The lockdowns imposed by Governors and local governments, under guidelines issued by the federal government, were widely accepted at first because there was a perceived collective purpose in ‘flattening the curve’ to keep the medical system from being overwhelmed.

As I predicted in mid-March, the government-imposed shutdown of the economy had a shelf life that would run out in May, June at the latest.

That process was accelerated when it became clear that:

(1) the models predicting deaths in the millions that launched the shutdown logic were deeply flawed on the high side,

(2) the worst-case-scenarios didn’t happen in the real world, the curve was flattened,

(3) nursing homes in blue states, resulting from state government mandates that nursing homes accept infected patients, were epicenters of death not reflective of the nation as a whole,

(4) the media engaged in grotesque ‘panic porn’, clearly driven by Trump hatred and an intent to do damage to his reelection prospects,

(5) the mental and physical health consequences of the lockdown grew more severe and obvious, with the healthcare system melting down not from the virus, but from the shutdown of all but emergency services which drained hospitals and medical practices of cash flow,

(6) the unemployment numbers grew to Depression-era levels in a matter of weeks, creating a fissure between people who worked with information and could work from home, and people who worked with people and were unemployed,

(7) the stories of lifetimes devoted to building small businesses being vanquished broke through the media panic, but most of all,

(8) the lockdown restrictions became increasingly arbitrary and vindictive, reflective of power grabs by mostly Democrat government officials. Religious groups were singled out for particularly harsh treatment in comparison to liquor stores and fast food restaurants. Small businesses were shuttered while big box stores remained open. Governors, particularly numerous Democrat Governors, were vindictive and arrogant, refusing to ease the lockdowns until there were protests in the streets and growing civil disobedience. In Michigan, the Governor extended the lockdown out of spite to teach protesters a lesson.

Trump, having supported the national shutdown based on the ‘scientific’ advice that millions would die, fairly early expressed the desire to reopen the economy, suggesting Easter as an aspirational goal. For that, he was excoriated by the ‘panic porn’ media joined by Democrats who saw political opportunity. While backing off Easter, Trump has become the champion for reopening the economy.

As this unfolded, I’ve frequently thought that the November election may be an election over freedom, and intended or not, Trump was positioning himself as the “Freedom President,” the person who advocated for personal and economic freedom against the dictates of Democrat Governors and officials.

This had the potential for some widening of support among the working class, but more likely and important, a motivation for people who supported or were at least willing to support Trump. Enthusiasm is going to be key in November.

This was crystalized in my mind when I saw a meme go as viral as I’ve ever seen something go viral. One of the not-so-secret secrets is that there is a volunteer army of meme-makers who produce content supporting Trump for free. It’s organic and sometimes very effective.

The meme was a video by the Twitter account @mad_liberals, based on a scene from the movie Independence Day (original scene here). The video was tweeted by Trump, and has almost 18 million views for that tweeted video alone, plus many millions more for other tweets of the video. That doesn’t mean 18 million people saw it, since one person could have many views, but clearly millions saw it. It captured that “Freedom President” spirit, and it didn’t cost the Trump campaign a dime.

But still, I didn’t write about it. A feeling, a meme, not enough.

But then I saw a report from Anne Sorock Segal of The Frontier Center. As you may recall, Anne used to write for us and is a Director of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. We have covered many of her research reports over the years. She’s also the person I think better than anyone understands what motivates Trump voters, having predicted Trump’s win in February 2015, before he even was a candidate.

Anne’s report, just issued, is The Reopen Movement: Motivations and Pathways to Support (pdf.)

