President Donald Trump can’t help but sow division, even at a time when Americans are largely united in supporting stay-at-home orders and social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Just after 11:21 am Eastern time on Friday, President Donald Trump posted a trio of tweets endorsing the so-called liberation of a trio of states with Democratic governors from measures they’ve taken to slow the spread of coronavirus.
These posts — which are among the most dangerous of Trump’s tenure — appear to have been inspired by a segment he saw on Fox News minutes earlier.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Trump began, with two further tweets saying “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd amendment. It is under siege!”
LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
At 11:19 — two minutes before Trump’s Minnesota tweet — Fox News ran a segment about small groups of right-wing protesters in Minnesota and Virginia who have been agitating for governors there to relax stay-at-home orders so they can resume normal shopping and traveling activities.
Fox has extensively covered right-wing demonstrations in Michigan on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week, which echo the same theme. Early Friday afternoon, Fox News displayed chyrons promoting an anti-stay-at-home protest scheduled for later in the day in Minnesota.
Fox News’s coverage might give you the idea that these protesters represent the views of a significant chunk of people in their states. But polling indicates that’s not the case. For instance, a YouGov/Economist poll released Wednesday found that 61 percent of Americans think Trump should institute a nationwide stay-at-home order, compared to just 22 percent who are opposed. Along the same lines, polling from the Pew Research Central released on Thursday showed that 66 percent of people are concerned their state governments will relax social distancing restrictions too soon, compared to just 32 percent who are worried they won’t move quickly enough.
As Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) noted in response to the so-called “Operation Gridlock” in her state, the sad irony is that such demonstrations could end up extending the need for stay-at-home orders by spreading the virus among protesters. But asked on Thursday if he thinks protesters in Michigan should listen to local officials like Whitmer, Trump said that such people listen to him instead.
“I think they’re listening. I think they listen to me. They seem to be protesters that like me,” Trump said.
JON KARL: Shouldn’t the anti-stay-at-home protesters in Michigan listen to local authorities?
TRUMP: “I think they’re listening. I think they listen to me. They seem to be protesters that like me.” pic.twitter.com/842jov2kY8
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 16, 2020
One shudders to contemplate what sorts of actions right-wing protesters might take if they interpret Trump’s call for them to “LIBERATE” their states seriously.
Support Vox’s explanatory journalism
Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.