The quandary of our own abundant if not inexhaustible repertoire of mapping abilities and skills of visualization are tried by the spread of COVID-19. As dashboards, news agencies, and media offered new maps and staked new skills of mapping, maps of the pandemic’s spread–from the panicked first maps of ‘cases’ to the maps of mortality, hospitalization, or comorbidity that ensued as we tried to process the pandemic, rightly fed concerns about the viral spread we risked unable to control, and rightly so. Attention to tracking maps of infections–never predictive, and approximate–gave way to a skepticism to accept the government policies to contain the virus as its spread seemed unable to control. Opposition to public health policies of vaccination, masking, and limiting exposure to public places became cast as a power grab, an invasion of liberties and freedoms that are increasingly tied to the individual body, rather than a collective one.
But the spread of protests against vaccination escalated in Canada quite dramatically in the months after the mandate for vaccination to cross the US-Canada border, on January 15, 2022, as if the issue finally hit home, and the rage that many felt about the pandemic and its ongoing spread became suddenly concretized in the mandate to vaccinate before crossing the border.
And the inescapable introduction of politics to policies of masking created a dangerous undermining of the social contract, to be sure, as decisions and declarations of masks as sufficient protection–even if cloth!–or as impositions played out as decisions about civil society in deeply distorting ways. And the notion of a nation with mask-free rules, if not the secession of the unmasked, proved to rehabilitate a scary undercurrent granting validity to secessionism in the aftermath of January 6, 2021. But the protest that led drivers to turn the Transcanada Highway into a protest route obstructing travel to the commercial US was an odd reflexive assertion of “independence” in an era when COVID affirms our global interconnections. The protests that were cast as a resurgence of the “right to roam” on paved highways, by a group of disgruntled sector of truckers and anti-federalist agitators, clustered on the public spaces of the roads, as if cast as true spaces of open space, demanding to be protected and not policed for public health.
It may be the product of an era which has both feet firmly planted in an era of non-representational mapping, apparent both from disease maps, epidemiological maps, maps of viral lineages, and indeed from weather maps to maps of forest fires, combustability, and drought, that the non-representational nature of these maps led to a reflexive search for a new map of political embodiment of the resistance to vaccination and public health policies. It is partly exhaustion with the pandemic-inspired health measures or restrictions–from mask-wearing to congregating indoors–that has lead many to refuse social distancing, but to deep skepticism of mandated COVID vaccinations as government overreach. But it was also in the increasingly smooth surface of the globalized world that neoliberals long promoted, where capital’s free transit across borders benefitted all, that redrawing a cross-border map of “Diagalon” as a mythic New Green World grew in the guise of a revolt from below, free from government oversight. The failure of January 6 in the United States led to a resurgence of “patriotic” protests against measures of public health.
Was this a “republic,” in any way, or just a cry for help? Framed in terms of a direct democracy taking charge of the pandemic, the urgency of Diagalon seemed to concretize a broad salon des refusés, outside of and beyond politics as usual. The resistance was incarnated in a light green overlay designed to define a region without any common political or representative bodies by its collective refusal of a vaccine mandate, and refusal to accept either American or Canadian government oversight, a utopic collection of provinces and seceding states defending of liberties, in defiance of public health codes. The emergence of pseudo-republic of #Diagalon or #Diagolon as a suddenly trending as a meme on social media, an “accelerationist” extremist group, bent on destabilizing the state by overturning an order they sought to discredit as illegitimate.
The guileless simplicity self-made “map” of overlays was fictional, but an immediate redesign of sovereignty fro emotional ends. It was less a proposal than a polemic about the conventionality of all nations, supporting a free-trade North America able to be capacious of the Keystone XL Pipeline that the American government had put on hold, presenting secession as a resolution to the burning questions of economics and freedoms of conscience that cast the actual state as due for discrediting. Filled with a healthy dollop of Manichaeism, the assertion of an alternate republic–something akin to a breakaway republic in North America–benefitted from the unfair interlacing of public health policies with politics to secede from a status quo with an energy that was very gung ho, as it assumed the status of a combat flag for angrily rallying against the status quo. The map is the result or residue of the odd discursive realignment of ideology and pandemic preparedness in the United States. The self-styled “Freedom Convoys” animated a new sense of liberties “on the road,” taking liberties to stream across the highways and even urban roads, freely honking horns and sounding air horns, soliciting resistance to government oversight on health mandates, urgently representing themselves as a solution to the pandemic’s panic.
As if in response to the images of an unruly “Caravan” that approached the United States to destabilize security, the motorcades sought to convey the strength of secessionists on wheels. With some odd dissonance, the light green shade of the overlay suggested not a project of “greening” but a freeing of wealth against an allegedly hegemonic state. There was a deep sense of a need for collective embodiment and a restoration of a lost era of liberties that the map stimulated and seemed to incarnate, as an emblem of a fragmenting of public health policies in the guise of a populist revolt. But this was hardly a populist movement, if it sought the trappings of one. The rag-tag collection of extremist groups and secessionists began as a meme that sought to unite opposition to the government around resistance to the vaccine mandate, but cast themselves in stark oppositional terms of Manichaean origins, rehashed for an age of globalization against the heresy of government oversight.
For rather than really debating or even discussing the policies for confronting COVID-19, the protestors seem to have responded to the fetishization of masking as a sign of containing the pandemic–and indeed the unfortunate politicization of health regulation, that has filled in for serious debate about managing the virus. The unprecedented politicization of health regulation from the early days of the pandemic gained only greater steam with vaccination and a mandate for vaccinating or mask-wearing. If the serious reservations some felt about The embrace of strident opposition to either policy as a way to voice increased skepticism about government guidelines fostered an unexpected false populist outcry against both, confusing the pandemic with politics and intertwining ideology and public health policy in deeply unhelpful ways. The “Freedom Convoy” that seemed organic in how they appeared as if spontaneously on paved arteries to protest government overreach arrived in neighborhoods across the nation as carnivalesque uprisings.
But a somber seriousness was on the verge of comedy. The distinction was existential as much as of citizenship, defining themselves in a new lingo as Diagolonians, Diags or just Dags, who, in some reflection of their anti-globalist credo, opposing themselves to “Circulonians” –the lapdogs of globalism in the rest of North America. Vaccination mandates became a placeholder for communism, or other globalist agents, the new nativist map affected a Utopian identity in an overlay of green, using as their flag a banner of a harsh black and white diagonal stripe, a defense of liberties of deep transhistorical origins, with a dissident national anthem, roots in white supremacy revealed in their embrace of the old American confederacy, defined by a “diagonal unity” of Canadian provinces that linked Alaska to Florida, a new promised land of traditional Republican values bound by the motto, “Nations come and go, but Diagolon never dies“–an eternal longing for direct democracy of the vox populi.
The imperative of this new “territory” was not with its own DMZ, but suggested the fervent belief in a militarized imaginary rejecting COVID-19 vaccines on both sides of the border. The disturbing emergence of this imaginary territory was a purely virtual entity, but was disturbing all the more for the intensity of convictions released by the crude contrivance of a GIS overlay. A counter-map of sorts to a detailed data map or a helpful visualization of reported rates of infection or of vaccination rates, the polemic nature of the map lay in its bluntly drawn straight edges, themselves a rebuttal of the detailed map of viral infection and mortality rates that had dominated the news for the past two years. Any association of planimetric projection with rationality is challenged by the lack of logos in using a simple cartographic overlay promotes “Diagolon” as a call to arms and secession. The Trans-Canada Highway is really only the ‘only’ place that links the east and west of the country in some places, and the power of rewriting the map won the day as a trending proclamation of sovereignty.
The sharply defined contours of the green overlay suggests an uncompromising rigidity and militancy akin to ethno-nationalism: either you are for or against us. Facing a pervasive sense of disempowerment that resulted from the pandemic has opened the doors to the appeal of a clean-cut map of clear edges and belonging–an image of belonging that is at odds with the reality of a global pandemic. While drawing authority from open data of USGS as if to lend authority to this new fantasia of seceded land, a diagonal swatch across the continent whose imagined coherence seems far cruder than the idealized Masonic fetishization of geometric forms: a simple diagonal line, drawn from the Arctic Ocean or Beaufort Sea over Alberta runs down from the prairies into Idaho and Montana, drops to encompass an expanded Confederacy from Texas to Florida. After two years of the pandemic, and a deep sense of isolation, the call to end pandemic mandates not only energetically affirmed a collective commitment but an exuberant demonstration of joy.
In contrast to the disempowering maps tracking COVID’s spread, the single polygon of linked states and provinces rising in resistance to COVID health policies mandating vaccination seemed to incarnate the rise of a new form of politics and political expression of firm resistance to mandates. And the new polygon that was imposed on North America in this odd meme bragged of a rights to secede from national COVID vaccination mandates that suggested a polemic of sorts of an unprecedented level of entitlement of unprecedented nature, effectively appropriating national mapping agencies’ geodata to create a new imaginary state, or if not a state at least a space removed from government-sponsored health mandates and a state of mind.
To be sure, the polygon was not only an overlay, but evoked its own sense of spatial logic that was abundantly familiar above the 49th parallel that often separates the United States and Canada: bridging the border, the green overlay of “Diagalon” was a populist cartography, the GIS derived emblem of an extremist right-wing group of separatists. Drawing some reflexive accolades on Twitter, the apparent “peaceable kingdom” of green was a neofascist emblem of resistance to public health mandates, complete with its own “De-Militarized Zone” (DMZ) in the only hint of its militancy. To be sure, but also a faux populist cartography, rich with its own cartographic connotations as much as serving as a slap in the face for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose imposition of a mandated vaccine for cross-border travel it opposed. A new logic of secessionism, the northwestern provinces of Canada would bring their wealth of petroleum deposits, by this logic, to link themselves to “brethren” of the old Confederate South, now expanded to Idaho, Colorado, and Texas, but what may not seem much of a stretch of the imagination, to resist the latest demonization of “big government” disguising itself as pandemic response. Never mind that this is a global pandemic; the liberating logic of the “Diagalon” meme promised freedom from government oversight from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico.
The map was an unlikely icon of an attack on a strategic federal role for defining national health policies and health readiness seemed implicitly important as vaccination rates needed to be encouraged and preparedness for variants of the virus whose spread in new lineages threatened to grow, as the virus mutated in ways more rapid than influenza, and had spread worldwide. Even in a country of universal health insurance coverage, it suggests more than a dangerous distraction as funds dry out worldwide for “emergency” funding for testing, vaccination, and indeed COVID care. Mapping a non-nation affirmed like-minded resistance to COVID vaccination across borders, but also expanded the staging of a massive blockade of cross-border traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway; the revolt against the mandate of vaccination for all truckers carrying goods across the border. It sought to contrast the “reality” of those living by ferrying goods across the border who would be hampered by the government over-reach of a vaccine mandate; the open space of the highway was contrasted to alleged over-reach of a government seeking to oversee public health, transforming the Trans-Canada Highway and associated arteries of trade to a protest zone of global scale.
The truckers’ obstruction of the major routes for commercial vehicle traffic across the Ambassador Bridge leading to Detroit, the largest volume commercial crossing of 8,000 trucks daily, which was blockaded even after a court order urged them to disband and leave, was effectively a gun to the head of the government, fenders draped in the Maple Leaf banner, as if to recuperate the nation, shutting down the greatest single point of trade in the name of lifting COVID restrictions, casting COVID restrictions as a “fight” between truckers and government, where “truckers” flouted the criminal offense of blocking commercial traffic on the bridge, demanding “freedom” to cross the border without being vaccinated. The disruption of traffic between auto plants on both sides of the border ended upwards of a quarter of trade between Canada and the US, in a disruption seeking to trigger broader protests as it took aim at workers’ shifts, production lines, and paychecks, in an odd inversion of the image of a National Strike, winning support from FOX TV, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz, as if to incite a revolution from below to oppose the “mandate” for vaccination for cross-border traffic.
