Melania Trump spoke on a big screen outdoors as the evening fell on her 50th birthday party in Parker on Saturday night.
“Today I want to speak to you about coronavirus, and what it means for you and your family,” the first lady said in a March 19 video at the White House. “What changes need to be made now; this is not how we’ll live forever.”
Gathered for a video being shot in front of the video were dozens of fans, peppered by plenty of gray-haired people, the population most at risk of deadly illness.
No one visible in the video is wearing a face covering. People are standing practically shoulder-to-shoulder at a gathering clearly in excess of the 10-person limit. Masks in public are strongly urged in the governor's executive order, but violations are misdemeanors.
You can watch the video by clicking here.
“We suggested that folks ‘social’ distance, and people made their own choices regarding masks and social distancing,” organizer Kim Monson, a conservative radio host, told me in an email after I asked her why they disregarded the law. “This is a civil rights issue. Hence, my friend Rev. C.L. Bryant whose parents walked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the last big civil rights challenge in America was there.”
Birthday parties aren’t worth dying for, she said, but “freedom is” — “The freedom to work and protect our livelihoods so that we can take care of ourselves and our families. The freedom to assemble which is protected in the U.S. Constitution. The freedom of mobility, to go where we want to when we want to. The freedom to be secure in 'persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures."
She accused Gov. Jared Polis of "cooking the books" on how many people have died in Colorado — more than 700 since March 11, according to the state's count.
She provided a letter from the executive director of a Centennial senior living facility to residents telling of three deaths at the facility that had been reclassified and attributed to COVID-19 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The attending physician had initially cited some other cause, the letter states.
Motive seems lacking, however, other than to hurt Trump in a state he isn't likely to win in November. For that, Polis would have to stake the state's economy, his first-term agenda, continuing his signature achievement of free full-day kindergarten and possibly even his reelection chances. "Why?" I asked Kim. She said I'd have to ask Polis. I did.
“The Governor is focused on saving lives and helping our economy rebound in the face of this global pandemic," his press office replied in a statement to my question of whether Polis is cooking the books. "When reporting deaths, the CDPHE follows the CDC's case definition of COVID-19 cases and deaths, which was established by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. When a person with a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 dies, their death is automatically counted as a COVID-19 death unless there is another cause that completely rules out COVID-19, such as a fatal physical injury.
"A pre-existing illness would not rule out COVID-19. It’s common for public health definitions for cases to be different from clinical diagnoses, not just with COVID-19 but with other diseases, as well.”
The first lady's birthday party was only the latest uprising against the executive orders of Democratic governors spurred on, sort of, by the embattled president who's sliding in the polls. The protests have included an unmasked gathering of about 1,000 at the Capitol in Denver on April 19, and last Friday two groups delivered a joint declaration in support of reopening organized by the Colorado Freedom Force and the group Reopen Colorado.
Another rally to reopen is planned Friday at noon at the Capitol. If you're going, wear a mask. Patrick Henry said give liberty or give me death. It doesn't have to be both. It's also self-defeating to say we can responsibly reopen the economy while acting irresponsibly.
As these things go, I know the prince of the Colorado political splash, the only legitimate rival to my friend and fellow Colorado Politics columnist Jon Caldara at the conservative Independence Institute in Denver.
I'm talking about Ian Silverii, the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s most aggressive liberal advocacy organization, I’d say. This is the same group that snuck into the Capitol after hours in 2018 to leave a portrait of Vladimir Putin where Trump's portrait was soon to hang. In other words, if anybody would plan an anti-Trump party, my money is on Ian.
Not now, he told me.
“The peddlers of lies and alternative universes endanger the rest of us for partisan gain, and the scumbags that profiteer off of their lies are the only ones who are worse,” he said in a text, when I asked him if the liberal band has played on. “The libertarian adage ‘your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose’ doesn’t translate to ‘your right to contract a deadly virus doesn’t end at the end of your windpipe.’ We all breathe the same air.”
The same day as Monson was talking about civil disobedience in Parker, a group of conservatives in Washington were announcing the formation of the Save Our Country Coalition, to push states to reopen for business more quickly. CNN reported Tuesday that the White House planned to focus more on the economic impacts of coronavirus and shift away from the president’s free-wheeling, combative press briefings that have lacked sympathy for the sick and dead.
While nothing energizes a conservative base quite like protesting against the government, this one is risky to public health, but it's risky politics, too.
Polling this week indicated two-thirds of Coloradans would rather stay home now than risk public health later. National polling is showing much the same broad concern, though pollsters acknowledge balancing the tradeoff of lives and overreaching rules that further damage the economy is a complicated one.
If the economy doesn't rebound by November, Trump is in trouble. If the economy reopens, deaths pile up and we're locked in again in the fall, he's in even more trouble, unless he and his supporters can unload some blame onto Democratic governors. There are no coincidences in politics.
At the same time, however, it's inescapable that the social distancing, face coverings and small gatherings advocated by Polis and flagrantly violated in Parker are the same measures advocated by the Trumps.
"Peaceful protest & freedom of assembly are beautiful American traditions that should always be protected," Ivanka Trump, the president's oldest daughter and senior adviser, tweeted last week. "If you choose to exercise your 1st Amendment rights, please practice social distancing & wear a face covering. We can protect our rights & our health at the same time."