President Donald Trump was asked on Friday about the hundreds of protestors who poured into the Michigan state capitol building on Thursday, some of them legally carrying firearms, in a protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order that they say is stifling the state’s economy, causing them economic hardship, and infringing on their individual liberty.
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump said in a reference to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “These are very good people, but they are angry.”
He added: “They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them.”
And immediately, the Left began flipping out over the president’s response.
Historian Joshua Zeitz, noting he once worked in a governor’s office in New Jersey, said protesters with guns should not be accorded the kind of respect advocated by Trump.
“You make an appointment to see the governor or staff,” Zeitz tweeted. “You don’t storm the State House with assault rifles and barricade the door to the Gov’s office. Doing so makes you a thug and a terorrist, not a ‘good person.’”
At the Los Angeles Times columnist Scott Martelle concluded that these protestors are just pawns of “cynical manipulator” Donald Trump.
Let’s see, the president thinks “angry” armed men descending on a legislative session making demands are “very good people.”
First, what does being good or not good have to do with such an over-the-top attempt to intimidate?
And second, since when is it a good idea for the president of the United States to encourage political leaders to cave in to demands by armed protesters?
Note that this came about two weeks after Trump urged similar throngs in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia to “LIBERATE” their states and in the case of Virginia, to “save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
Clearly the president isn’t thinking. Or maybe he is and, as usual, thinking only about his own interests.
…So what’s a cynical manipulator like Trump to do?
Fan the flames of discontent among right-wing extremists even if they are embracing their 1st Amendment right to petition their government by embracing what they view as their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms — even if it is in a legislative chamber.
I’m not sure what Trump said that could be considered “fanning the flames of discontent” in his response, which actually was pretty measured by Trumpian standards. I think the president was right in saying that Whitmer should give a little, and in fact the Michigan governor did back off some of the idiotic shelter-in-place rules that she had originally mandated, including bans on motorized watercraft and buying “non-essential” items in stores that were deemed essential and open for business. I agree with the president that the protestors in Michigan are angry, and while I can’t vouch for their individual character, exercising your First and Second Amendment rights doesn’t automatically make you a bad person.
Of course, it also doesn’t automatically make you an effective activist or advocate either. I keep thinking back to the Lobby Day rally in Richmond, Virginia back in January of this year, when tens of thousands of gun owners flooded the capitol grounds and the surrounding streets in order to stand up for our right to keep and bear arms and to voice their objections to Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun control agenda. In the days before the rally, Northam and other anti-gun advocates did everything they could to make it seem like those coming to town were intent on violence, yet the crowds were not only polite and well-mannered, they were cheerful. They defied the caricature created by the governor and his anti-gun allies, and while they weren’t successful in defeating all of Northam’s proposals, they did manage to water down several of his gun bills and helped ensure that the centerpiece of Northam’s gun control agenda failed to pass in the Democrat-controlled legislature.
Thursday’s protest in Michigan, on the other hand, was decidedly different. Even beyond the disparity in attendance (hundreds of protestors instead of tens of thousands) the mood and tone of the protest in Lansing was a stark contrast to what we saw at the Lobby Day rally, and I think the protestors did little to help their cause.
Whether these protestors realize it or not, they’re not going to yell their way to success. Instead, their goal is to persuade lawmakers and the public to back the cause of re-opening the economy, and everything they do should be designed to achieve that goal. Lawmakers in Michigan, for example, refused to extend Whitmer’s emergency order on Thursday, and authorized a lawsuit against the governor over her decision to unilaterally extend the order by executive fiat. If you’re opposed to Whitmer’s lockdown, why wouldn’t you spend some time and energy supporting the legislators who are trying to end it?
There’s also the fact that many protestors weren’t exactly taking part in the type of social distancing measures that are going to remain in place once businesses do re-open. If your message is that we can re-open the economy in a safe and responsible manner, it makes sense to be safe and responsible while protesting.
This is just plain nuts. If you choose to protest coronavirus lockdowns by crowding together in an enclosed space and then harass police officers for not letting you flood the floor of the legislature, you come off looking insane. https://t.co/CN02qeoHpz
— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) April 30, 2020
The bottom line is that the re-open movement is simply not a majority movement at the moment. You can call Americans who say they’re okay with staying home until lockdown orders are lifted “sheeple,” or feel morally and civically superior to them, but you’re not going to convince them that they’re wrong by pretending the coronavirus isn’t real. As I noted pointed out a few days ago, even if you believe that the reported coronavirus death rate is overestimating the number of fatalities by 100%, the disease has still killed more Americans in two months than all homicides in 2018. If you carry a gun for self-defense against armed criminals, why wouldn’t you wear a mask for self-defense against a virus that we have no immunity from?
In order to become a majority movement, you need to reach out, not lash out. You need to be welcoming, not off-putting. You need to have clear goals, not inchoate rage. Personally, I don’t think these protests are having the effect that attendees are hoping for. I don’t think that makes them bad people, but it does mean that the movement isn’t likely to gain the mass appeal necessary to have a real impact.