The crude icon of populist cartography was odd, indeed, coming in a nation distinguished by considerably greater cartographic literacy than the United States–geography is more universally taught in Canadian schools. But the polygon of Diagalon was a briskly drawn fantasy of a land free from health mandates. The connotation of the map of a region of resistance to government oversight blurred existing borders by championing of free market trade, free from government oversight or health mandates, recalled a recent great free market dreams of the century. For the republic of Diagalon recouped a diagonal cross-border petroleum pipelines only placed on hold recently, but still dear to those who had long imagined a unified North American petrostate.
The closely aligned and deeply interested memory of cross-border transit on which considerable local capital was staked was a free trade icon, not always mapped in positive terms by opponents–but similarly naturalized as a horizontal line bisecting the border, running from Tar Sands Development to the Gulf of Mexico, and providing an axis of wealth, economic promises, and autarky that seemed to lie at the basis for the fantasy of an independent Diagolon: the shipping of gas worldwide was indeed a negative vision of globalization, enriching the companies of Alberta and the northwest, that had, indeed, been resisted by what many argued was executive over-reach of the deepest sort, constraining what was imagined as a life-line of cross-border trade and the exploitation of claims to mineral wealth that provided mercantilist riches to boost the Canadian economy located in the Tar Sands that many argue are the right of Calgary-based integrated energy companies to exploit and extract.
The. vision of the “free market” is, of course, not only the engine of a Canadian economic boom on a global scale of mineral extraction, promoted as a “right” of Canadian companies to dominate the global marketplace for fossil fuels. It is, as well, a tacit and unspoken response to the rights of indigenous inhabitants of the same lands, whose title is effectively denied by the mercantilist logic of a fossil fuel market dominated by a handful of highly concentrated actors, generating revenues for some twenty-five owners–some based in America–from Exxon Mobil, BlackRock, the Royal Bank of Canada, T-D Bank, Royal Dutch Shell, FMR–a constellation of energy firms, investment Funds, Limited Liability Companies, and private trusts, as the Desmarais Family Trust.
Is it a coincidence that many of these stakeholders lie located in the green area of Diagalon, ready to furnish coffers for ongoing protests to assert their claims to import oil to a global marketplace for fossil feuls? The largest single stake-holder in the Tar Sands of ExxonMobil–some 6.57% from 2010-15–is not only foreign corporate, but the largest share of fossil-fuel revenues are foreign-owned. If anything, the claims for ownership are however staked against a sense of indigenous ownership, and has fanned the flames of cross-border white supremacist separatists whose attack on federal policies mirrors federal interests in adjudicating and recognizing indigenous “native” land claims–the prospect of mapping which this blogger has discussed in a previous post, claims that were first mapped online on a new platform, unsurprisingly, parallel to the staking of energy claims and extractive rights to articulate specific claims to ancestral lands. Indeed, the obliteration of ancestral land claims to usufruct or mineral wealth motivates the opening up of borders for an energy market far beyond North America, and hoping to reach a global marketplace: the most wealthy protagonists in economics of globalization of energy markets not only stand to profit but may be standing behind the false populism of Diagalon’s militant “separatist” claims.
The land claims that Native Lands has rendered in pastels as a vibrant palimpsest suggesting the scope of compromised territories that were made to fit into the provincial system surveyed in the nineteenth and even eighteenth centuries were cleverly erased, of course, by the new collective, which concealed the density of mineral deposits located in the protected boreal forest in lands “ceded” by historical treaties of the past. What was not rendered opaque, the overlay affirmed an egenda to “go it alone” by evoking an energy independence rooted in the seizure of indigenous land claims but blinded to its own history, cartographically smoothing local land claims to reify avenues of trans-border shipment of extracted mineral wealth.
The rather ingenious cartographic sleight of hand able to recoup plans for a now-cancelled Keystone XL or Transcanada pipeline by encouraging a new “nativist” claim to the autonomy of the very region in which most underground mineral deposits are located, boosting a “nativist” declaration of rights to export energy in Diagalonian lands by unvaccinated truckers.
Did not the vision of the highway, or of the pipeline, condense the economic benefits imposition of government mandates would prevent? While Diagalon as a geographic conceit of Diagalon is perhaps best seen in rhetorical terms as an anti-federal fillip, the territory’s coherence, if it exists, seems to stem from the deep desire of Alberta and Calgary to rethink the border that the tar sands oil might be able to cross. The assertion of a commonality to which the federal government was blind asserted a deep gulf of distance between the liberal state and the people, as if health mandates only undermined the “true” interests of Canadians in the very manner that the shutting down of the Keystone pipeline that was planned to move petroleum deposits from the tar sands globally was shut down.
If one could push oneself to imagine economic integrity for the imaginary land, that arrives on social media rather complete with its own miniature Border Wall, running north of Vancouver, a precedent for such territorial unity would be longstanding antagonism to foiling the Keystone XL pipeline. The ostensibly populist movement of which Diagalon was both motivational meme and emblem was based in Calgary and Alberta if excluding metropolitan BC, was a mirror areas that the petroleum industry is strongest as a political lobby has championed free trade agreements, and as the largest provincial producer of oil, recently had uncoincidentally filed a trade challenge to recover the C$1.3 billion it had invested in the Keystone pipeline. The provincial amalgam the overlay embraced and unified as a block of alleged resistance to “government over-reach” was inhabited bythe ghost of the planned XL pipeline diagonally reaching into the United States.
The secessionist imaginary of Diagolon–often “Diagalon” on Twitter, but never “Diagonolia,” despite its poetic capaciousness–by which the Truckers’ Convoy became known staked a provincial collective whose inhabitants reached down to embrace the “red” state imaginary–skirting Michigan and northern states east of the Mississippi, incorporating the old Confederacy in white supremacist largesse–by affirming the logic of the free market and cross-border trade to the very states on the Gulf of Mexico where the tar sands pumped from Alberta would arrive. The coincidence of that overlay was not much noticed, perhaps as the political imaginary was so obvious: or because the overlay was aptly opaque. It was a masked the validity of native land claims, and suggested a reification of the claims of an energy industry to deny the validity of any historical claims of precedence or the past. One might imagine the shock of COVID-19 put debate on hold for title to send bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands and Saskatchewan straight through to the Gulf of Mexico, asserting claims to extracting oil for the deferred pipeline in the face of the government, as if demanding the restoration of oil flow to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The blind geography of Diagalon was not only a mask, but a reification, if not a “reified consciousness” making concrete claims to energy, flattening the past, exploiting the opacity of an overlay as a historical banner to rally against the state.
Yet, as this blogpost will suggest, it may well explain how readiness for large contributions to vaccine protests that flowed north via crowdfunding, or funneled north on GoFundMe, promoted to large online followings, by alt right figures from Glenn Beck to Mike Huckabee to Erik Trump to the tele-evangelist Franklin Graham? As much as sticking a finger in Joe Biden’s eye by nourishing antivaxx sentiment and dissensus, the ghost of the pipeline may lie behind Americans who declined boosters but boosted disruptive protests, “standing for FREEDOM” despite increasing convictions of those who provoked, participated in or actively encouraged the events of January 6. Indeed, the prayers that were said for the convoys that moved across America and from the overpasses of highways treated the consciousness as a representation of local interests, obscured in the bloated big government that had created a policy of vaccine mandates, turning funds over to testing, vaccination, and masking and entrusting authority to health policies that threatened to undermine economics as usual.
There was more at stake than a consolation prize here. The uniformity of the polygon, so unlike the point-based maps that have been used to track COVID-19 mortality and infections, was a map of small government. Unlike the big data of multispectral global or national maps that have haunted the spatial global imaginary for several years, it was a logic that seemed cut and dry. Rather than asking viewers to try to parse every thing from hot-spots, health vulnerability, hospital beds, and health care services in day glow colors, or peer into the x-rays of deep divisions in the nation’s health care system and health care readiness, the green continuous block that incarnates “Diagalon” on the North American continent is akin to dumbed-down geodata, of an almost fascist sort. Its clean geometric overlay charts and embodies an allegedly more organic resistance to technogovernance, in an illustration of the growing distance and lack of proximity of government to nation in the age of COVID-19.
And coming as it does almost at the very same time as we ready for a new COVID surges, it seems to start to disarm the state of all preparation for pandemic readiness. For the protests ostensibly animated by truckers on the Transcanada Highway disrupted public health policy, in a moment that was seeking to go global in its resistance to government mandates or public health policy governments in the US and Canada were seeking more funds and structural policies to enact. If not the Omicron variant or BA.2, which did not affect infections as in Hong Kong in all the countries it emerged, we are not only less prepared for the danger of a new surge in hospital admissions, but are left to wonder how weakened immunity after vaccination could affect the virulence of a future wave, as the advantage of immune defenses simply wanes. Even as former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden doesn’t doubt that the next COVID wave may be on its way, even if our levels of vaccination protect us against a rise in mortality rates so that so terribly escalated with little ability to contain its spread. With the virus multiplying in variants with considerable rapidity, the sanctioning of new vaccines was not simple or foolproof.
The reliance of funds for free rapid testing, vaccinations and COVID care are contingent on the emergency status of the pandemic, dependence on emergency status of health care funding imperils its continuity or clear guidelines for pandemic readiness. Fears of underfunding primary health care and public health that the pandemic exposed was countered by the emergency prioritizing of critical health defenses even as fears of a surge rise–and threaten to undermine emergency preparedness, some experts fear, largely as federal funding is increasingly debated in Washington, and the funds for testing, vaccination and treating the uninsured may be in danger of drying up. The very stadiums once sites of vaccination are readying to resume their normal functions as they reopen for entertainment and sporting events as states are scaling back and winding down programs for free testing and vaccination, even as new variants are emerging.
If sparked by the mandate for COVID vaccination of those driving cross-border shipments, the protests were a welling up of anti-government resentment over multiple years. Despite relative public health success of containing the virus in Canada, north of the border, the public health policies took a clear toll. While the vaccine was mandated by the US for cross-border travel as well, the resentment against the principle of a government-issued mandate drove some truckers to disrupt cross-border transit for all, by occupying the Ambassador Bridge against which a large share of commercial vehicles travel, constituting a quarter of goods, at a time when global supply chains are already threatened or slowed.
The false freedom of free trade was elevated by the Freedom Convoy as they congregated in the capitol of Ottawa challenged what it claimed was an unwanted government-sponsored health mandate, disrupting one stable link in the international supply chain as if this was the consequence of the imposition of a mandate presented as government public health policy. The closure of the border to commercial traffic interrupted a major trade artery, recalling how the same government had needlessly failed to prioritize free trade in issuing obstructions to the Keystone pipeline, and in introducing obstructions that led Ford, General Motors, and Toyota to slow lines of production, in hopes to forge a link between the vaccination mandate and an end of free trade.
The memes of the secession of sectors of the United States and Canada from public health mandates will make the prioritization of health defenses all the more difficult. And in a sea of virus, the disruptive declaration of resistance to the vaccination, as if health care were an assault on freedom, creates a false opposition between seeing freedom as a government hands-off in its relations to the public as can be and public health. The lateral organization of the Convoy’s cells gave the appearance of an organic uprising, without clear leaders, but an expression of popular will; organizers were not clearly identified by name, but populist flags of sovereignty, as on January 6, held high–as well as, at times, the Diagalon flag.
So entangled has have public health funding public health directives with attacks on government overreach that the infrastructure to respond to COVID-19 risks being endangered–even as the government may have also worried about the unnecessary disruption of US-Canada trade ties.
