When the Canadian trucker convoy descended on Ottawa, it led to an occupation that lasted roughly three weeks before the Canadian government stepped in. Now, US truckers are pouring into the Washington, DC area, threatening to bring much of the same political and economic disruption.
Nominally, the convoy protests are about vaccine mandates. The Canadian truckers raised millions of dollars with a message mostly about reopening the country and ending Covid-based restrictions. But in reality, the trucker protests are about a litany of right-wing grievances. Protesters often combine QAnon conspiratorial beliefs and opposition to the ‘tyranny’ of the federal government with nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments.
Right-wing protests are not new, and there has been a long history of conservative backlash to liberal progress. Reconstruction sparked the creation of the Ku Klux Klan. The Civil Rights movement led to the southern strategy. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 was followed by the Tea Party and birtherism. The George Floyd protests and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ 2020 victory were significant cultural moments in which conservatives felt that they lost. The result has been a wide range of conservative protests–the January 6th protest (which led to the insurrection at the Capitol), the protest against critical race theory and learning about American slavery and racial discrimination in schools, and the trucker protests in both Ottawa and Washington DC.
These recent conservative protests are all fundamentally about the same thing, even if they take place in different places and seem to have different goals. The protesters believe that their vision of America is fading away. The old social and political order is dissolving, and in its place is something new, something where liberals and diverse groups have more political power. The protests aren’t unexpected, but what is troubling is the increased willingness of conservative protesters to use violence. In January 6th, conservative protesters used violent means to storm Congress. Parents angry about critical race theory have made threats towards school officials. And there have been reports that truckers in the DC convoy have punched the car windows of Washington residents and attempted to box other vehicles in on the highway.
It doesn’t make sense to think of the DC convoy as a protest of Covid mandates. Restrictions related to the virus have fallen steadily across the country in recent months. In blue states, mask mandates are being eased, and in most red states, there haven’t been any significant virus-related restrictions since relatively early in the pandemic. But when we conceptually think of them as a response to perceived liberal cultural gains, it all falls into place. The protesters are motivated by the changes in American society that they believe their group is on the wrong end of. That is what is driving these protests to happen at the same time, and what is driving the protesters to violence.
The trucker protest in DC may not last long, but the larger trend of conservative backlash to liberal change has only begun.