The top three items of last Saturday’s News Items were about the “occupation” of Ottawa, Canada by truckers protesting vaccination mandates. Last Sunday’s “special edition” of News Items was entirely devoted to the “occupation” and some reactions to it. It was a big story then. It’s gotten bigger.
Ottawa-like “occupations” have sprouted up across Canada and around the world. The New York Times website this morning has a handy map of the “occupations” in Canada. They’ve taken place in cities and border locations stretching from Quebec City, Quebec to Calgary, Alberta; a distance of 2400 miles.
Thousands of vehicles carrying demonstrators from around France were converging on Paris on Friday in a movement inspired by Canada’s trucker-led protests, despite warnings by French authorities that they would break up attempts to block the capital.
Starting in Lille, Strasbourg, Nice and other cities, convoys of cars, trucks, camping vans and other vehicles slowly made their way to Paris, bearing protesters who honked, waved French flags and held up signs protesting the government’s vaccine pass and other grievances like rising gas prices.
The Paris police issued a ban against the so-called “Convoi de la Liberté,” a direct translation of Canada’s “Freedom Convoy,” threatening to fine offenders and tow blocking vehicles. On Friday, over 7,000 police officers were deployed to tollbooths and other key sites in and around the city with bulldozers and water cannons to break up potential blockades.
Clearly, these “demonstrations” or “occupations” are no longer about having to show a vaccine pass to get across the Ambassador Bridge that connects Windsor, Ontario to Detroit Michigan, or any other border crossing, for that matter. They’ve morphed into what the “demonstrators” or “protestors” imagine is a populist uprising, in Canada and around the world.
The mantra of these uprisings is straight from the movie ‘Network’: We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. The protesters’ view of their “occupations” seems cinematic as well. They’ve cast themselves as the salt of the earth — decent folks — rising up against a condescending and power-hungry elite that takes care of its own and cuts everyone else loose. This time, the occupiers promise to “see it through.” It’s not clear what that means.
Here in the United States, right-wingers are brimming with excitement over the prospect of big rig “Freedom Convoys” motoring across America, destined for a showdown in Washington, DC, maybe on the very day of President Biden’s State of the Union address (March 1st). They see it as a win all around.
The fund-raising “industry” will print money. Republican campaign committees and PACs and independent expenditure vehicles will raise boatloads of money off the Freedom Convoys. Millions of people in North America will want to contribute $20 or $30 or $50 to the cause. If just 4 million of them do, at an average donation of $25, that’s $100 million raised. The fund-raising organizations will take a (very) healthy cut of the total raised to cover their regrettably expensive “products and service” as well as the always astronomical “administrative and marketing costs.” Washington loves nothing better than an issue that fracks money. The Freedom Convoys are already doing just that.
Right-wing elected officials will unite behind the cause. Many right-wing politicians (and Republican politicians terrified that they might face a right-wing primary challenger) have already embraced the “convoys.” By the time the trucks start rolling across America later this month, it will be hard to find a Republican office-holder who doesn’t support the “uprising.” Indeed, it is likely to become a “litmus test” for GOP incumbents and challengers alike. Pro-convoy, you’re okay. Convoy neutral, you’re off the reservation.
President Trump returns to the arena. No fool he, Trump jumped aboard the convoys early. He was thrilled to see the “Trump 2024” and “Stop The Steal” and “Let’s Go Brandon” flags at the Ottawa occupation. He could hardly believe it: They love me in Canada!
More important, he immediately grasped the reality TV potential of the events unfolding. He could see the show in his mind: “Convoys of Freedom.” He could imagine the story-line: The truckers start out in Los Angeles and as they pass through each state, heading east on I-40, more and more truckers join the caravan. Then motorcyclists join. Then pick-up trucks join. There are media coverage opportunities at truck stops all along the way. And by the time the convoy reaches I-81 in Virginia, there are tens of thousands of trucks and F-150s and Harley-Davidsons barreling north toward the Capitol.
Leading them, in spirit and in fact, will be Donald Trump. Trump flags will bedeck every eighth rig, every tenth pickup. And when the armada of trucks and the army of people finally assemble somewhere in or near the nation’s Capitol, the stage will be set for The Speech, the one that defines the moment, as Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington defined that moment in the Civil Rights movement.