And while the frustration at masking or vaccination may be considerable as we approach Spring, the precedents, if marginal, of seceding from public health policies or indeed by rejecting the mandates that tried to increased vaccination and the health emergency that has secured funds for health care threaten a coherent response. Before expanding to British Columbia, Diagalon constellation was a sandwiching of Canada’s northwest provinces between the right-wing affinity groups of neofascist inclination from Alaska to Texas, if rooted in the dreams from a NAFTA-sized Confederacy, that seemed dedicated to resisting any coherent national health policy. But it amassed an anti-federalist resentment of extremism, with the distinct aura of January 6–and the latest of stress-tests, albeit of a bizarre and caricatured nature, that liberal democracy and government faces after the events of 1/6/21.
Canadian truckers became a link in a global anti-government protest in what seemed the waning days of COVID-19 pandemic. If globalization links the local to the world, the small concentrations of groups of truckers who drove down the TransCanada Highway–their number far below the 227,000 truckers operating in Canada, where trucking is an even more common occupation of Canadian men–was rather strikingly able to globalize from a protest at the mandated vaccine for crossing the US-Canada border to assorted grievances able to garner global media attention. (If roughly a third of Canadian truckers are recent immigrants, immigrant origins were conspicuously absent from the protest; those present hewed to the stereotype set by Truckers for Trump, perhaps sharing the conceit a mogul represented the interests of the working class–an ever growing share of America’s trucking industry also relies on immigrant labor.)
As if in polemic response to the difficulty of processing our deluge of data visualizations of coronavirus infections, the simple slash of the self-made map affirmed an area of resistance to the vaccination mandates imposed by liberal governments in North America: a bottom-up refusal to accept the infringements the state imposed, allegedly for public benefit, the flag advanced a refusal to admit federal policies and science. We had heard about “fake facts” as a casualty of toxic political discourse. But the current migration of “fake news” and “fake facts” to levels of contagion questions the very techno-politics of healthcare rooted in vaccination and pandemic techno-governance, by conjuring the common sense false populism of the figure of a “trucker” in the crystal clear volleys of air horns that both contest and protest current health mandates–and even contest the technopolitics of health care as a masking of free expression and individual liberties.
If we see social media as a booster of false populist movements, writer George Packer recently mapped the decline in deliberative discourse of government and rise of a dogmatic populism to the start of C-SPAN transmitting televised gavel-to-gavel coverage of the U.S. House, from 1981, and the U.S. Senate by the late 1980s, as an”unwinding” of politics by elevating the performance for the camera–changing how elected leaders spoke to one another and their constituents understood government in primarily performative terms. If current committee debate spends is regularly diverted by posturing for clips for alt right media and twitter, streaming congressional procedures by 1990 into 50 million homes, Packer notes, already helped to elevate performative tactics in ways that altered how viewers consumed political debate.
The fractious divide over vaccination that threatens COVID protections is the heir to the divisive vitriol in government debate and ad hominem attacks of the 1990s, eroding deliberative bodies as they elevated the posturing of defense of liberties, even before empty chambers of government. The Gingrich era of government by CSPAN brought increased charges elected representatives allegedly ignored the people’s interest, as it normalized demonization of the opposing party, and changed how politicians addressed one another, long before Twitter. For the expansion of television coverage of government chambers replaced deliberation with a promise of “speaking directly” to the American people that Newt Gingrich–author of the Contract with America–cultivated; Gingrich himself dated his arrival in Capitol Hill in January, 1979 against CSPAN’s broadcasting from March, as if the synergy diminished deliberation symbiotically prepared for a Contract with America, redefining the reification of “popular” opinion and relation to government. The opportunistic Gingrich, who flew like a moth before the television cameras to present himself at the front of a new phalanx of a “Freshman Class” emboldened by championing the urgent need for a balanced federal budget able to eviscerate the Great Society: describing themselves boldly as laying symbolic siege to the capitol by their inability to compromise, they used television broadcast decisively to lay that siege, declaiming after their 1994 victories in Congress, as the fragmenting of the media that cable news portended offered, as Julian Zelizer noted, in On Capitol Hill, “offered numerous opportunities for competing centers of power . . . to get their message out” and to enter the media in a pseudo-mainstream manner for their own gain.
Gingrich was the prime exploiter of C-Span to cultivate his ability to precipitate the first bold government shutdown of late fall 1995, effectively ending the federal government’s functioning that legitimized a new vein of anti-government violence rooted in self-righteousness: they tried to shift national discourse by puncturing federal authority, casting themselves as crusaders to purify government by stopping its functioning as a form of budget blackmail under the alleged auspices of renewing American institutions and civilization through an “entrepreneurial spirit” that was a foreboding preparation for the political career of Donald Trump, rooted in the “college course” that Newt Gingrich took on the road since 1993 in over sixty college campuses as an alt eduction in the undergraduate curriculum via Mind Extension University: designed to disseminate a new “system of communication and education” that styled Gingrich as the “advocate of civilization,” proselytizing the nation’s national identity as a new P.T. Barnum, urging his audiences to chose in Manichaean terms “between progress, renewal, prosperity, safety and freedom within America [sic] civilization versus decay, decline, economic weakness, violent crime and bureaucratic dominance led by a multicultural elite.”
The participatory vocabulary of politics changed, not contained to C-SPAN coverage. GIngrich profiteered by from the medium of ostensibly disinterested televised proceedings to stake out issues and relate to alienated constituents to realize government did not represent their interests. Gingrich used C-SPAN as the medium to speak to America directly, from the House floor, as he ascended to first minority whip and Speaker of the House. The rise of Gingrich, however improbably it seemed, invented and escalated a new language in place of deliberative politics that emblematized a Republican revolution in almost Orwellian form–“Newtspeak”–that was rather tan geared to debate championed strategic use of “Optimistic Positive Governing Words” such as “common sense, “freedom,” and “principle” in operative ways. Invoking fundamentalist concepts of heresy, promising to shut government down ’till doomsday” by using eschatological language of the early Christian church, but inflected by a politics of grievance, and holding hostage political functioning to a the sacred cow of a balanced budget that addressed people’s alleged needs.
Politics was cast as a set of moral imperatives at meetings of Political Action Committees and in the training tapes they distributed to set the terms of non-referential idealism that concealed or hid ideology, but defined themselves as opinion. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) less promoted conservative values but championed ‘Contrasting Words” to recast politics as a Manchaean struggle to save American culture, of which the Freedom Convoy seems to be the heir, as the contrasts of terms had educated American to see a political process by keywords as “excuses,” “pathetic” and “stagnation” so often deployed int he Gingrich Revolution to remind Americans the need to preserve American culture rested on triggering a fight or flight response.
The “fierce urgency of now” was, for Gingrich and his acolytes, a moral imperative that rested in reclaiming government and governance by recasting them in transparent terms, by demands that were performed in front of the cameras rolling in the gallery of the House of Representatives–and bringing government into American living rooms–in ways that might be seen to demonstrate the common genealogy of CSPAN and CPAC. This may seem far afield from the disruptive alliance of a Freedom Convoy or Peoples’ Convoy that seem to have been born as collective identities of the recent global pandemic, but such flag-waving boostering of principles of Freedom deserve to be traced beyond January 6, although they emulate the violent seizing of the Capitol as a disruption, but claims of reclaiming governance–epitomized by the resonant cry of January 6 rioters, “Whose House? Our House!”–born of restaging the concrete demands of a contract with America, reminding representatives of their responsibilities by a public shaming name-calling.
At the same time as the “Gingrich revolution,” televised talk shows like Oprah promoted gospels of magical thinking that made the case for the link of vaccines and autism with faux incredulity and seriousness, telling viewers to protect their health against nefarious actors. The fraying and distrust Packer detected across multiple sources of information as an unwinding that began long before social media registered a fraying of social bonds to government and economic protections. The deep sense of disfunction that Packer illuminated across the nation bore fruit in the absence of civic discussion among convoys burning fossil fuels to demand greater transparency, and greater oversight, a Freedom Convoy along the US-Canada border that seems to have inspired the People’s Convoy in the United States, which suddenly gained prominence as a fault-line in the status quo, closing border points to traffic counterpart to the open borders of globalization.
As if on cue, Kevin McCarthy is producing a “Commitment to America” before midterm elections. As if denying the global pandemic, and COVID variants, as new emergencies, open resistance to vaccination is promoted as a “freedom,” opposing mandates as yet another familiar form of technogovernance, quick to sacrifice or abandon American–or Canadian–values. The compulsory nature of vaccination is cast as an overrreach of government akin to that which Gingrich slapped down, and for whcih the display of flags and shows of patriotic loyalty summons a higher good to dispel from the republic, as if to purify itself once more, a la January 6, 2021.
The “trucker” had become a demographic type long allied with populism, and also the disenfranchised, on both sides of the border, to express the interests of those allegedly hurt by the mandates of vaccine. This increased their appeal, perhaps, as a right-minded resistance to mandates imposed from above. In America, the alliance between truckers and farmers appeared designed to evoke the crisis of a forgotten white working class. But while “farmers” long provided an image of the locally rooted politics of the past, the trucker is not only an inherently mobile occupation, moving in an age of omnipresent acceleration along the “free”-ways of interstate and global commerce. The “trucker” conjured a critical breaking point for the opening of commerce, arguing that they were “sick from mandates,” more than COVID, as if the true disease were located in the Capitol, manufactured by health authorities grasping for more authority over the common man, and constraining free commerce with dire consequences for all, affirming the free flow of cross-border traffic, lest COVID protocols overwhelm free trade. (Never mind that the bulk of cross-border traffic by far occurs in the east: the truckers of the west would seize these checkpoints, forcing the nation to feel what it was like as cross-border flow was restricted as a sudden show of their force to revolt from the health policy mandates issued from on high, as the sought to draw a wedge between public opinion and national health policy.)
1. Of course, the vociferous protest about the vaccination mandate bore the finger-prints of protest south of the border, and an in-your-face opposition to . The protests of vehicles brought a range of thousands of eight-wheelers, twelve-wheelers, RV’s, tanker trucks, flatbeds, box trailers, pickup trucks and tow trucks bearing banners on long booms. As if to substitute for the opinion of those opposing the mandate from the entire nation, the assorted license plates from multiple states framed a new model of consensus and direct democracy–we saw the license plates from California, Idaho, Utah, Maine, Arkansas, Texas and other states. in an unfiltered and unmediated statement of political urgency, underscored by the unremitting chorus of honking horns blared from vehicles that filled the roadway, often attracting admiring crowds who cheered them on, all in the name of affirming Free Speech, singing the Star Spangled Banner and seeking to affirm constitutional values and patriotically affirming support for the American Freedom Convoy driving cross-country to Washington, DC to protest federal COVID-19 pandemic mandates.
But was it even speech? The rarely articulated obstructionist tactics ostensibly demanded just “to be heard,” employing the logic of those protesting maternal health services, but the absence of cogency in a bevy of air horns blaring exultantly seemed to affirm only the intensity of their rejection of a status quo. The “freedom” on roadways offers a low-tech populism of open air travel, an incongruous site to demonstrate against vaccination, perhaps a way to overpower discussion or debate, linking a sense of grievances and eroding liberties on overpasses not only in Kootenai County, but across America.
The affirmation of liberties of a nation was a symbolic secession from the technopolitics of the twenty first century–extending from COVID to climate change–informed secession to the imaginary “republic” of Diagolon, or Diagalon, promised a safe space to assert the common sense interests of the under-represented the technopolitics of health care overlook. The green purity of Diagalon was not a real proposal, but a utopic allegiance negating any ties to the government’s current policy in response to the pandemic, meriting serious attention as it reflects the absence of voice and personal opinion in how the technopolitics of health care seem to emerge. The magical power of the polygon provided an affirmation of unity in separatism that echoed the memes of #PeacefulRedStateSecession, images that imbued the lower forty eight with a chromatic unity en lieu of a political one, abandoning hopes for consensus by arrogating like-minded counties together, as if abandoning the very representational structure of individual states.