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5d16cd949e9f820001d15faf/t/5ec68302d7745c676d7d1aac/1590067974775/TFC+The+Reopen+Movement.pdf

Here’s part of the Introduction that explains the context of The Reopen Movement:

The Reopen the States movement is cropping up in every state as a reaction to government restrictions related to the Coronavirus. The movement includes rallies, messages on face masks, and acts of defiance great and small. It is a protest against restrictions on the right of all Americans to be mobile, work, worship and congregate together, and use private property without government permission. It is growing rather than receding in response to harsh verbal attacks by media and force by government. Some responses are beyond contentious; they are acts of defiance, such as in the example of a mother in Wisconsin who refused to give her name to police who investigated her daughter for playing at a neighbor’s home, or a Texas hair salon owner who was given the choice of apologizing for being selfish, pay a fine and shutdown her salon, or serve jail time for defying the state’s coronavirus restrictions. She chose jail.

Government officials and media say reopen supporters are simply on a wrong timeline—that all Americans want to reopen, but the action will overload hospitals. Others characterize the supporters as selfish, weighing economic concerns too heavily against the concern for human life and suffering. The prevailing response for continued stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns places priority on protecting fearful and vulnerable citizens, and views reopen protesters as reckless, self-interested, or conspiracy theorists.

But is this view of reopen advocates true? Or might their beliefs be a sign of care for others? To what extent are their actions a result of wholly different values and motivations that indicate a very different mindset about our current crisis?

Behavioral research by the New Frontier Center provides a more informed way to understand the motivations of reopen protesters and supporters. Critics of this group are getting it wrong. This report provides insight from the front lines of the reopen movement, and offers a framework to understand what are actually more noble intentions of these advocates for a new orientation around American liberty.

You should read through the entire report, particularly the methodology. This is not a poll or a random survey. It’s in-depth interviews with participants in reopen protests, to understand what motivates them. It’s similar in methodology to the report Anne did about what motivates Legal Insurrection readers, “Deep Values” Profile of core Legal Insurrection readers.

Here are the key findings from Anne’s Reopen Movement report:

The research reveals Reopeners enter into the movement to gain two types of insight, starting with self-knowledge. This includes testing and measuring their own courage and mental strength. Rather than primarily focusing on immediate political victory, reopen protesters report that they are focused on building their own character and courage, and on a belief that these strengths may be needed in an uncertain future.

The second insight they seek is true information about the sanctity of their rights in the present climate, which they can understand best by testing those rights. They want to know exactly how significant the erosion of individual liberties has become, and how distanced they are from living in a Constitutionally governed nation.

Contrary to the common narrative about their motivations, reopen advocates are not focused primarily on their jobs or the economy. Their rally signs say “let us work,” but this is focused on an abstract notion rather than a selfish desire. They are concerned about the concept of government barring its citizens from working, and the effect this has on their neighbors and community. Over the course of 50 hour-long in-depth interviews, Reopeners described their motivation to help others through the shutdowns in one of three ways: (1) advocating for those hurt financially or “mentally”; (2) instilling courage for those unsure how to fight back, and; (3) modeling behavior and thought processes for those who disagree, or for those who are unsure how to read the situation.

Reopeners see “petit dictators” amassing power by the minute and destroying the foundations of American freedom. They identify five distinct realms of an emerging dictatorial culture: science elites, technology censors, state governments, national media, and the Hollywood elite.

Is this the Tea Party 2.0? Not really according to Anne, but it is an increasingly pro-Trump movement:

… most notably that the reopen movement is not the “Tea Party 2.0.” In fact, the large majority of Reopeners never attended a Tea Party rally, and a large minority did not support the Tea Party movement. The survey also reflects growing support among Reopeners for President Trump’s 2020 election when compared to their 2016 vote. The protesters predominantly identify as Christian, half of whom have no denominational affiliation and the other half of whom are split evenly among evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and Catholics.

My takeaway is that The Reopen Movement presents Trump an opportunity to motivate his base and maybe even pick up some votes.

Will Trump run as the “Freedom President”? That’s a theme I see emerging more and more every day in messaging, both official and from the meme-maker volunteer army.

[Featured Image: Screenshot Twitter Meme Video]

 

 
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