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Right-wing protest echoes Trump demand to restart economy, endangering workers’ lives

Commentary by Brad Sigal |
April 19, 2020
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Reactionary protesters at MN Governors Mansion
Reactionary protesters at MN Governors Mansion (Fight Back! News/staff)

Saint Paul, MN - On April 17, hundreds of right-wing pro-Trump protesters flouted Minnesota's social distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place order to protest in front of the governor's mansion in Saint Paul. The protest’s main demand was for Governor Tim Walz to reverse emergency public health-related measures implemented to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus and to immediately reopen Minnesota's economy.

The protesters, on foot, were packed tightly together in front of the governor’s mansion holding “Trump 2020” signs and flags, American flags and signs mocking Governor Walz, among other messages. Very few of them were wearing masks. There were flags and signs present for right-wing armed militias and there were protesters visibly open carrying handguns. In addition to the protesters on foot, there were also many protesters in vehicles, who drove back and forth in front of the Governor’s mansion, honking and blocking traffic in both directions on Summit Avenue for several blocks.

The gathering was a flagrant public health threat, as well as an alarming collection of political forces called into motion with tweets of encouragement by Donald Trump. That morning, President Trump provocatively tweeted the slogan of the protests planned in Minnesota and other states to encourage people to attend: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA”, "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" the president’s tweets read.

The demand of the protesters is the same thing President Trump has been pushing for - to reopen the economy so big business can start making money again.

Many observers noted that unlike the repressive police response to many left-wing protests like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, which often result in mass arrests and police brutality against the protesters, the police response was hands-off to this pro-Trump protest whose message dovetailed with what Wall Street and big business wants.

These protesters (who, it almost goes without saying, were overwhelmingly white) created a public health hazard by having a large gathering in the midst of a pandemic. Additionally, with more than a few of them openly carrying firearms, we don’t even need to imagine the repression that would have resulted if the protesters were engaged in similar activity but were progressive and Black, Latino or Native American; we have seen repeatedly that heavy-handed police repression is the norm against oppressed nationality communities and progressive movements.

Trump shifting blame for his catastrophic response to COVID-19

As of April 17, 30,915 people have been confirmed to die from coronavirus in the U.S. The real number is certainly much higher given the shortage of COVID-19 testing. This is the highest number of deaths in any country in the world - more even than countries with serious outbreaks like Italy, and exponentially more than China where the outbreak was first identified. China’s nationally-coordinated response to COVID-19 has been highly effective; even with the initial outbreak in Wuhan they have now succeeded in controlling the spread of the virus and China’s death total has basically plateaued, currently at 4632. South Korea had its first confirmed COVID-19 case on the same date as the U.S, yet there have only been 234 deaths there compared to the 30,915 deaths in the U.S.

These numbers show that the Trump administration is guilty of the most incompetent response to the coronavirus in the world, resulting in more deaths than anywhere else. None of the measures for containing the spread of the virus that have worked in countries like China, Vietnam and South Korea - and allowed them to start to loosen emergency distancing measures - have been implemented systematically in the U.S

Reopening the economy now means more workers die

Despite the disastrous Trump administration response to the coronavirus, and despite the lack of effective measures like widespread testing, contact tracing and isolation of people who test positive or have symptoms, President Trump and his Wall Street and big business backers have been pressing to completely reopen the economy. With new outbreaks daily hitting workplaces that have remained open (like chicken and other meat processing plants), we don’t have to guess what would happen if the economy were completely reopened without effective measures in place to contain the virus. The result would be a huge increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths - on top of death rates that are already among the worst in the world.

But the deaths of more workers are apparently of no concern to President Trump and his backers on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. After pressing behind the scenes for weeks while giving obligatory public nods to public health experts’ calls to continue social distancing and shelter-in-place policies, their patience has worn thin.

In that context, Trump and his big business financial backers have taken to encouraging and funding these right-wing street protests. The protesters claim to stand up for the little guy with their call to reopen the economy - small businesspeople and workers who are legitimately suffering as a result of the necessary social distancing and shelter-in-place policies during the pandemic.

But reopening the economy without first having effective measures in place to control the spread of the virus would not be in the interest of working people. On the contrary, working people would bear the brunt of new infections and deaths.

The interest of workers and even small business people would be much better served by the U.S. government doing what many other governments are doing: guaranteeing free health care as well as food, shelter and job security to people while they are forced to stop business as usual to save lives until the risk from the pandemic subsides.

That would clearly be better for the health, safety and livelihood of working people. And it could easily be done, but it goes against Wall Street’s myopic drive for profits even at the expense of people's lives.

Protests made on Wall Street and in Washington D.C.

To avoid responsibility for his catastrophic response to the coronavirus, and to avoid implementing socially progressive policies to keep people healthy and safe during the pandemic and employed afterward, Trump is instead doing what he always does: trying to change the story and shift blame elsewhere.

He is openly encouraging these protests against Democratic governors who have implemented shelter-in-place policies. And like the AstroTurf right-wing Tea Party movement before it, the corporate media is giving these protests a lot of coverage, with Fox News leading the way. Early evidence also shows that like the right-wing Tea Party movement a decade ago, which claimed to speak for the little guy but was in reality a creation of big capitalists, this current right-wing movement is also funded by big capital. The Guardian reported on April 19 that the first of this wave of protests in Michigan was funded by the family of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

The only people whose interests are served by the demand to reverse public health policies and send everyone back to work immediately are the big capitalists. They care nothing for hundreds of thousands of workers' deaths. They want their profits back now, and they are more than willing to risk your life and your family’s lives if that’s what it takes.

Thus far they have been pushing in quieter ways so as to not appear too callous in the face of a global pandemic. And of course they have the ear of most politicians in the country. But so far the tens of thousands of deaths and the possibility of many more has prevented some politicians from moving too quickly away from public health experts' advice to stay the course and toward the capitalists’ demand to reopen the economy immediately.

But that seems to be changing, with Trump and other capitalists promoting these protests to go on the offensive in an attempt to push things more quickly in their direction. The protests raise the banner of small businesspeople and working people but that's not who they really serve. They are being cynically used as a battering ram to get a result that only really serves the interests of the big capitalists.

Working people’s interest is to put people’s lives before corporate profits, and to demand that the government pay for healthcare, food and housing for all workers in need during the pandemic, and not force people back to work until policies are in place that effectively control the spread of COVID-19.