After demonstrators filled the streets near the several state capitols last month demanding that their political leaders reopen the states, Trump was asked his view on the protesters, many of whom were photographed carrying Make America Great Again signs. He appeared to embrace them: “They seem to be protesters that like me.”
“These are people expressing their views,” he also told reporters on April 17. “I see where they are, and I see the way they’re working. They seem to be very responsible people to me, but they’ve been treated a little bit rough.”
Shortly after, he took to Twitter and seemed to affirm their protests by calling for these states’ liberation.
LIBERATE MICHIGAN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Other Trump allies have compared protesters to civil rights activists protesting racism — despite some of them carrying Confederate flags and flags with swastikas.
Stephen Moore, a member of the White House council to reopen the country, praised those taking to the streets.
“I call these people the modern-day Rosa Parks — they are protesting against injustice and a loss of liberties,” he told The Washington Post earlier this month.
Trump was asked about Moore’s words the following day at a White House news briefing. “Yeah, I can see where he’s coming from. Strong statement. Strong statement,” Trump said.
And GOP-endorsed Houston City Council member Michael Kubosh invoked Parks as he violated a stay-at-home order this past weekend in a restaurant.
“Sometimes civil disobedience is required to move things forward, and so that’s why we remember Rosa Parks,” he told Houston’s NBC affiliate.
Conservative radio host Dennis Prager, who has questioned the constitutionality of the government advising Americans to stay at home, also invoked Parks while discussing his plans to rebut some recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Civil disobedience in the United States has a very, very, very noble history,” he said Thursday. “Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus because the disgusting law of blacks had to sit in the back of the bus in some Southern cities in the United States. Should she have obeyed the law?”
Parks protested discrimination by refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. Her defiant act is largely viewed as the beginning of the civil rights movement. But when it comes to modern-day protests about racial injustice, Trump and his allies often respond harshly.
After NFL players grabbed headlines for regularly taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality, Trump said they should be fired. At a September 2017 rally in Huntsville, Ala., the president said: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.’ ”
And when Black Lives Matter activists interrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in August 2015, Trump suggested that he might respond violently to protesters doing the same to him.
“That will never happen with me,” he told reporters. “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will, but that was a disgrace. I felt badly for him. But it showed that he’s weak.”
And multiple personalities on Fox News have praised the “open up” protesters, comparing them to disadvantaged groups around the world.
How many of those who urged our govt to help liberate the Iraqis, Syrians, Kurds, Afghanis, etc., are as committed now to liberating Virginia, Minnesota, California, etc?— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) April 17, 2020
Yet the same network has regularly showed its most prominent voices criticizing Americans protesting historically marginalized groups.
In June 2018, Fox host Laura Ingraham said athletes critical of Trump and his attacks on athletes protesting racism were “bratty”:
It’s not about bowing down to the president. He doesn’t want you to disrespect the country, the flag, the anthem, which is what these bratty players are doing, using the excuse of Black Lives Matter or some other issue that they probably haven’t even read up on. They just repeat whatever Colin Kaepernick says on any given day. And they think they’re a member of a cool club by doing this. It’s ridiculous.
The inconsistency in approach to these protesters is sparking frustration with many black Americans, a demographic that overwhelmingly disapproves of Trump but that his campaign is hoping to make some gains with in 2020. To many black Americans, Parks is an icon whose act was a pivotal step in helping eradicate American laws that made treating black people as second-class citizens legal. Whatever issues Americans have with government leaders mandating that people stay home, it is quite a stretch to compare those orders to the state-sanctioned racism that Parks was combating.