In place of the fragmented image of “A Country Formed from Red States [sic]” that suggested “states” referred to a state of mind–more than the actual polygons of states–the polygon of Diagolon imposed a sense of unity among the real, die-hard refusées. The polygon of Diagalon uses a GIS layer to evoke common protection against mandated vaccines across the continent: the green overlay the often uncolorful wheatfields and prairie lands of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba into a layer of light green that also encompasses much of the “Arid Region” of the United States. The imagined secession tropes the notion of ideological differences into a new nation, jettisoning the distinction between two countries by elevating the rejection of vaccination to a global pandemic to an existential level as the defining commonality across state and provincial borders, staking out the scale of constitutional crisis at stake in the emergency powers claimed by Canada’s and the US government in hopes to contain the contagion of COVID-19.
2. The loopy memes promoted by “red state secession” was the precursor of promoting a fantasy of secession, deploying a polemic map of crimson, smoothing the jagged edges of projections of the 2020 election to smoothed polygons to lend coherence to pro-Trump counties as an alternative state. The fuzzy organic unity, incarnating under a banner of secession a seething mass of discontent in the face of imagined constitutional transgression–its organic unity “would follow the constitution” in a projected constitutional crisis removing Donald Trump from the Presidency. The image whose logic filtered into January 6, reified the notion of “red states” that emerged c. 2000 as a self-sufficient unity, able to go it alone, substituting like-mindedness for the need to form political consensus or work in bipartisan fashion. But the forcefulness of January 6 as a seizure of power provided a precedent to
The denial of any division of electoral votes or representational structure was of course against the Constitution, but that is another matter. The alleged constitutional transgression of not recognizing Donald Trump as President followed an onslaught of cartographic memes that personalized allegiances outside of any institutional framework–the essentialist “Trump States and Hillary states [might] split into two countries, and . . . allow certain counties to join the other country” morphed into “Arguing politics is a WASTE OF TIME–LET” SECEDE before . . . Civil War”–after 2016, as the “redrawing of state lines” morphed into redrawing the contours of the nation-state in The current transgression is intended to provoke, again, if this time as if pulling it presto change out of the hat of what are fairly familiar magic tricks, a constitutional crisis.
While at base a distraction, Diagalon re-stages the prospect of a new constitutional crisis, as if getting one more familiar with the idea, presenting it in “reasonable” terms more rational than dependent on “smoothed” lines. The proposition that “it’s time to split the country” became the subject of national polling in the summer of 2021, as the image of secession became a meme on social media of undue virulence, where contested issues that seemed to divide the nation–“COVID vaccine rules;” gun control; abortion–became surrogates for big or small government, but rules of vaccine and masking were fetishized as a line of last defense of almost existential terms. The positing of Diagalon less than a month after the January 6 attempted coup suggested the affinities to the civil liberties Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) who agitated against the Emergency Powers the Trudeau government declared as truckers’ convoys blocked the border, giving new currency to the meme of Diagolon to magnify the movement’s strength.
Haunted by the geography of an earlier Red State/Blue State divide that was evident in the Presidential race of 2016, Diagolon placed its centroid northward, bringing the Alberta-, Winnipeg- and Calgary-based conservatives of Canada looked to the “Red States” to assert a North American constitutional crisis of maximal terms. If raising eyebrows, more than concern, dividing two nation states on the grounds that public health policies is the latest iteration of an unwarranted provocation. It incarnates the breadth of resistance to the almost interchangeable threat of “government over-reach” to meet discontent at higher taxes, curbs on freedoms of religion or gun control, expanding immigration, and immigrant rights, all haunted by the anti-Democratic logic of a government intent on curbing popular sentiment. The false clarity of the Manichaean divide of white and black suggested a lack of compromise and the resistance to complex texture of visualizations of infection, or of any data visualization, not to mention the difficulty meaningfully mapping COVID-19 in ways that might grant better grasp on health risk.
More than anything else, they proposed the deep links forged from resistance to health policy, instrumentalizing resistance to vaccination against the global pandemic in political terms, the latest strategy of dividing the nation and the logic of the liberal state. For exploiting and expanding upon the actual geography of Americans who have been vaccinated as of January, 2022, per the latest visualizations, they have imagined a potential solidarity among the states of Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and a few more, with the western provinces of Alberta, part of British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, in a vision of false populism that might motivate the latest secessionist fantasy, in the hopes that it will soon be trending on social media. Even if we know that “counties” are not the best bucket to look at the disease–affecting different populations in differently, and rarely responding to health care access so much as the presence of those indoor spaces where the virus or pathogen of COVID-19 is often contracted, transmitted and multiplies, counties suggest a good metric for viewing the trust or acceptance of vaccination across American regions of Diagolon–a telling visualization to which, amidst the false overlays and doctored visualizations this post examines.
The black and white secessionist flag of the mythic nation of Diagolon is resolutely utopic in its insistence on a land where no mandates need exist. The flag seeks to forge common purpose by empowering the expression of anger at the alleged imposition of a mandated vaccine, replacing the very notion of a nation state that imposed health policies or mandates. By arguing for an assertion of local or regional rights in an optic of “states rights” the banner recalls the failures of the democratic state to shape consensus–and the knee-jerk dissensus that any claim of technogovernance is re-presented as constraining liberties.
For COVID is a tale of two nations, in a nation that is most stridently divided between preparing for COVID readiness and tiring of the impositions of mandated masking, vaccination, and acceptance of vaccination mirroring those very counties that voted predominantly for Joe Biden, after vaccination and medical mandates became politicized in the recent election as technogovernance, science be damned, and “vaccine hesitancy” spreading across the country by early 2022 like the long shadow of an election that divided the nation, welling up as a political movement of resistance across the center of the nation, leaving lowering percentages of vaccinated in a swath centered on Nebraska, if reaching through Montana and over to the counties in the Dakotas, through Missouri, Oklahoma and most Texas counties not near the border, or metropoles as Dallas, San Antonio, or Houston, sites of 60% vaccination rates that fall to the 30-40% beyond. This is the area ripe for joining Diagolon, moving apart from the nation and national health policies.
And to understand the astounding problem of the absence of sufficient COVID-19 relief from the federal budget, even as the federal government has spent beyond a full four trillion dollars of the $4.5 trillion aid approved, the dropping of COVID aid seems a casualty of the false populism with which COVID-19 response effort was scheduled to be funded, suspending a $15.6 billion pandemic aid package, lest the budget be derailed. Held aloft by members of the Freedom Convoy that sought to block cross-border commercial and personal traffic in 2022 in Canada, and a new icon of resisting the vaccine mandate demanded as a public health emergency measures, the latest flag of “independence” is more akin to a racing flag from the Indy 500 than an articulated sense of political sovereignty, but imagines a pseudo-republic of contrarians, determined to push back with all their force on a national health care policy of vaccination as a way to contain COVID-19.
While the discourse of secession might seem extreme for public health policies, vaccination is a surrogate, of course, for a sense of the denial of rights. So potent has been the specter of a denial of freedoms that the hopes for a budget to continue to combat and contain the pandemic has been set back, and the specter of resistance to expanding governmental response to the pandemic in danger of advancing over the nation, for whom the cacophony of air horns blasting 24-7 substitute for the cherished protection of free speech.
After deflating hopes to budget $178 billion for vaccinations and other Covid-related health readiness, this bodes badly for the nation’s health as well as the health of a representational democracy. The convictions of misunderstood logic of vaccines has encouraged the CDC to engage in public education to dispel the extent of concerns of the alleged dangers of masking, the function of the introduction of mRNA strips that can teach our antibodies to recognize and respond to the COVID-19 virus, without changing our health, even as concerns of what is contained in the virus grow, feeding a reluctance to admit it into one’s body.
The friendly images of a masked virus who patiently explained the benefits of vaccination dispelling fears of the sinister effects that vaccination has been argued to mask and the absurd agenda of techno-governance vaccination might further have forced the national government to “sell” the vaccine to the nation, as “breakthrough” infections and waves of COVID variants pop up in chirons of newscasts, dizzying many with the fears of the uselessness of a vaccine that remains, with masking, the basic way to mitigate fatal disease.
The deepest divides of individual integrity imagined at stake in the virus raise specters of mental stability. Yet the divides that still exist–and persist–as the growing gap between urban and rural vaccination rates have more than doubled over the past year, and the skepticism for vaccination in rural areas so great to pose the prime obstacle to eliminating health disparities, both due to the lack of access to health care and to the skepticism that the disease is less a present threat. And outright secession not only radicalizes the divide, but seems a reaction to the information overload of waves not only of COVID, but of delta, omicron, and Omicron BA.2 variants, that seem to impose epidemiological terms of techno-governance that appear to insult if not overwhelm intelligence, discriminating risks in ways that undermine trust, increase skepticism, and melt to air, mystifying many as language imported from virology, epidemiology, and genetics become appear almost arbitrary, as terminology of DNA-sequencing or mRNA become cudgels in everyday speech.
3. Allegedly “populist” resistance to vaccine mandates pushes back against any mapping of “risk” tied to rates of infection, “hot-spots” of viral transmission, or even any mapping of health data, the brute force of the flag finds solidarity in illiteracy, binding the logic of a new national entity that spans the border. It almost seeks to reject the onslaught of rather terrifying COVID visualizations by an assertion of will, interrupting medical containment as unfair government over-reach, declaring oneself of separate sovereignty, like the relatively small California town of Oroville in Butte County, where rates seemed to have subsided after spreading alarmingly in 2020, seemed low enough, but verge on nearly 37,000 individual cases–but are gripped by fears of global vaccination to ensure safe spaces of public gathering. The benefits of vaccination against contracting COVID-19 or preventing death and hospitalization are increasingly evident. The vaccinated population are radically different in its experiences of infection. But these experiences are in danger of being distinguished by a dissonance of levels of public trust.
Is this resistance to vaccination not a form of secession, in the guise of a resistance to national over-reach? Armed with the strength of the super-power of full conviction, the defense of freedom to not vaccinate or accept health mandates presents itself, akin to the freedom to own slaves, even when it admitting it wrong “in the abstract,” given the suitability of the land for the plantation economy and the benefits enslavement brings. Analogously, even those refusing to deny vaccination’s benefits assert the rights to refuse mandates, as overweening paternalism that appeared to be of the worst sort of presumption. An archeology of such states-rights arguments that affirm liberty to self-regulate enslavement traceable to white supremacists resonates with the liberty to refuse vaccine mandates, privileging the “rights” of independence against the common good. Is there indeed an even more disturbing genealogy in the higher rates of mortality and infection among Latino, African American, and with almost a fifth of COVID mortality?
The close correlation of mortality and ethnic and racial makeup seems clear, reveals a jump of case and death rates of 16% with every percentage of minority presence; although the terrifying nature of the statistical correlation may betray a constellation of pre-existing conditions, access to personal health care, presence in a service economy, and chronic stress–including stress brought by racial discrimination–and education, the x-ray that the pandemic reveals of our structural inequalities remain challenging to map, if lower-income communities of color clearly bear the brunt. Yet the impact of the gravity of the disease may lead to a bracketing of its effects in the United States. In an area when protecting affluence before globalization brought rallies promoting wall-building, the refusal to adopt or to trust mandated vaccination rhymed with a mental wall-building to shield oneself, ostrich-like, from actuality.
