With the end of the year 2020, cases of Covid-19 continue to surge worldwide. While 58% of Americans agree that lockdown measures are necessary to curb the spread of the virus, some have resorted to marching on the streets to show their opposition. Americans are simultaneously living through a medical virus and also a political one. The environment of the United States set the stage for what we have seen during the pandemic.
How did the social, cultural, and political climate in the United States contribute to anti-lockdown protests gaining momentum? The history of the United States, the implications of Trump’s presidency, and the spread of misleading information were the main contributors to these anti-lockdown demonstrations.
Between protests and denial
The makeup of the American culture and demographics gives us insight into the events we see today, specifically how the country’s past contributes to the prevalence of anti-lockdown demonstrations today. Americans are not used to sudden infringements of their rights which altered their life in the blink of an eye; but if we take a closer look at the demographics of anti-lockdown protestors, we can see a common trend. Most of them are white, and this makes sense considering that those protestors are often part of Donald Trump’s electoral base. By extension, this category of the American population also considers that it is entitled to benefitting from “the right to control and to be free from control.”
In contrast, the victims of Covid-19 and those who became unemployed are disproportionately black and brown, though this does not imply that the phenomenon would be limited to the sole case of the US. In August 2020, the Human Rights Council of the UN had found out that broadly speaking, in the world, “throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, disaggregated data (when available) highlight stark racial disparities that have had a disproportionate impact on people of African descent”. Therefore, brought back to the case of the US, we can infer that those who are less likely to be directly affected by Covid-19 are more likely to participate in demonstrations of this nature.
Deep down, the United States prides itself on being a democracy, specifically on its emphasis on liberty. Therefore, for many, the lockdown restrictions are a direct violation of their freedom. Advocates of individual rights and personal liberty are at the center of anti-lockdown protests, which has created a battle between those against lockdowns and those in favor. President Trump did not do much to counter this polarization.
On the contrary, ever since the beginning of the pandemic, Trump had minimized the threat of the coronavirus with misleading statements, which influenced the spread of misinformation and negative sentiment towards mask requirements. He had frequently criticized Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, who had shared advice regarding Covid-19 and emphasized the need for creating safeguards including social distancing and wearing a mask. Trump’s negative opinions towards these safeguards and his eagerness to reopen the economy downplayed the risk of the virus and made many people – mainly, his supporters – believe that rebuilding the economy should take precedence over what seems like a minor inconvenience.
Media, misinformation and disinformation
Resorting to social media to gain support for stay-at-home demonstrations also has been a common occurrence. One of Trump’s many tweets encouraged crowds to “liberate their states”, which fueled protests against stay-at-home orders. Another tweet by Trump said “the World Health Organization just admitted that I was right. Lockdowns are killing countries all over the world. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. Open up your states, Democrat governors. Open up New York. A long battle, but they finally did the right thing!” Fact-checkers would soon rate this tweet as false after finding no evidence that the WHO made this statement. During the presidential election, both tweets illustrated strategic moves taken on Trump’s behalf to maintain and gain support. If the leader of a country shares his reservations regarding masks and lockdowns with the entire population, we can expect people to become uncertain as well and for anti-lockdown demonstrations to occur.
The use of misinformation (both misleading and outright false) for political gain is not new. In addition to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, media sources are another source of misinformation and further division within the United States. An article from The Economist published on 03 June 2020 stated that “conservatives have responded by tuning in to their own media sources, which have found that there is money to be made in amplifying their fears… Cable channels such as Fox News and websites like Breitbart have drawn audiences by bringing fringe theories into the mainstream.” In-person protests against lockdown measures provide an environment in which misinformation and unsupported theories and opinions can spread easily. Under the Trump presidency, we have seen anti-lockdown protests in more than 30 states out of the 50 states in the United States. Though the motivation of anti-lockdown protestors varies, factors such as freedom, the power of the presidency, and the ease to spread false information has had at least some influence over how certain groups have reacted to precautions meant to curb the pandemic.
The future of the United States seems to be quite unclear at the moment. Anti-lockdown protests are just one indicator of the growing polarization within the country. As the leadership of the United States shifts, it is not impossible that this polarization continues to grow, especially with the spread of misinformation. Sarah Brown is a Master’s student at the department of Political Science and International Relations of Saint Louis University – Madrid Campus.
To quote this article, please use the following reference: Sarah Brown (2020),“How Anti-Lockdown Protests Gained Momentum in the U.S.” https://crisesobservatory.es/how-anti-lockdown-protests-gained-momentum-in-the-u-s/