You might think the comparison ridiculous, but I assure you that the people attending the speech and many millions of people watching the speech on television will think the comparison is exact.
That speech will not be given by…….Ron DeSantis, not in Trump’s teleplay and not in anyone else’s either. That speech will be delivered by Donald Trump. It will be his great post-presidential moment and (in his teleplay) the one that sets in motion the “restoration” of his presidency.
The convoy(s) will be a boon for right-wing media. Trump is hardly the only one who “gets” the television programming “opportunity.” This past week, Fox News anchors and talk show hosts staked their claims to the story, with the three prime time hosts pledging unconditional allegiance to the Convoys. You can see why. The narrative is straightforward (good vs. evil). The visuals of the convoys rolling along will be great television (the drone shots from overhead will be spectacular). “Embeds” (producers and correspondents traveling with the convoys and reporting live on “developments”) can file “live” reports and “news updates” from the stops along the way. And an endless parade of “experts” and “analysts” and “political strategists” can blather on, while the picture-in-picture “live box” monitors the convoy’s progress along I-40.
All this will lead to a dramatic ratings spike. How could anyone not watch? It’s the political equivalent of O.J. Simpson in the white Ford Bronco, heading down the Santa Ana Freeway, scores of police cars not far behind. Nothing moves the needle quite like dramatic “live” television. The Convoys will deliver hours and hours of dramatic “live” television.
There is one problem: it could go horribly wrong, as January 6th did. Mixed into the convoys and accompanying caravans of motorcycles and pick-up trucks will be what the FBI calls HVEs and DVEs. HVEs are homegrown violent extremists. DVEs are domestic violent extremists. They are lone wolves, militia members, Oath Keepers, 3 Percenters, white supremacists, neo-Nazis. FBI Director Christopher Wray describes them as the single greatest threat to the homeland. They are fully capable of mayhem.
They will not be there to “protest.” They’ll be there to take another stab at “disrupting” the government; maybe storming the White House, maybe attacking the FBI building, maybe assaulting the Department of Justice, maybe drone-bombing the National Security Agency. In sufficient numbers, they can and will do significant damage. They have the weaponry and explosive materials to pose a serious threat to lives and property. And perhaps most important, they’ll have cover. It will be hard to distinguish the HVEs and the DVEs from the people who are there simply to make themselves heard.
It’s quite possible that the Freedom Convoy’s arrival in Washington will result in something worse than January 6th. A lot of people (myself included) thought January 6th was a preview, not the main event. Whether that’s true or not we do not know. But however one views it, no one doubts that “things” could get out of hand, quickly, when the convoys converge on the Beltway.
How concerned should we be? Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to make himself available to the press. He made two points. First, he criticized the Republican National Committee for censuring Representatives Cheney (R-WY) and Kinzinger (R-IL), saying it was “not their job” to do so. He explained why: the GOP is a big tent, we don’t throw our people overboard, etc. He could have left it at that.
He didn’t. He repudiated the RNC’s characterization of the Jan. 6 riot as “legitimate political discourse.” Said McConnell: “We saw it happen. It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election, from one administration to the next. That’s what it was.”
Whenever someone as shrewd as McConnell says something that cuts across the grain of the beliefs of his party’s most active constituents, locally and nationally, you have to wonder why. I suspect the answer is that McConnell senses a second, bigger January 6th building and that it will be bloody and seditious and draped in Trump flags.
I suspect that he’s decided that the backlash to a second insurrection will be fierce. Fierce enough to convert “lean Republican” 2022 US Senate races into “toss-ups.” Fierce enough to recalibrate the turnout variables of a “normal” mid-term election. Fierce enough, in other words, to snatch defeats from the jaws of substantial GOP 2022 mid-term election victories, up and down the ballot.
Anyone who has been around politics for as long as Mitch McConnell knows two of its tenets: (1) it’s not the action, it’s the reaction, and (2) let sleeping dogs lie. The reaction to a second Jan 6th will be far less forgiving than the first time around. And it will alarm the voters who dismissed President Trump in 2020, all 81.268 million of them, and remind them that they may have to suit up again to beat him (by proxy) in 2022.
The “Freedom Convoy” to DC is going to be a huge political story. It’s instructive that Senator McConnell, the nation’s shrewdest Republican, doesn’t want any part of it.