Despite the alleged rejection only of the enforced mandate, rather than the rejection of science, rejection of vaccination policies as a constitutional crisis upends the very notion of the state. There is a disturbing affinity between these protests of false populism. Despite historic differences between local states or provinces’ rights in the United States and Canada–Canadian provincial rights being judicially interpreted with far more generosity, particularly regarding commerce, while states’ “rights” in America has, until recently, been interpreted by courts as subsumed under federal government. Despite such different genealogies, mandates on economic activity are cast as affronts to a constitutional tradition and unwarranted expansion of the executive–dangerously personalizing policies of COVID prevention rooted in science. Policies of health prevention from mandated masking to vaccination have long been demonized and denigrated by being personalized–viz., the authority of the long-suffering Anthony Fauci–as if they were unduly imposed. Likewise, the rejection of mandated vaccines began from their identification with flawed judgement of a bad actor in search of power.
The expansion of such ad hominem attacks on vaccine mandates has led many to personalize the undue infringement of “rights” behind the mandates, demonizing and apparently adding complexity to an ideologically rigid argument, to open a chasm in the contested space between states and federal policy–or provincial policy and government policy–that mirror one another, despite the different relation between executive authority and local rights. In ways that transcend assertion of regional autonomy, the embodiment of a continuous meta-region of Diagalon creates deep-lying fractures in federal oversight on both sides of the border, if they have perhaps filtered northward with ample funding from American originalists living south of the border. If the polemic map was later expanded to include more of British Columbia, as the memed polygon was diffused in social media and online to register protest at vaccine mandates among Canadian truckers–concealing the far less paved regions of North America under Canadian sovereignty.
For the resurgence of a rhetoric and mapping of secession in relation to the COVID policies have created new fracturing of public space, as public protests against federal masking and vaccination policies have adopted a secessionist maps that pose as resistance to excessive government “overreach” rarely applied to public health. First circulated as a meme on social media, the map was misleadingly invested with authority of public and private mapping agencies–NOAA, EPA, ESRI, and Parks Canada–the simple overlay of green freedom suggests a bucolic land open to rejecting the vaccine, but appealed to a utopic cartography of a land free from fear, or the unwanted imposition of a uniform health policy. Perhaps the nominal authority these open source platforms offered fooled some, but the mapping the utopic regions was more of an in your face redrawing of the map.
4. The green utopic Diagalon is nothing less. The myth of Utopia inhabited its green-tinged polygons. To be sure, the Utopians described by Thomas More gained understanding of humoral medicine, having taken care to bring volumes of Galen and Hippocrates to meet their avidity for learning Greek in the original, in the best humanist fashion, mastering Galen’s Microtechne, “although they need medicine least of all people,” to balance choleric anger, blood, phlegm, and black bile in equilibrium to preserve their health, adding it to their skills of avoiding sickness and never needing to seek medicine in the form of bitter potions, or sour medicines, and never overeating. There is an odd echo of laissez-faire intentionality in the demand to end mandates–rejecting compulsory vaccination in its borders, as if they knew about how best to preserve their health in a global pandemic by limiting viral spread by a gospel of small government the light green overlay promises for all residents.
The Utopians in More’s dialogue indeed esteemed medicine among the most beautiful and useful parts of philosophy, rather than banishing oversight. The compassion and foresight of cities of More’s Utopia led to the establishment of four hospitals outside the city walls “so large . . . that no number of patients, however great, would be cramped for lack of space” in “hospitals . . . so well-arranged and so fully supplied with all things conducive to health, [dispensing] such tender and constant treatment . . . [where] doctors are so constantly in attendance . . . that there is practically no one in the whole city who would not prefer to lie there when ill rather than in his own home.”
Perhaps every utopia is also a dystopia. The dystopia of Diagalon is rather dire, but banishes medical oversight or regimens. The new utopianism that emerged in response to the emergency powers government gained in a global pandemic has encouraged imagining the outright ceding of a region from national health care policy. The killing of a coronavirus package estimated at $30 billion, first whittled down to a line-item request of $22.5 as it faced clear resistance, then renegotiated to a package of $15.6 billion, was quick. It bit the dust as Republicans refused en masse to devote any federal funds to the fighting the pandemic or pandemic bolstering readiness, content to fall in line shifting funds the federal governments shifted to state and local governments to compensate for the lost revenues that followed from the pandemic, rather than assign federal funds to pandemic preparedness, new drugs directed to COVID, and leaving Democratic leaders to introduce a separate bill for COVID funding that may pass on party lines.
The pro forma rejection of funding a needed response to a health emergency might be seen as transcending ideology, but has fractured the nation into two experience before the spread of COVID-19. While COVID funding has been in part intentionally disproportionately distributed–with larger total funding going to New York, Texas, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, the absence of public support for federal programs suggests a deep challenge for representative government.
As both President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to bolster federal oversight COVID policies–from, in the United States, a swerve toward vaccination mandates or weekly testing, or compulsory vaccination, or, in Canada, vaccine mandates for transcontinental trucking–fomented a surge in defending personal liberty and choice over policies designed for the public benefits. Even if less than two thirds of Americans are vaccinated as of March 2022–some 65.3% per the Post, have been fully vaccinated and of these 261.8 million, fewer than 100 million have also received boosters–the resistance to mandating vaccination has been cast as an infringement of liberties. If a California town declared its independence in response to COIV-19 state health policies in late 2021, as Oroville, CA claimed federal overreach in opposition to local lockdowns, resisting masking mandates decreed during the pandemic, the city of 20,000 drafted a resolution with no precedent by declaring itself a “local republic.”
And if red states have, more often, increasingly politicized public health mandates, as vaccination and masking mandates are argued to be compromises to individual liberties–vaccination has been a theater of defending individual freedoms and liberties, demonstrating against a failure of “big government” to listen, and indeed to assert that policies shown to contain the pandemic are an unprecedented “science experiment.” The sense of blowback to the public health policies mandating vaccination, testing, or masking have been staged as a form of defending liberty, largely among whites, and without acknowledging variation in the mortality rates from COVID-19 or vaccination disparities between urban and rural areas. But the troubling persistence of lower rates of vaccination among indigineous, Af-Am, and Hispanic or Latino groups–the very demographic categories known more likely to be more seriously ill–is a deep holdover of unequal access to health care, if not a persistent health deficit.
5. Across the border, the shape of the secessionist republic that would eliminate masking or vaccination mandates advocated by some Canadian populists associated with “truckers” suggests the latest extent to which COVID-19 public health policies fed declining trust in public government. And if the pandemic has prompted a decline in safe driving, with greater fatalities on the road despite fewer vehicles and a surge in driving fatalities among motorists, largely both younger and mostly male, an unwelcome burst of aggressive driving, reckless driving, and driving under the influence, and a rise in pedestrian deaths. “Road rage” was literalized with fierce urgency in the populism of “truckers'” convoys protesting sensible vaccine mandates as overreach by using their air horns and unwieldy size to obstruct transcontinental traffic.
The “trucker” evoked a stereotype of masculinity, moreover, allied with populism in oddly toxic if compelling ways, and, in Canada, were allied to the image of vital cross-border commerce on which much north of the border North American trade seemed to hinge–and the threat of ceasing that cross-border trade by paralyzing the traffic of goods both across the border checkpoints points along the Trans-Canada Highway was clear. Both as a common male occupation in Canada, and a line of work on which cross-border commerce depends, the truckers became exponents or mouthpieces for mounting anti-vaxx sentiments, defining their own independence to resist COVID vaccines that were mandated for all cross-border travel. While not often openly exhibited, the “flag” has been a motivational image for opposition to any national emergency decrees that that led the government to mandate vaccines for truckers, and has become a symbol of collective resistance to health care policies, dear to white nationalist groups who imagine contesting the legitimacy of American and Canadian governments by a supposed constitutional crisis.
The drivers who participate in these convoys epitomize a”road rage” of an illusory direct participation in democracy. As a rage of opinion, and questioning of the status quo by rallying behind the image of a new nation, separate from the body politic, released by the infusion of cash, often moving across borders, behind statements of public rage. They deploy a rhetoric of political secession and departure from the institutions that define the nation, using the currency of the open road–or of paved highways and interstates–as a theatrical setting to stage an abrupt secession, mobilized outside recognized institutional structures in the populist space of highways, deploying a mythic space for the freedom of opinion about vaccination and health policies cast as impediments to freedom, rather than about public health. If commerce has provided the dominant figure and rationale for “opening up” the nation–and “opening up the economy”–the poor framing of debate in a language about closure, rather than prevention, was perhaps to blame for bequeathing metaphors to live by.
The sense of rage and false populism that truckers’ movements came to embody in the pandemic–a new form of “road rage,” directed against almost any state policy related to COVID-19, or any state–seemed to spread with its own logic of discontent. The mobilization of truckers as a political action group had its appeal across the border, but in Canada seems to have erupted as a focus for the anti-government nature of the protest in Canadian politics were fault lines divided western states like Alberta, far less represented by the current Liberal government in Ottawa or feeling disenfranchised by them.
Perhaps the road provided a trusted safe space to unleash rage; freedom was concretized in a map, however absurdly, of a nation branding itself boldly by a diagonal band, a “diagonal land” outside political polarities or bureaucratic hierarchy–not a map, but a cut-out of a map, echoing a perceived hollowing out of the political institutions “Canada” or “the United States” might express, adequate to express rage at imposed health mandates. And occupying the highway and border checkpoints was a sort of severance, and a refusal of passage, as if coopting a populist demand to take control of one’s own spaces and properties, as well as the right to determine policies of the roadways, and shut down government demands for a mandate that was argued to infringe on their livelihood–by imposing the vaccine mandate against the defense of rights to free commerce. The claiming of power to interrupt business as usual, and halt cross-national traffic in response to such decrees, disfigured democracy by reclaiming a rights discourse rooted in the roadways.
Perhaps taking their cue from the early protests that American truckers had registered at the White House in the Trump Presidency, who first used powerful air horns to deliver a sonic wake-up call alerting legislators to the declining costs of shipping costs in the pandemic, Trump had himself designated truckers who might oppose governor’s “stay at home” orders in the United States as the “foot soldiers” agains COVID-19 lockdown policies, mobilizing phalanxes of big rigs whose drivers not covered in the stimulus package. The galvanizing of freight truckers and small-business truckers as a phalanx of political support, as their horn salutes created sonic volleys in DC to alert congressional leaders to their economic losses and demands. And while the arrival of a contingent of truckers in Washington, DC before the State of the Union address got relatively limited coverage, as the global news networks in the United States were overwhelmed with concern of military conflict in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion grew.
5. This negative space is enabled by ‘cut-outs’ of communication nodes and dark financial transfers that tie groups off of the recognized maps, in a new language of secession from COVID health policy. If trust has been declining in public government for some time, it is perhaps predictable that the onslaught of uncertain information during a global pandemic upset trust in open communication even more, but it was impossible to anticipate and hard to explain how much even greater distrust was a casualty of the pandemic, without taking stock of how relentlessly public health decisions were questioned, challenged, allegedly unmasked and subverted to undermine the public good. The absence of selling consensus about health mandates was perhaps a casualty of the growth of social media channels, but the firehose of false information seem to have opened a spigot of distrust and insecurity that made any form of consensus seem attractive.
Although maps are geometric forms of proof, as Amir Alexander has reminded us, rooted in Euclidean tools of triangulation to create an accurate and continuous representation of coextensive space, often from elevated points of triangulation, this post-national map rehabilitates the purity of a geometric form as if its logic would assert the boldness of secession from a simple health policy. And in an era when borders are fast-disappearing, erased by the flows of capital, refugees, and the seemingly rising tide of free trade, and as globalization raises problems that the old structure of nation-states lack sovereign ability to resolve, it is perhaps no sense that the drawing of borders on GIS overlays or by recourse to inherited parallels have assumed a popular appeal not only in the imaginary geographies but as memes. Or, rather, that memes have provided the latest, most reductive geographic imaginary in which the borders erased by globalization might again be drawn by a sheer force of will, the failure of political parties to realize or react to discontent.
