Updated: Jul 3
Over the past week, multiple videos have surfaced online of MAGA protests against the Coronavirus lockdown in the United States. What the attitudes of these protestors reflect is that President Trump’s ideology has soaked into the culture and worldview of his most rabid supporters, giving rise to a shared Dunning-Krueger situation. This article will dive into the link between Trump’s interactions with intellectual authority and how that has trickled down into the mob mentality of his support.
The anti-lockdown protests, a movement driven solely by Trump’s unwillingness to listen to the science, will inevitably cause a second peak, should he succeed in reopening the country. The first thing we have to acknowledge is that Coronavirus does not care about ideology when choosing to infected a host. As a result, these MAGA protestors gathering in large groups will surely succumb to the deadly virus that has already killed more than 47,000 of their compatriots. They gather nonetheless to protest their freedoms being curtailed in the name of an eminently real virus.
The first thing that strikes me as strange concerning these protests, is that the far-right of the US was nowhere to be seen when the Patriot Act of 2001 was signed into law. Whereas the Coronavirus enforced lockdown is a temporary measure that nobody wants, but everybody needs, the Patriot Act imposed a series of freedom-curtailing motions like giving the state the right to mass surveillance of citizens and to hold suspected terrorists for extended periods without charge. Given that the Patriot Act came after the 9/11 terror attacks, in which 2,977 were killed in a brutal terrorist attack, a temporary lockdown should be nothing to worry about.
These Americans didn’t particularly care about their freedoms in 2001, so why do they care now?
The clear and obvious difference has been the introduction of Trump to the political scene. From his announcement, to nomination, to inauguration, Trump’s overzealous support base has grown in numbers and levels of cognitive dissonance. This zealotry has culminated in the anti-lockdown protests, but to understand why they’re taking place, we must first understand the thinking – and to do that, we have to start with the head of the snake.
Trump, now President for nearly four years, has shown that truth, facts and honestly do not matter one bit. He is the master of creating his own narrative and running with it. The UK Ambassador to the US claimed that Trump, after having worked closely with him, is a deeply insecure man whose self-esteem needs to be boosted; it is no surprise he’s cultivated such a cult-like support group.
When looking at how Trump interacts with intellectual superiority, there is only one thing that needs to be taken away. He always attempts to place himself on a par with whoever the authority is. During the early period of the pandemic, Trump said: “maybe I should have been a doctor” because of his extensive knowledge of the virus. This phenomenon, low-intelligence individuals believing they are of high-intelligence, is known as the Dunning-Krueger Effect. You can follow the link to read more about it, but the abstract contains this:
“The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”
Trump’s cultural ideology, one of assuming that experts whose views are contrary to your own, pre-disposed beliefs, are wrong or are conspiring against you, has filtered down. What’s more, the notion of the President’s ‘unrestricted power’ has trickled down too. What we’re seeing in these protests is Trumpism manifest; i.e. the belief that the medical officials and authorities are part of a conspiratorial plot to hamper the freedoms of ordinary Americans & the belief that they have the inalienable right to go and “get their hair done” if they want to.
What this Trumpian belief fails to recognise is that gathering in groups and inviting the sick out to protest with you, really won’t end well. It will not only leave the protestors sick with the virus, but it will also likely then spread to children, the elderly and those who are honestly observing the lockdown procedures. Innocent people will die because of their stupidity. What’s more, the comical irony of protesting a virus and the lockdown it causes, only to then inevitably spread that virus, causing the continuation of the lockdown, so wonderfully epitomises the Trumpian cultural ideology that you simply couldn’t make it up.
Additionally, a video surfaced on the 23rd April in which nurses, who were peacefully and humbly counter-protesting the anti-lockdown protestors during their breaks, were hurled with abuse. Accusations of “traitor” and “you’re a virus” being shouted at nurses defy belief in a time like this. The nurses and doctors could not understand what these protestors were protesting. They had been working flat out, day and night, to fight this virus, only to step outside and see people declaring that it’s all fake news. In the words of one Australian man, “This is Trumpism manifest!”.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Dunning-Krueger Effect observed in Trump so many times throughout his four years to date, has seeped down into the thinking of these Trump supporters. They are not protesting for their freedom; they’re protesting the state’s right to send them home and keep them there during an international crisis. They’re told day and night by Trump himself that the lockdown is unnecessary, despite the data from around the world that shows otherwise. That data is irrelevant. Trump has created the narrative and that narrative has manifested itself in a small subsection of the American conspiratorial far-right.
Nevertheless, and I stress to add, that this is not a commentary on all Trump voters, nor all Americans. This is to understand the political-psychological links between the most ardent of Trump supporters and the anti-lockdown protestors.
Questioning authority, especially the authority of the state, can never be ridiculed. I don’t intend to do so here. The state is beholden to its citizens. That said, when it cannot be made any clearer that the human race is gripped by a deadly virus, it is your moral and civic responsibility to remain inside, only leaving for essential purposes. The fact that the state has implemented these guidelines does not change the fact that you should be following them. It is a personal and social responsibility. Trumpism and this cult-like behaviour flies in the face of responsibility. This irresponsible behaviour may well cost the economy in the long run, as well as thousands of more lives being needlessly lost because of their Trumpian defiance of expertise.
As a final point…
It is worthwhile to note that these protests are largely formed by working-class Americans, across multiple states. This simple fact denotes two major factors in American working-class life; the American worker's psyche and its links to the concept of the 'American Dream', and the shortcomings of the American welfare system.
American workers are raised to understand that in the U.S., if you work hard enough, you can be anything you'd like to be. Now, whether the American Dream is feasible or fictitious in the contemporary era is up for debate, but it is certainly inherent to the American psyche. The notion of being told to stay at home and to put your dreams on hold, especially by the state, is a naturally uncomfortable feeling for many of these works. This is something worth considering when reviewing these protests. However, when it is a matter of public safety, as we have seen in other freedom-loving countries, like the U.K., Germany and The Netherlands, we've all just got to pitch-in and do our bit for the national effort.
What it also outlines, is that the American state welfare system is woefully unprepared for a crisis such as this. Comparing to the UK, a nation whose economic thought runs in tandem with the American's, the U.S. offers far fewer worker's rights, far worse unemployment benefits, and has shown itself to be reluctant to the prospect of implementing a furlough scheme, like that of the Conservative government's. We have to consider that these people who are protesting are equally anxious about feeding their children, as they are about the virus. Whilst verbally abusing medical staff and openly flaunting the social distancing guidelines seem to point more towards Trumpian thought processes, it is impossible to rule out other concerns as well.