The trucker convoy made its way from Virginia’s Interstate Highway into our state’s capital. Over the course of three weeks the convoy camped out, drove through, protested, and threw tailgate parties (Robertson et al., 2022). The trucker convoy, referred to by its members as the “people’s convy”, is a group of highly passionate yet distrustful citizens who are protesting mask mandates and mandatory vaccines. The people in the convoy refuse to stop protesting until all mask and vaccine mandates are lifted. Although the leader of the convoy, Brian Brase, claims that this protest is about freedom and policy over partisanship, his fellowship demonstrates otherwise. The majority of truckers parade pro-Trump merchandise sporting anit-Biden flags. The trucker convoy is the latest group of far right inspired protesters who use cultural identity as a way of opposing what they see as an encroaching progressive agenda and a changing world. The trucker convoy is a group composed of blue collared workers, rural Americans and Canadians, Chrisitian conservatives, and proud traditionalists railing ostensibly about vaccine mandates, but more accurately railing against demographic and cultural change. The cultural unifiers of flag, faith, and family are more salient than politics or policies. In fact, the policies are so irrelevant that members of these groups support candidates and policies that go against their actual interests. Leaders in the convoy include Leigh Dundas, who was part of the January 6th, 2021 insurrection on the US capitol, encouraged by Trump. Additional members include Patrick Bryne, who worked with Trump’s national security advisor that tried to persuade former President Trump to use the military to seize voting machines (Robertson et al., 2022). These leaders, along with senators on the right, are using this cultural divide to help elect Republicans and ultimately enact policies that further disenfranchise the groups they claim to support.
In order to understand the origins of the Trucker Movement one must look to the past decade where America has become increasingly polarized. This polarization has been analyzed through multiple lenses: partisanship, status, and geographical location. In Arlie R. Hochschild’s novel, “Strangers In Their Own Land”, she introduces the concept of the great paradox. The great paradox is when a group of people oppose policies and parties that would serve their financial and practical interests, but not their beliefs about themselves (Hochschild, 2016). The great paradox is rooted in a lack of education, mistrust in government, and closely held ideologies that are rooted in identity. The great paradox can be seen when poor Americans strongly oppose programs such as Medicaid expansion, free and reduced lunch, and vaccine mandates due to a general mistrust in the government. For example, participants in the Trucker Convoy militantly oppose Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor of the United States (Robertson et al., 2012). They ridicule Dr. Fauci because he is synonymous with the cultural elite they disdain. Although Dr. Fauci and the federal government were on the front lines giving Americans the best medical advice available along with free vaccines and testing, his guidance became less palatable than conspiracy theories. Here is the great paradox at play–the well researched guidance from the FDA and Anthony Fauci that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people is eschewed because people don’t resonate with nor trust the messenger.
Another contributing factor fueling identity polarization is the large urban and rural divide that exists in so many states (Cramer, 2013). Geographical distance creates a natural us vs. them phenomenon. Coastal elites in cities such San Francisco, Miami, New York, and Portland are marked by a normalization of diversity, access to opportunity in education, and non-traditional ways of living. Rural America, also known as “fly over country” has largely been seen as comparably irrelevant. Rural areas often include agricultural hubs and blue collar manufacturing centers that have been economically harmed through changing legislation such as NAFTA and developing technologies that have automated many jobs. These areas have watched as the middle class has been carved out leaving behind resentment and hopelessness. Many of these communities have been hit hard by the opioid crisis, causing many rural Americans to wonder if they matter. This regression in financial and social progress has left rural America susceptible to grievance against immigrants, the government, and changing social tides. What does remain intact for rural America is a strong sense of in-group identity. When people feel like they are losing something, they hold on tighter to what they have (Miller & Conover, 2015).
Perhaps the saddest part is that all of this cultural affectation is being seized upon by disingenuous actors in the Republican party. The ultimate irony is that the majority of these politicians are a part of the educated and culturally elite. They are whipping lower and middle class America’s anger as means to find majorities in the federal government where they will promptly cut taxes and dismantle government programs. These politicians are targeting thedemographic of Americans that would benefit most from government assistance and using culture wedge issues to distract them into fighting against their own interests. In regards to the Trucker Convoy, Republicans Ted Cruz and Ron Johsnon praised and approved the group for showing courage and standing for freedom. This can also be seen as Josh Hawley iconically raised his fist in solidarity with January 6th protestors, even as Josh Hawley is himself a Haravard graduate–educated and elite, but playing to an angry and turned around demographic. Trump also is the ultimate example of electing the fox to guard the hen house. By using populist rhetoric that favors traditional themes of God, Family, and Country he was able to energize and mobilize this disaffected base (Cramer, 2013), The long term question remains: are these populist uprisings such as the Trucker Convoy the death rattle of misguided right wing extremists, or are they the seeds of an enduring cultural divide where good policies and good government are rendered meaningless?
Cramer, K. (2013), The Politics of Resentment, The University of Chicago Press.
Hochschild, A. R. (2016). Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the
American Right. New York: The New Press. Chapters 1, 9 and 15.
Miller, P & Conover, P., J. “Red and Blue States of Mind: Partisan Voting and Hostility in the United States,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. 2, June 2015.
Robertson, C., Feur, A., Bednar, A., (2022, March 9). Trucker Convoy Near Washington Is a
Lowkey Protest. The New York Times.