In an age the proliferations of concealed political networks and financial sponsorship, the cutout map may be emblematic of the opacity of information exchange . Rather than suggest a political institution, it is built from resentment and promises the direct expression of a will to circumvent the polity. This is not a diagonal line, in the manner exhibited in the DYI flags and home-made patches of Diagalon, but uses the authority of a Euclidean form in the guise of a NASCAR racing flag to promote opportunistic ties between Albert and other libertarian-leaning anti-big government folk. If Masons found geometric symbols signs affirming their worldly rationality tools, those who promote the overlay of Diagalon seek to undermine the government via its public health policy with a diagonal line, in hopes to create a meme able to bulk up the secessionist impulses of dissent from mandating exhibiting actual proof of vaccination to cross the border.
Never mind that proof of vaccination and a COVID-19 test are required before boarding airplanes in Canada; the opening of the US-Canadian border, for two years lifted mandated quarantining and vaccination for cross-border travel as an improved epidemiological situation for those with government-accepted vaccines. The “we’ve had enough” ethos of the Freedom Convoy insisted that compulsory vaccination be lifted from existing public health protocols by remapping Canada.
The new secessionist flag above the border took its place among the varied banners asserting rights and personal devotion that had animated the secessionist fantasies of anti-government movements of the recent past. Canadian protestors were in part driven by flags that were designed to protest government “over-reach” to discredit the federal government. And the odd commingling of Confederate flags that stood side by side Canadian maple leafs, often inverted as signs of national distress, the prominence in Ottawa of Diagalon emblems served to motivate anti-federal marchers, using gas-guzzling vehicles to combat fears of a “medical tyranny” at Canada’s capitol by falsely opposing individual freedoms and public health in their intentional rewriting of the fierce urgency of know. To be sure, the alert of unarmed groups of National Guards to prepare for the arrival of American truckers suggest a capitol that was far more prepared to formulate a plan of action before their arrival, for fear that they would similarly created traffic blockages and blockades, as the cartographic memes that called for an obstruction of all road-traffic in Ottawa, shared widely on social media in Canada as the trucker arrived.
The creation of a meme of a nation was born of the pot-enhanced vision promised a land of liberty from mandated COVID vaccines. But it has gained a life separate from authorship on social media, where the meme incorporating several Canadian states in a diagonally oriented alternative “Republic” running from Alaska to Florida emerged as a form of political dissent.
If the “edge” of the white strip of the Diagolon flag seems to embody the rage against the globalization of the pandemic, if not global health policies, and to champion individual “freedoms,” what better symbol than a non-nation to rage against sovereign states?
The single white upward slanting stripe on a black field has become an empowering emblem of secessionist movements linking Canada West to parts of the United States, bridging the Canadian prairies and northwest with a selection of states running southeast to Florida. As an icon, the flag offers a populist call for an end to vaccine mandates to forge something akin to an anti-government network, using the rhetoric of actual political secession to assert a resurgence of private interests against government policy. If it is not openly racially aligned, it is terrifying how easily it adopted or coopted the secessionist imagery of a Civil War, and the “sacrifice” of so many on behalf of protecting their alleged interests in preserving a plantation economy as the true infringement–not the institution of enslavement.
6. This is a “negative-land” map of a perceived lack of democratic representation, an all too real absence of newfound news deserts, those counties without newspapers as of 2020, where for lack of a newspaper perhaps there is a turn to news feeds. We might do well to take this assertion of Diagalon seriously as a problem of representation and of voicing one’s opinion, or being heard, that the choruses of air horns try to resolve by blasting away, in ways that provoked a massive class action suit to the north in Ottawa of $9.8 million in damages for blasting neighborhoods 24-7 that 6,000 residents living near protestors felt “caused unbearable torment in the sanctity of their own homes.” The suit was only dropped as organizers limited horn use to between 8 am and 8 pm but refused to concede their rights to sonic expression, no matter how aggressive, legally defending their constitutional rights and freedoms for an issue of “national importance,” as lawyers from Calgary’s Justice Center for Constitutional Freedom told the Ontario Superior Court.
It is no coincidence that the popularity of this social media meme mirrors how the era of COVID decimated local news sources in many regions of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. In these provinces, almost thirty newspapers and magazines cancelled some or all print editions, over eighty media organizations announced layoffs, and over two thousand editorial and non-editorial workers lost jobs during the pandemic, with local or community news sources being hit particularly hard, in ways tied directly to the pandemic, accelerating the closure of 215 community papers in the previous twelve years, the picture in America mirrored the image of Diagolon in striking ways, echoing the growth of a large constituency of those who felt disenfranchised already as the pandemic broke, and felt even more excluded by the time national vaccination mandates were broached.
Cartographically, for a nation that prides itself on geographic study, it is as ridiculous as labelling this overlay a “Republic,” as if to taunt Canadians who recognize their government is indeed a constitutional monarchy. This fantasy of redrawn borders may seem a first-world problem, compared to fighting for the integrity of Ukraine, or the new flag of Novorossiya, as the new “break-away” Russian-sanctioned “rebel republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk are now called, although, having been equipped with over 720,000 fast-tracked Russian passports, COVID-19 vaccines, and membership in the Kremlin’s ruling party, it is hard to imagine much sovereign autonomy exists for this other imagined land. (Ukraine quickly appealed the “illegal mass issuing of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens” to little avail.)
7. Although Diagalon never had passports, it appealed wildly as a state of mind. But the arch-anti-republicanism of a Republic of Diagalon–achieved by inverting the final two syllables of “diagonal”–have hoisted a black and white banner in angry retort to the imposition of “medical tyranny.” Those encouraging seceding Canada for Diagalon strike directly at national public health policies to strike at the state, rejecting COVID vaccine mandates as imposing a betrayal of Canadian ideals, epidemiological expertise be damned. Arriving in the days of the winding down of COVID, ostensibly about the mandate for vaccination for cross-border travel, it seems to suggest that a vaccine-free North America might be imagined outside the states whose chief executives are Trudeau and Biden. If one takes the map at all seriously, it suggests areas where the vaccine mandate might just not matter, where Free Enterprise is King, and where the sovereignty of the states that insist on vaccines might be overturned of just ignored. The banner was popular among members of the Freedom Convoy who blocked border crossings to protest any vaccine mandate for cross-border traffic.
The banner of Diagalon betrays a radical COVID denialism tied to the far-right groups as the Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant group whose logo morphs the flowing beard of the Norse god into the maple leaf, or Plaid Army, taking the figure of the trucker as a cover for nationalism by displaying the distress signal of an inverted maple leaf, akin to the inverted American flags held high among a range of banners–many supporting Donald Trump–on January 6, 2021. If many secessionist emblems and images flew among them, the commonality of freedoms of the Trans-America highway embodied in Diagalon aspired to a remapping of North America to make a global point by stopping the movement of goods.
Truckers seem to trigger a distinct demographic, concerned with protecting the. laissez-faire policies of the open road, and, no doubt, opposed to the gasoline taxes that have been introduced in some states to discourage driving, and to make us more conscious of our use of gasoline: the American Petroleum Institute, eager to convince folks that “big government” stands in the way of cheap gas prices, has long argued that the combination of state, federal, and local taxes have been increasingly onerous on drivers, in ways that truckers would of course be sensitive to feel the pinch, so it is perhaps no surprise Diagalon embraces many of those low gas-tax states. east of Texas, friendly to those with big rigs.
Indeed, the energy of the “movement” of like-minded seems to be motivated by a giddy cartographic clip-art, more than by the establishment of actual borders, akin to exclaiming, “now, get your mind around this!” What may have begun as a feverish dream grew as a meme that assumed status as a vision of trans-American unity of a “nation within two nations” of common liberty that helped animate the Alberta-linked “Canadian truckers” into a global movement. Incorporating a new cartography of North America had already lead dissidents to crow “we have shirts a flag as well as an anthem” [sic] in July 2021, inspiring folks to draft “alternative versions” of North America, a few offering to drop Colorado or to add Jefferson County in California, a few adding Wisconsin or Iowa, having fun with their own ideas of secessionism on social media to find resistance to government vaccine or mask-wearing mandates as a form of resistance.
The stoppage of the global flow of essential goods and free border crossing–seemed the unique relation of globalism and “medical tyranny.” The vertiginous exercise in remapping the nation predated the arrival of truckers in Ottawa to protest the “vaccine pass” as an imposition of a centralized government as a specter of socialism. But the appeal of that flag grew as the vaccine mandate provided a trigger for public anger, and an occasion of challenging government authority and indeed trying to divide public consensus, ripping apart the republic, as it were, by a diagonal line: if more akin to a racing flag than a national flag, the flag seems an apt danger sign of driver down trains of thought speeding to a unsound conclusions and disturbances for the ship of state.
8. But the gung-ho urgency of the end to a mandate for mask-wearing was seeded south of the border, of course, in the longstanding resistance to frame any federal policy around masking or vaccination across much of the lower forty-eight, and Alaska, as the notion that the pandemic was an excuse for big government oversight or invasiveness into our personal liberties grew in ways dangerously toxic to liberal democracy or concepts of liberties. And the redrawing of borders, as a new gasp of empowerment, provided the assertion of a newfound autonomy in the midst of the confusion and trauma of COVID-19, as preventive measures of health that nation-states adopt are fenced against on the ground, in what may be yet another sense of the erosion of the liberal state.
As a proliferation of flags were waved on January 6, more flags, including the Gadsden Flag, were waved above the arrival of American truckers in Washington, DC this weekend, or hung from booms on twelve wheelers. The demand Washington authorities end all mandates and restrictions in relation to the pandemic to be eased, if refusing to compare themselves to any obstructions akin to truckers north of the border openly; Canadian protestors seemed to show a tamer side of January 6 rioters, but the truck driver contingents that Trump once called his “foot-soldiers” were committed to driving loops around the Capitol, slowing traffic on the Beltway, until they made their voices heard; the “People’s Convoy” that is two miles long insists it it is not disrupting traffic by clogging the Beltway with hundreds of trucks, big rigs, and RV’s.
While clearly slowing down all traffic, and emulating the ways that “truckers” were able to make their voices “heard” about lifting all COVID vaccine mandates, and perhaps force the US Senate bill that demands an end to the national emergency about COVID-19 that “passed” on a 48-47 party-line vote, as if the GOP were able to unilaterally “end” the pandemic, in the latest attempt to pin all mandates on Democrats.
Republican Senators as Roger Marshall of Kansas declared by March 3, 2022 that “the robust powers this emergency declaration provides the federal government are no longer necessary,” and that it was time to start “unwinding the powers the Government took hold of during the peak of this crisis.” The perception was serendipitously timed with the Convoy’s arrival, if also the resolution passed with several Senators not in attendance, either mourning relatives from COVID-19 or afflicted with it themselves. If a deep sense of loss and mourning might be expected to have dominated reactions to the pandemic’s spread, the growth of an anger at an apparent imposition of government became more preoccupying than infectious spread, as containment became equated with economic “shutdown” as the actual failures of a neoliberal dogma in which market-driven policies of globalization, free trade, and privatization fostered economic growth were punctured as economic bailouts provided a means to sustain the global economy that challenged belief in the sufficiency of a “self-regulated market” to manage either the economy or global health. The disasters of uneven access to health care, the inequity of vaccination, and indeed of well-being were so preoccupying to hide the effect to which central banks had pledged $20 trillion to “put a floor under the world economy.”
