They drove 64 miles in a circle. That’s the length of the Capital Beltway, the ribbon of asphalt that loops around Washington, D.C. For over four hours on Sunday, the so-called “People’s Convoy,” estimated at about a thousand trucks, RVs and cars drove that circle in protest.

Demonstrators wave up at the overpass in Lake Arbor, Md., on Monday during the People’s Convoy event. The convoy has called on President Biden to end vaccine and other COVID-19 pandemic mandates while modeling themselves after Canadian drivers who had occupied the center of Ottawa in a similar protest. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

In protest of what? Well, take your pick. Many drivers – nearly all white, nearly all men – flew flags supporting Donald Trump or opposing Joe Biden. Some displayed Confederate battle flags and placards against vaccine and mask mandates, even though those mandates have largely been lifted.

One lady told The Good Liars, an online comedy platform, that she’s protesting because she doesn’t want “them” to “digitile” us, a word that does not appear in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. The drivers uniformly claim to be fighting against tyranny.

Meantime, another convoy of trucks rumbles out of Berlin, bound for Ukraine. It carries donated toilet paper, batteries, medicine, pet food, baby food and other necessities of everyday life impossible to find in Ukraine since Russia began mauling that country almost two weeks ago. “Somebody has to do this,” Vadim Pashkiuskiy, a 29-year-old Ukrainian driver, told The Washington Post. “My war is to deliver goods. It may be dangerous, but it’s my responsibility to my country. I’m not hiding. I’m doing whatever I can to help.”

The contrast between the convoys is painful. And telling.

In the almost 15 years since Barack Obama’s election panicked a certain subset of Americans, many of us have become inured to their performative displays of supposed patriotism. We’ve seen them don tricorner hats and wave “Don’t tread on me” signs, storm the Michigan statehouse, carry long guns to make a Starbucks run, and, yes, ransack the U.S. Capitol. Now there’s this.

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Such behavior has always seemed absurd, delusional and pathetic. But never so much as it does now, as Ukraine fights for its life. Towns and lives reduced to rubble. Walls sheared off buildings, bedrooms and kitchens left open to the sky. Streets littered with chunks of masonry and blackened husks of cars. Parents weeping over their toddler’s corpse.

And yet, defiance reigns. A man hops atop a Russian military vehicle waving a Ukrainian flag. An unarmed crowd advances on armed Russian troops, forcing them back. In a bomb shelter, a little girl sings in Ukrainian that favorite anthem of little girls, “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen,” and her thin, sweet, child’s voice brings a world watching via social media to tears.

But we’re supposed to think refusal to wear a mask in a pandemic is fighting for freedom? If these people had even a molecule of decency, they’d be ashamed. But they don’t, so they won’t.

For those of us who do, Ukraine is a reminder that resisting tyranny is not a performance, not something you cosplay. That reminder is vital, given that American democracy is fast eroding – not because of medical mandates, mind, you, but because of attacks on the right to vote, protest and speak freely. Against that troubling confluence of threats, the truckers who descended on D.C. provide vivid illustration that even at this dangerous extremity, the American capacity for blithe idiocy remains intact.

One would happily trade the thousand drivers of the “People’s Convoy” for one Vadim Pashkiuskiy. In the name of freedom, he’s driving his truck into a war zone. Meantime, they’re driving theirs in circles.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He may be contacted at:
[email protected]


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