Are the natives really getting restless about COVID-19 restrictions in the United States (and Canada too)?

Apr 20th, 2020 | By | Category: In Brief
San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. MONDAY, APRIL 20, 2020.According to an editorial this past Friday in the Toronto Globe and Mail (Canada’s self-declared “national newspaper” in days gone by) : “We are now through our fifth week of business and school closings, self-isolation at home, and physical distancing when we venture outdoors.”

South of the non-militarized but still currently “half-closed” Canada-US border, San Francisco’s latest intriguing mayor London Breed had announced a “shelter-in-place” protocol that took effect at midnight March 17. San Francisco was joined by five other Bay Area counties.

Then Golden State Governor Gavin Newsom “ordered all Californians on March 19 to stay home and leave only for essential trips, mirroring the directives that local health officials already had in place.” Then on March 20 “New York, Illinois Governors Issue Stay At Home Orders, Following California’s Lead.”

And then, by April 7 “at least 316 million people in at least 42 states, three counties, nine cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico” were “being urged to stay home.” Meanwhile, earlier urgings slated to end at about this point were extended into early May.

Toronto sign.

So … it is not surprising that as of April 20 there are people in both the United States and Canada who have grown weary of the quite restricted everyday life that many or even most of us have been living through for the past five weeks.

See, eg : “’Work conquers all’: Protests erupt in state capitals nationwide over coronavirus restrictions” (USA Today) ; and “Growing calls to re-open parks, expand streets to pedestrians amid COVID-19” (The Canadian Press).

Without wanting to imply that there is very little vigorous sentiment against coronavirus restrictions in Canada, the particular far northern political culture, history, and institutions seem to be channelling this sentiment in less boisterous directions.

See, eg, this April 14 article from the Hong-Kong-based South China Morning Post : “Vancouver protesters call coronavirus fake news and say distancing rule should be defied, appalling health authorities … Images on social media show about 15 people taking part in rally despite ban on people belonging to different households mingling.”

San Francisco sign.

Similar Vancouver ground is covered (along with a blip on “yellow vests in Calgary … rallying … in defiance of social distancing protocols and spreading conspiracy theories …”) in “People in Canada are gathering in the streets to protest the lockdown” on the website.

The main thrust of my own sense of the more boisterous and widespread protests in the United States is summarized well enough in an April 20 Steve Benen piece on the MSNBC website : “Majority backs stay-at-home restrictions, despite economic costs … Those engaged in dangerous and misguided acts of civil disobedience are easily outnumbered by a sensible mainstream.”

Others have noted a similarity between these acts of civil disobedience in 2020 and the (equally staged) 2009-2010 Tea Party protests “against President Obama’s agenda.” I offer a few samples of my own recent online reading as some slight further evidence :

There is all too much more on this subject on my mind (and in my digital field notes). But I’ll mercifully rest for the moment with three still further observations :

Michigan protesters …

First, it is true enough that virtually all recent relevant polling data suggest the majority in both the United States and Canada is with science and public health officials, as opposed to the almighty dollar and aggressively right-wing conservative politicians. But especially in the United States there is still a substantial minority on the conservative side.

The latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey, eg, did find that : “Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they’re more concerned about states loosening stay-at-home orders too quickly. Just 32 percent said they were more concerned about the US moving too slowly to reopen businesses.” At the same time, a Detroit Regional Chamber survey in Michigan “found that 57 percent of residents approved of [Democratic Governor Gretchen] Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic, while 44 percent said the same about Trump.” And : “ Approval for both political leaders was split along party lines.”

Canadian protesters.

(For the somewhat different situation in Canada see the latest Angus Reid finding that “Canadians have a palpable sense of apprehension at the prospect of their own provincial governments lifting the restrictions that have all but ended most public contact over the last six weeks. Indeed, three-quarters [77%] say it is too soon to begin relaxing social distancing requirements and business closures.”)

Second, in the United States as COVID-19 drags on it is starting (for the time being at any rate) to noticeably damage support for conservatives and President Trump, in at least some degree. See, eg, two recent Gallup Polls : “Trump’s Job Rating Slides; US Satisfaction Tumbles” (April 16) and “US Economic Confidence Shows Record Drop” (April 17).

US protesters.

Finally, there is an intellectually (or “philosophically”?) respectable enough side to the conservative “libertarian” case about the COVID-19 pandemic — even if both President Trump and the stay-at-home protestors seldom if ever stray into this territory.

A UK article by the Cambridge professor (and viscount in waiting) David Runciman, in the 2 April 2020 issue of the London Review of Books (“Too early or too late?”) has helped me get a grip on all this.

I don’t at all agree with the conservative case myself. But there are moments when I think I do sympathize with some kind of “left-wing libertarian” perspective.

The most prudent thing to do right now, I am at this point quite certain, is follow the “science” and the public health officials. The most valuable treasures we have in countries like the United States and Canada in the 21st century, however, are our free and democratic societies. And in the long run I think that’s what is most important to keep in mind.

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