But the dominant narratives were of an inability to open the economy, or keep the economy open, in ways that United States Governors whose states may have won them a pride of place in Diagolon–from Idaho to Iowa’s rejection of 20,000 Moderna vaccine shots to Montana resisting the national mandate to Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, –led to the blanket refusal from Republicans to accept a vaccine mandate as cases of “federal over-reach, pure and simple, creating a discursive space to be anti-mandate, pro-vaccine pro-science, as if it were a potentially toxic cocktail. The elevation by late 2021, a year into the Biden presidency, of a full-scale refusal to permit the federal government or elites in Washington to hamper freedoms by policies that “micromanage citizens’ personal choices without a legitimate basis in the law and the Constitution.” Mitch McConnell asserted that such overreach, became, mutatis mutandi, no longer a matter of health care but a charge to prevent Presidents from going “beyond the bounds of their office and their authority,” and of moving outside of constitutional law, a nice charge to bring after the previous President had recently bated an armed crowd to shut down Congress as it prepared to certify a momentous election, that promised a shift in policies of public health care.
The desire to reject the Emergency declaration in response to COVID-19 was performatively passed, even if it had little chance of being adopted into law by the House of Representations, or not facing a Presidential veto. Despite its unseemliness, the declaration of an end to the health emergency aimed to upstage the White House’s COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, and to pull the rug out from hopes to assist Americans living with the and continuing to control the virus’ spread. But the primary goal of ending “big government” gained traction, even as confirmed cases of infection had decreased to about 10,000 per day. This would have assisted in the need to continue to scale testing, vaccination, and boosters to the threat of a surge from a new variant.
To be sure, resistance to a federal masking policy was a dogma dear to the previous American President and his followers. The refusal to acknowledge benefits of a public masking policy in the United States thrived as dogma during the Trump Presidency during 2020 through July and the summer, in the face of the proposal to mail a mask to all Americans as a form of preparedness received blowback on July 4; Donald Trump and his Vice President openly defended the sufficiency of nineteen states with masking mandates in some form as sufficiently cautionary guidelines to open up the economy, without a unified federal policy.
Even as “hotspots” emerged across the nation by late-December 2020 the resistance to national masking mandates continued, presented as a form of government over-reach, even as COVID-19 stubbornly endured as an undeniable area of public health concern, as political disinformation about the need for uniform masking policies created increased doubts as to the effectiveness of government oversight, even as “burden resolution” was a rare commodity in the United States, save where low or moderate burden existed in the first place.
Did the resistance to recognizing hot spots grow in many regions where feelings of the pandemic as a cost imposed by other states grew, identified with big government? If we’ve only started to turn to the psychic costs of the pandemic with renewed urgency as a disconnect, the disconnect was exacerbated by an absence of local news outlets, and the impossibility of sustaining the news flow from the world that seemed a spigot hard to turn off and dizzying to contemplate.
8. Like the return of the repressed, the public roads were congested with convoys asserting that the mandate for vaccine must end, and the time for emergency policies of health care had ended. The erosion of trust in government is nothing new in America, as has been in decline for some time. But the occurrence of a pandemic–and a pandemic in which mortality rates were so high, and costs so great–provided a debate about limited the role of government in health care that is hard to fully grasp without the fear of any mandate on public health policy as a change in insurance markets. Wheels rolled to reaffirm the resistance to masking policies among interstate truckers, however, who wanted to push back on Joe Biden’s policies for masking and vaccination in a version of false populism that seemed to push back on federal policy.
The debate was akin to a massive show of force, at the same time, coincidentally, that tanks were crossing into Ukraine, temporary bogged in the muddy road conditions of Ukraine’s late-winter Rasputitsa, exacerbated by melting snow, the Convoy that was approaching DC had an odd way of making a blunt point. It may make sense to review the inspiration role that the closure of the US-American border on three border crossings and the Canadian capitol, Ottawa, gained.
For the moment provides a peak for the logic of mass mobilization for the agenda that has begun to mobilized anti-government groups globally. While the big rigs rounded DC ostensibly to seek meetings with lawmakers to vent their concerns, per organizer Brian Brase, his fellow truckers who are rounding the capitol in sixty-four mile loops seem to have plenty of gasoline to burn. With few reports of traffic disruptions and incidents, the goal seems to be “visibility,” the sense of disruption seems targeted at a unified national health policy, as if this were the true crisis–rather than massive health insecurity–and include public hearings about the government’s response to the pandemic, a sort of special prosecutor or congressional tribunal–modeled after hearings on the equitable oversight of pandemic relief.
There are new signs of the resurgence of the virus abroad, of course, as infection rates seem to rise in Europe and elsewhere. While we demand an end to the pandemic, and a demand to “put it behind us,” and to stop talking about it as a public health emergency, it may be that COVID-19 becomes endemic, and that it is accepted as a part of our lives. But the subtraction of funds to address the pandemic–or pandemic preparedness–seems out of whack with the very idea of public health, but perhaps to derive from deep-set anger at being asked to process the catastrophic loss of life, and nightmarish fact of a pandemic that has come to enter our shores. We point, to be sure, increasingly, at China, where the virulence of the virus has prompted a renewed spate of lockdowns; yet the notion still seems that it won’t happen here. According to a nice woman who worked as a school nurse with whom I’ve volunteered to feed the unhoused affirms, the lockdowns are, of course, the result of all those “wet” markets in China where bats, cats, pangolins and raccoon dogs are sold, imagining the various insalubrious ways their carcasses were sold, dripping with blood, hardly clean, with no clear form of public oversight, that she’s seen regularly on television screens.
Never mind that the vaccination has proven effective in containing this coronavirus, and its variants. Never mind that the presence of the virus in national wastewater has declined in many large cities, but has also grown, per CDC records, in many towns in the midwest, deep south, northeast, and southwest, in ways that suggest that transmission rates are by no means contained. The image of those odd little critters that seem to be hosts of the coronavirus that led it to jump to humans is reduced to the messiness of the markets for serving and buying foods, as if to link the presence of viral pathogens to an seeming absence of saftey protocol if not of the buffers of politeness and civilization.
There is no clear protocol for such a populist demand for not being “heard” by government, or for recognizing your opinion. There is no precedent for folks approaching Washington DC to demand meetings with legislators who have failed their function as elected representatives, and must be called to account. The precedent for such a demand, heightened by the recourse to flag-waving, is surely January 6. But the funding of such a language and iconography of secessionism that was found across the border in the north as a cry of urgency rehabilitated secessionist iconography, to urge an end to a national emergency–despite the fact the national emergency was not really a political decision or even a political claim. The toxic place of any public health mandates, however, have been cast as a form of government over-reach that invades and compromises personal freedoms and liberties, even if they include the freedom to contract COVID, and, oh ya, spread it as well..
But the fact that Canadian truckers took pleasure in evoking another, imaginary state–Diagalon–to express their anti-federal allegiance. The beyond-the-Beltway little village that was comprised of flatbeds, tanker trucks, eighteen-wheelers and pickup trucks suggested a miniature republic, decked out with flags hanging from huge booms or red white and blue beanies or regalia, many showing their deep support for Donald Trump. (Few suggested the National Emergencies Act was the last in a sequence of national emergencies President Trump had used to activate emergency powers; few knew the benefits of allowing modifications of health insurance programs, student loans, and other payments were allowed by the National Emergencies Act of March 2020, but all wanted the sense of an emergency to end.
The arrival of a massive convoy of eight-wheelers, pickups, and big rigs was not the easiest way to open a national dialogue on the still sensitive issue of masking. But the audience most interested in doing so was, rather predictably, the antagonists to the current policy. Days of circling the Beltway brought a meeting with our own anti-government forces, in the form of the offices of Senators Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz, the latter prominent among senators on Roger Stone’s list of lawmakers meriting pre-emptive pardons from Donald J. Trump after January 6; the former who ha argued to make the dismantling of health insurance networks a prime goal of Republicans. (Stone’s list also includes Reps. Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, and Mo Brooks, it has been reported.). Despite threats Senators or Congressmen who ignore them will risk escalating existing tensions from the Beltway, some self-awareness seems evident in awareness “If we shut down the Beltway, we lose our public support.” The agitators may overestimate how much public support will tire of the roar of air horns. With millions raised to support the truckers from online public appeals and non-profits, and nine million raised for Canadian truckers, “shock and awe” destabilization of health care policies provide a suitably false populist alternative to alleged government competency.
A certain sense of copy-cat mentality was clearly at stake: the specter of Justin Trudeau declaring martial law to remove protestors who had parked big rigs around fire pits from the Ottawa streets had led Tucker Carlson regular Candace Owens to crow that the protesting Canadian truckers were arrested on “trumped up charges” without bail for having “messed with the state” as holding them in conditions similar to “somebody like, I don’t know–Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin“: what they accuse us of are what they are “what they are guilty of.” This equation of high political stakes with the protests of truckers against mandates aped anti-vaxxer rhetoric in maximalist urgency of political survival and a struggle for liberties.
The false populism of what seem self-organized groups with titles like “the People’s Convoy” as they left California are creations of the social media, as much as they are organic, but adopt a language of empowerment before a feeling of disenfranchisement, recycling patriotic memes with an abandon worthy of the attempted American coup of January 6. “American Freedom Convoy” is arriving from the Midwest, anticipated DOA of March 6-7, 2022, to protest economic hardships created by the policies of the pandemic, with a demand to “restore accountability and liberty,” claiming the time has come for a massive rollback of public health policies put in place by the pandemic as “COVID is well in-hand,” as if government policies and economic restraints were only designed to magnify the growth gaps of wealth and inequalities that have been a salient if unresolved consequence of economic globalization in the previous decade.
9. Both convoys had set off and were greeted with exultant celebrations and flag-waving. They were greeted along the interstates on what were cast as a national quest. What appeared to be organically arising protests emerging from economic duress of a lost middle class were cloaked in considerable patriotic fanfare, and claim to be less disruptive than the protestors north of the border, but only to follow First Amendment rights. And yet the arrival in Washington, DC of flag-waving groups who demanded to be heard in Congress cannot but evoke the terrifying images of white protestors who used inaugural stands as ramparts from which to wage war against riot police at the United States Capitol, and not only because of their common destinations.
But the similarity of angry cries against “government over-reach” were inspired by the courage of the separatism that had been seen in the north, that led to hopes and fears of staging a stand-off if not disruptions in similarly divisive and oppositional terms. For even as masking mandates are dropping, and the demand for proofs of vaccination are less common, the momentum of energy behind the protest has not waned, boosted by broad demands for “freedom” and linked to a demand to “jump-start” the economy in ways that are tied to “re-opening the country” that suggest a redrawing of the economic map that “truckers” seemed entitled to demand, their work providing a metaphor for the clogged supply chains that were a major global casualty of the pandemic, that after two years, they feel entitled to demand.
But the pandemic has provided, in rather terrifying ways, an occasion to reveal a broad-ranging loss of faith or belief in government, politicians or media alike, and to stage an assault on media and meaning. If the alternative flags of the Gadsden Flag is prominently displayed around the People’s Convoy, as the interlaced images of stars and stripes with maple leafs, the transnational calls for a rejection of public health mandates seems embodied in the Diagalon Flag, as a striving for simple messages after the complexity of COVID policies, and a yearning for greater simplicity; the presence of Trump 2020 flags in the United States suggest not only a belief that the election was stolen from the former President, but also a utopic desire for a return to some easier time.
10. For all the energetic proclamation of a “Republic of Diagalon,” the imaginary government of a mythic territory didn’t need to rely on representative institutions or a capitol, so like-minded was the ethos of its inhabitants. Road Today, a magazine dedicated to South Asian truckers–a demographic estimated to be considerable among the 30% of Canadian tractor-trailer drivers who are immigrant born–quickly distanced itself from the Convoy, whose disruptiveness along important lines is hardly helpful to international commerce. How central was the white identity of the Freedom Convoy to their public identity?
