TRENTON – A sign read “unmask New Jersey” and on this morning, and in this place, that was the case.
Close to 200 people rallied today outside the Statehouse to end the lockdown and to curb what was termed the tyranny of Phil Murphy’s rule. And in sticking with the contrarian spirit of the day, virtually none of the protesters were wearing masks.
It truly is one of the confounding elements of the pandemic. Wearing a facial covering, which all experts say helps keep COVID-19 from spreading, is now a matter of political debate. What’s next? Challenging the notion that smoking may be bad for you?
Patriotic music was blaring from loud speakers, some attendees were dressed in red, white and blue and many through signs,T-shirts and caps expressed support for Donald Trump. The point was clear – opposing Murphy and backing Trump is a sign of patriotism. An onlooker easily could have been fooled, but this was not a Trump rally. Nor was it an official protest against the lockdown, which has been loosened, but still exists to some extent.
The stated purpose was to support legislation to curb the emergency powers of the governor. The state has been living under a series of Murphy executive orders since the start of the pandemic. The legislation in question would limit such emergencies to 14 days unless the Legislature approves extensions.
That idea is not unreasonable. But not surprisingly, most of the expressed sentiment was more rhetorical than anything else.
Assemblyman Hal Wirths, a Republican from Sussex County, said the name of his home county comes from Sussex, England. Then came the punch line, “I never thought I’d be living under a king.
And so it went.
Signs described Murphy as a “communist,” a “fascist,” and a serious threat to freedom and democracy.
I attended a similar anti-Murphy rally in Trenton in late April. Some of the same organizers were involved. Very simply, the rally in April drew a much larger crowd.
So you have to ask, what’s changed in three months?
One obvious change is that conditions in New Jersey – once a virus hot spot – have improved greatly. But what hasn’t changed is that polls continue to show strong support for both Murphy and his pandemic restrictions.
Ayla Woif, an organizer of today’s rally, said polls can be wrong and that she doesn’t really trust them.
She added that, “hundreds of thousands” of people oppose what remains of the governor’s lockdown.
But here’s the problem with that thinking, which has more to do with arithmetic than politics.
“Hundreds of thousands” of people seems like a lot of people.
But in a state of 9 million, it’s not really all that much. And that’s probably why support for Murphy’s handling of the pandemic remains high.