Conservatives charge liberals with social-distancing hypocrisy

Conservatives charge liberals with social-distancing hypocrisy


Conservatives have found their latest example of liberal hypocrisy: Disappearing outrage over protesters refusing to social distance.

The charge has spread through conservative Twitter and is invoked frequently on conservative media outlets, from Red State to Fox News. They note that when lockdown protesters flooded state capitol buildings, politicians and pundits alike expressed horror that gatherings would accelerate the coronavirus pandemic. But now, with thousands of people gathering to protest police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of the Minneapolis police, conservatives are asking: Where did that concern go?

For many on the right — even conservatives who are harsh Trump critics — the situation plays into a broader narrative of liberal elite double standards.

Conservatives “are upset at the political leaders who think protesting and mass gatherings are more important suddenly than being able to feed your family or keep your business open,” said Stephen L. Miller, a conservative media critic and contributor to The Spectator.

President Donald Trump got in on the action on Wednesday, retweeting a spree of conservatives making similar points. “Remember, if you don’t social distance, you’re literally killing people,” tweeted commentator Buck Sexton, in a typical comment that Trump boosted. “That’s what they told us. The ‘experts.’”

When Democrats refuse to chide the current protesters for violating social-distancing guidelines, Miller said, their message is that the coronavirus directives are “expendable” — if the cause is right.


“That wasn’t part of the deal — people lost jobs,” he said, noting Floyd had lost his job at a restaurant during the shutdown. “People weren’t able to say goodbye to sick loved ones or host funerals.”

Of course, the two protest movements have come at different points during the pandemic. The first lockdown protests appeared in mid-April, when Covid-19 outbreak was peaking. Stay-at-home measures were significantly stricter and hospital systems were in danger of becoming overloaded. Some weeks, officials were encouraging people to not even leave the house if possible.

Meanwhile, the recent police brutality protests gathered steam the weekend many cities began lifting their stay-at-home restrictions, citing a sustained downward trend in cases. Scores of businesses have been allowed to reopen under social-distancing measures. Additionally, many of the protesters have been wearing masks, while some of the marchers have tried to social distance.

And, of course, public health experts are not backing off of their stance that a mass gathering of people will likely lead to more coronavirus cases. Some public health specialists argue conservatives are making a disingenuous comparison between two events that have little in common. They wonder where the conservative anger was about protesters violating government orders in April.

But Tom Nichols, a senior advisor to Project Lincoln, a group of high-profile conservative operatives opposing Trump, still insisted the perception is damaging to liberals. Conservatives have latched on to comments from prominent public health leaders who have argued the risks of not protesting systemic racism in this moment exceed the harms of the coronavirus.

“The liberal counterargument is that, ‘This is important enough,’ which is a political argument, not a scientific or medical argument,” he said. “It’s just another way of saying, ‘Your First Amendment protest was wrong, but mine is right.’”

Conservatives are now watching to see whether the Floyd protests actually result in a coronavirus case spike. If they don’t, the rise could bolster conservative insistence that lockdowns were too draconian and resulted in unnecessary economic damage. But if cases don’t rise, conservatives are also ready to argue public health officials and politicians were ready to disregard their own scolding for political expediency.

“Right now it looks like a sham,” Miller said. “People feel conned. And they should.”

While plenty of conservatives took swings at those protesting for not observing social distancing — engaging, particularly, in the act of mask-shaming — what ticked conservatives off most was what they said were examples of public officials encouraging people to march.

High-profile conservatives, of course, had plenty to say about the rights of their citizens to protest, but mainly did so through the media and rarely joined the marches. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who became a national figure for standing up to armed protesters objecting to her strict lockdown, was recently photographed standing extremely close to protesters.

Conservatives also latched on to statements from public health officials, like New York City Council Health Committee Chairman Mark Levine, who said people should blame any uptick in Covid-19 cases on the “racism” that inspired the protesting.

Nichols said the danger was that public health officials would be tuned out.

“I’m worried that this is going to be viewed as the politicization of expertise,” Nichols said. “You can’t say: ‘Listen to the science and keep your churches at 25 percent occupancy and socially distance your choir singers,’ and then say, ‘but thousands of people pressed together in a giant mass while screaming is worth the risk.’”

Health experts are quick to note political leaders have far from abandoned their strict directives. Social-distancing guidelines are still being enforced in businesses and public spaces across the country.

And, Nichols added, “I understand the reality that the protests were inevitable and that their cause is just.”

The efficacy of the conservative attack will likely manifest in the next few weeks if Covid-19 cases spike notably in protest areas, like they did in April after protests across Kentucky, Michigan and Wisconsin. Miller predicted that if they do, Democrats are going to pay a massive price.

“If there isn’t a major spike in Covid cases and or deaths in two-to-four weeks,” he said, Democrats “are all going to have to explain to people who either lost their job, their livelihood or their business to shutdown or then riots and looting.”

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