But their disruptiveness was not only a means to an end. The admiration for the border south of the border as the defenders of liberty, only recently replaced by the heroes of defending the borders of Ukraine from Russian aggression, was notable. For the blockades on border-crossings, highways, and downtown areas of the Canadian capitol and its major arteries sought to paralyze the nation, but were also a protest for the free circulation of goods, and indeed an increased circulation of goods and commodities in neoliberal capitalism, rather than workers throwing themselves on the gears of the machine. Is it not the cross-border appeal of the allegedly autonomy of the protest of Canadian “truckers” apparent in how the “Freedom Convoy” was mapped in patriotic colors in American social media news?
But the maximalization of protest of a minority of truckers seems hidden in the large image of Diagalon.
But it is striking the Diagalon indeed included much of the territory from which most of the nearly $8 million sent to the truckers protesting vaccine passes arrived. In anger at the freezing of GoFundMe support for the “truckers” north of the 46th, Texas’ Attorney General, Ken Paxton, a public face of the four states that have pledged to investigate the decision to ban funding to the Freedom Convoy, insists “Many Texans donated to this worthy cause.” After GoFundMe promised to return several million it had raised, Paxton pledged to continue to investigate “where their hard-earned money is going.” As the GoFundMe site was shuttered, “Adopt a Trucker” and “Freedom Convoy 2022” campaigns on the Christian GiveSendGo sites attracted $9.6 million from 104,000 donors, many from hundreds of members of the Oath Keepers, the very group active as a ringleader of the Assault on the U.S. Capitol of January 6, and most often arrived from wealthier districts solidly dominated by Republican voters, from Beverly Hills to Austin to Marrieta GA to the Florida coat. Supporting the continued open flow across borders indeed . . .
The unprecedented scale of public support via crowdfunding that the “truckers” received crossed borders as right-wing figures once in Trump’s circle, as other causes drifted from sight. Polarizing social media stars from Ben Shapiro to Dan Bongino, acted as a magnetic point of global backing, no doubt as the “truckers” filled in for the suppression of the circulation of anti-vaxx information on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, shifting the ecosystem of social media around manufacturing consensus by likes and tens of thousands of engagements of pages promoting the Freedom Convoy, and even discussions that the “mainstream media” suppressed stories about the Freedom Convoy. As the Ontario Superior Court of Justice asked the GiveSendGo funds be frozen, the company refused to respect Canadian jurisdiction.
But the maximalization of a cross-border opposition to mandates conceals the sector represented.The most visible protestors are very ethnically homogenous. If the imagined nation of Diagalon seems born in Alberta, allied to white supremacist groups, it caught on as a meme among the members of the “Convoy” along the east-west axis of the Trans-Canada highway, as it conjured a grandiose vision of a transcontinental linkage among “Freedom” groups, not necessarily only Canadian at all, from Alaska to Florida, expanding to a continental affair of one block of more scarcely habited green.
The green overlay was a stubborn thumbing of nose against the cartographic authority of national mapping agencies, like USGS, whose logo the map displays, or the cartographic actuality of ESRI, made of allegedly independent cells and “member networks” that suggested the triumph, as if in response to the role Benedict Anderson assigned newspapers of forging national identities, that social media has in fragmenting nations into vigilante groups who go of shooting together, training together, and disdaining the authority of central government and its alleged “overreach” of enforcing public health codes: the occupation of the downtown of Ottawa and its intersections precipitated the Emergencies Act that seemed evidence of the over-reach of which Justin Trudeau was accused.
But perhaps the generation of a state of panic and undermining of consensus is exactly the point. This odd confluence of open borders and an attack on government regulation is deeply reactionary. The refashioned image of a Canadian identity that is promoted by badges and insignia of Diagalon, the new imagined community that seems committed to an absence of dialogue, seems premised on the conceit that rather than act as other North American “circulons,” the diagonal swath of territory from Alaska to Florida, writ large, will unite a new territory from which the national capitol cities of Ottawa and Washington, DC are absent, and that they presumably fail to represent: the community of outsiders that the truckers seem to have been chosen to incarnate, perhaps as they able to position tractor trailers in a show of force, as trucks that provide a basis for national and international commerce paralyzed cross-border traffic at three points, including the bridge over which about two thirds of commercial trucks enter Detroit. The sudden show of force of fascist “false populism,” responding to scientific consensus by the brute force of their big rigs.
The goal of disrupting the transit across the border was paired with parking big rigs across the main streets and intersections of the capitol, raising consciousness or media attention on “broader issues” of vaccine mandates and central government. The single downward-slanting stripe conjured the mythic country that ran across North America from Alaska to Florida, consciously omitting much of coastal British Columbia and Vancouver, or indigenous lands like Nunavut, and often shifting its western edge to the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, but uniformly entering the United States in Idaho.
The self-announced Republic of Diagalon has no government, but online, the imprimatur of open source geodata and map layers seemed to allow secessionists to tint individual state green to conjure a mythical republic free from COVID vaccination mandates as a Republic of the Unwilling, born out of shape files, but also from a vision of sovereignty. The inset shows Diagalon with its own DMZ, akin to a true border wall–what nation does not have a sharp edge to define its relation to the rest of the world today?–a critical cartographic detail that is only visible at greater scale, but shows its deep resistance to globalism, and deep resentment at a global state of affairs. What is a Nation, as Donald Trump might ask, without a Wall?
But the signs and regalia of a from-below Canadian movement were conspicuous, as if to detract from the idea of any ties to the folks or Save America sponsors of January 6. The secessionist fantasy was enough to warrant global exultation, as both FOX and Canada’s Rebel News suggested the important role of the Convoy as new Freedom Fighters raging against the world. It would be hard not to note that the “sacred diagonal” preserved the pipeline from indigenous opposition to its construction. We are by now familiar with how flags lend coherence to those feeling wrongly excluded from the body politic in a multiplicity of new identities, from truckers to left-center Quebecois separatists; as January 6, a assortment of iconography that migrated north of the border, from Gadsden Flaggers to ‘Canada Firsters’ to Thin Blue Liners, a sort of copycat fringe, and a recuperation of imagery first used by independence movements. Unlike the January 6 terrorists, who came bearing arms and tactical gear, with a revolutionary spirit, if some arms seem to have been on the way, the Canadian protestors of the Freedom Convoy were more verbally abusive than paramilitary in nature, if they had plenty of diesel fuel on hand–
Fuel seemed to be a central image to the autarky of the truckers who converted big rigs to mobile homes, arriving with their family. Fuel tanks were the life blood of the Freedom Convoy, and a difficulty to police clearing the encampments with tanks of diesel; social media accounts nourished the rumor that some good-minded judge ruled that the city police had wrongly confiscated.
The range of identitarian iconography sent heads scratching at this efflorescence of recycled imagery that seemed to motivate new bonds, some dating back to the “Patriote” movement in Lower Canada, that predated the 1840 Act of Union, first fling in the 1837-8 Patriote Rebellion, for an anti-colonial movement of anti-British sentiment; the banner of those Francophone champions of self-governance whose resistance had led them to be exiled, imprisoned, or hung was now adorned with a black-hooded thug. The old anti-colonial iconography of the historical Patriote party has the ring of Google Translate, but as coopted plants a man signaling populism by a pipe and tuque took its place among outsiders’ banners held in Canada’s capitol, protesting vaccine mandates. The presence of such a flag may denigrate the original banner, but seeks to place COVID denialism in a to a tradition of Canadian freedoms and political history, mapping the raging against the vaccine mandate in an actual political history, and dignifying the anti-vaxx struggle to traditional Canadian liberties–much as the presence of Betsy Ross flags on January 6 allowed those besieging the U.S. Capitol to drape themselves in a national imaginary.
The assertion of a “Republic” of Diagalon of course undermined a constitutional government, but gestured to a land-based nation-state that reflected popular sentiments by converting Canada–a constitutional monarchy whose government is run in a parliamentary system–as a Republic. Diagolon flags stood out among the importing the image of a secessionist fantasia already widely promoted online, as its unique image of secessionism seemed to illustrate a project of geographically shifting north the secessionist imagery seen on January 6. If Facebook-alternative CloutHub presented itself to the world as a platform for funding the “truckers,” as they emerged as a new focus for faux populist destabilization. The Donald, booted from social media, got in on the game in early February, perhaps a wee bit frustrated that his own forthcoming social platform, Truth Social, was not yet ready for release: he pointed the finger at Facebook and Big Tech for conspiring “to destroy the Freedom Convoy of Truckers” from “peacefully protesting the the harsh policies of far left lunatic Justin Trudeau,” as if arguing the mostly white men and women who paralyzed the capitol were rational actors entitled to register protest.
The far-right Diagolon groups were alt right accelerationists. They trumpeted kinship to the secessionism, aiming to stoke Civil War by destabilizing the government of Canada they denounced as illegitimate, by slashing the national map. The black banner featuring a white diagonal on a black field was announced on social media as the inspiration of Jeremy MacKenzie, aka Raging Dissident, who live-streamed renditions of its National Anthem from the Korean War Memorial in Halifax, only slightly jarringly performed by a White Supremacist group from south of the border, imagining themselves as a “local” militia to coopt the antivaxx sentiments among certain truckers, often by offering them funds. They promoted the their vigilante status on social media like Telegram as an organic, ground-based movement united around a single glyph: “\”!
The map is a meme of like-minded, that contrasts the purity of Diagalon, basically a black flag in neo-fascist style, to the “Circulons” of North America, who ostensibly live in the same Flatland, but think in the wrong shapes, although Circulon thinking seems to espouse an inclusiveness that die-hard Diagalon neo-fascism lacks. As Nazi theorist Carl Schmidt would say, you are either for us or against us. The anti-government rhetoric of the antivaxx crowd suggested a way of flooding social media with calls for freedom, if freedom was really freedom to disrupt health care policy, cross border transit, and peace of mind. (The Ottawa protest may in the end come to offer some encouragement for making vaccinations mandated for airplane flights south of the border–some of its ringleaders are isolated in the capitol city, their adherence to anti-vaxx politics preventing them from boarding any commercial flights home to Alberta.)
11. Perhaps the telling element of the altered map layers that made up the image of Diagalon–its content was the product of an overzealous creator of polygons–lay in the scaled inset of a Border Wall above the forty-sixth parallel, oddly dissonant with the map’s continental focus. It seems a tell-tale sign of the geographic origins; for it echoes an unbruised American geospatial imaginary, combining a relic of the American military mythos of a “DMZ,” used in US Army mock staging of war games on the Korean peninsula, and more foreign to the Canadian political imaginary than an American body politic until recently obsessed with border walls.
Continuous green conveniently crafted imagined commonality from Alaska, via Alberta and Saskatchewan, to Florida. That British Columbia got its own Border Wall, a somewhat serpentine DMZ, seemed telling of a movement that was born and being supplied with not only funds but iconography south of this border, as a way of giving new blood, as it were, in its red dotted line to the hopes for separatism long nourished by Donal Trump’s base, or the newly disenfranchised, desperate to design some form of false populist conflict in the belief it would play well for the global media to help to generate a political movement offline for free travel, free commerce, and a precious principle of individual sovereignty was a movement against sovereignty, either in Canada or the world, stating it was not about COVID or politics, but combining deep feeling with heightened rhetoric of the defense of all mankind, affirming the freedom to “travel freely” as on the front burner for ensuring the “freedom of the human race,” individual health-care measures be damned.
The Maple Leaf is rarely a designator for Europe, but the “Freedom Convoy” that began in Albert would stream across the globe’s surface, raising consciousness against “tyrannical rules” to protest the import of “people’s right to choose” when it came to masking, vaxxing, and more.