perhaps DeSantis should include a provision to that effect the next time he signs a law dictating what teachers are and are not allowed to say in the classroom.

This group of truckers — who represent a small minority even among their own profession — probably have more support among American conservatives than they do in their own country. One poll found 65 percent of Canadians agree that the convoy was a “small minority of Canadians who are thinking only about themselves and not the thousands of Canadians who are suffering through delayed surgeries and postponed treatments because of the growing pandemic.”

It’s important to understand that Canada, where people tend to be sensible and polite, has had nothing like the partisan polarization around the pandemic that we’ve seen here. According to their government, nearly 83 percent of Canadians over age 5 have been fully vaccinated; the number in the United States is 64 percent. And while the Conservative Party is a bit more hesitant about public health mandates than the ruling Liberal Party, the differences have been relatively small, and there has been far less of the identity-based demagoguery we’ve seen from prominent Republicans in the United States.

David Moscrop: Canada must confront the toxic ‘Freedom Convoy’ head-on

There are a couple of interesting things going on here. The first is that the American right increasingly sees itself as part of a transnational movement, embodied in its embrace of both bottom-up populist protests like the truckers, and top-down authoritarianism like what we see in Hungary or Russia.

The second is that the party of “law and order” has come to fully embrace law-breaking and disorder, as long as it’s performed by people the party has sympathy for. Led by Trump, more and more Republicans have come to see the Jan. 6 insurrection as a noble feat of patriotism, not a thuggish betrayal of American democracy.

Just imagine if a bunch of Black Lives Matter protesters shut down half of D.C. with their vehicles, then sat on their horns for hours on end. What do you think Carlson would say about them? What sort of tactics would DeSantis suggest might be used to clear the area?

We all know the answer.