Who are they, and are they them?

So, I am musing about a thing that I don’t really know anything about, and thought I would post it and expose my ignorance.

The musing started this morning from trying, in a discussion, to make a distinction between the “protesters” and people who were not protesting but who were nonetheless really concerned about economic devastation. I don’t think it’s worth trying to persuade people who threaten state officials and demand instant revocation of all public health orders. But I do think it’s important to communicate with people who are concerned that the states have gone too far or are reacting too slowly, or just that nobody is looking out for them in all of this.

That distinction I was trying to make led me to wonder: do the millions of Conservatives who are not cosplaying fascist-nationalist militia see the protests and think that’s us?

When I see left-of-center protests—Black Lives Matter, let’s say, or the Women’s March, or anti-war protests, or Occupy—I tend to think that the people protesting are us in some sense. And even more, I tend to think that if I weren’t a lazy-ass suburban Dad who hates crowds, I would be out there as well. Not always, of course, and at every protest I’ve actually been to I’ve felt a little alienated. There are always individual people or small subgroups, too, with some signs or chants that I reject, sure. My general feeling, though, when I see the pictures taken at the protests that are generally on my side, is that they are us.

I assume that this is largely true on the other side. That most Conservatives, f’r’ex, felt that while they personally weren’t going to dress up and go to Tea Party rallies, the people who were there were like them in some real sense. And maybe most Conservatives are feeling like the people protesting at state houses are them, too. Or maybe they think that those folk are not them at all. I don’t know. It seems like I should know.

This is complicated by the media, of course, and I mean ‘media’ in this case in the sense of all the stuff in between the events and the people learning about them. Most of the pictures of left-ish protests I see were published by left-ish institutions (such as The Grauniad f’r’ex) or posted on-line by friends, or friends of friends, or at least linked approvingly by friends. Conservative presumably saw different photos of those, and are presumably seeing different photos of these events. At most of the biggish protests, I knew people who were there, and who complained about the rest of the world only seeing the handful of irresponsible losers who drew attention from what most of the people were doing; perhaps Conservatives have friends at the state house protests making the same complaints.

So. If it’s important—and I think it is—to effectively talk to Conservatives about what states are actually planning for the public health emergency, then it’s important to know what Conservatives think about the protests, innit? Not just whether they approve of them or not, but whether they think the protesters are them. If that’s true—if they’re seeing the stuff I’m seeing and thinking those folk are us then I don’t know how to talk to them at all. But if they’re not, then there’s hope.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “Who are they, and are they them?

  1. Michael

    The narrative being pushed by the right is that the left wants everything closed down while the right doesn’t. The goal of these protests isn’t to open things up; it’s to push that narrative. If the left wants everything closed down, then the left is happy about the virus closing things down, which means the left is happy about the virus, which means the virus is a Democratic hoax or a Democratic plot, and all of the economic damage and all of the sickness and death is what the left wants.

    And it’s a lot more satisfying and politically advantageous to blame your political enemies for your suffering than it is to blame a virus.

    From some rather painful local discussions about the Boston protest, there are plenty of conservatives in my town who look at the protest and think that the protestors are advocating for freedom and for an individual’s right to make their own decisions, and that opposition to the protestors is from people who don’t ever want anyone to enjoy life or make a living, and that none of it has anything to do with a public health crisis. They are not having a discussion about appropriate public policy in response to the virus.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      This is an excellent insight, and a terrific point. I don’t know that it’s possible to have a reasonable conversation about appropriate public policy, but it’s worth people on the left (or whoever) saying explicitly: the goal is to open as soon as we can open safely, and as widely as we can open safely and that it is specifically in aid of that goal that those restrictions are in place.

      I mean, that’s the kind of thing that’s obvious to me, on the left: I want the schools open, and I want to get a haircut and to buy new shoes and to sit in a coffeehouse, and that can only safely happen under certain fairly specific, measurable conditions that have not yet been met. But I certainly spend a lot more time griping about people violating the restrictions or trying to get them lifted prematurely than I do talking about the conditions and how to meet them.



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