Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) appears to have abandoned liberty in a bid to bend the residents of that state to her will. On April 30, just hours after protesters entered the Capitol building in Lansing to voice their anger at the Coronavirus lockdown, Whitmer extended those restrictions by executive order. Some of the Lansing demonstrators were armed, and it is difficult to ignore the possibility that the governor’s action was a direct response to the dissenters – as if she signed the order out of spite.
Michigan’s emergency measures, which, as is the case in most states, shut down the economy and imposed draconian limitations upon everyday activity, were set to expire April 30. The Republican-controlled legislature refused to extend them beyond Thursday, and Whitmer has now practically granted herself extraordinary powers in defiance of both lawmakers and a large part of her state’s population.
A Rogue Governor?
“By refusing to extend the emergency and disaster declaration, Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk,” the governor said in a statement, apparently oblivious to the irony of her words since it is the restrictions themselves that have put livelihoods at risk.
Both chambers of the Michigan legislature – the House and the Senate – adopted resolutions that set up potential legal challenges to Whitmer’s extension of the restrictions. The governor’s office countered that Whitmer would not sign any bills that “constrain her ability to protect the people of Michigan from this deadly virus in a timely manner,” according to a report in The Detroit News.
At the heart of the clash between the governor and Republican legislators are the scope and severity of the emergency measures supposedly designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. “We need to take decisive action to fight the spread of the coronavirus,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said, “but this governor’s unchecked and undemocratic approach is the wrong way to do it.” Arguing that Republicans had a more constructive approach, Chatfield explained:
“The current status quo relies on one-size-fits-all edicts that unfairly punish millions of people across the state without giving them any recourse or voice in the process. The people deserve a better solution, and we can provide it.”
President Trump on May 1 acknowledged the Michigan protesters in a tweet and suggested that Whitmer try to talk her way out of the hole she is digging for herself, rather than attempt to demagogue and bully her way out of it. “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump wrote. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
The Will of the People
Beyond the political battle of wills, though, the Michigan protests should serve as a wake-up call for America’s political class. The general population has, thus far, shown extraordinary restraint in the face of what could arguably be called an overreaction to the Coronavirus outbreak. At some point, people decide that they are prepared to tolerate only so much. Michiganders have shown the fragile nature of the position of political leaders once a large enough body of angry civilians decide that they are no longer willing to relinquish their rights – particularly, their right to earn a living.
Just how vulnerable is the ruling class? While it is technically legal to carry a firearm in the Capitol building in Lansing, most politicians aren’t comfortable with the idea of armed civilians entering government buildings. Yet, on April 30, the protesters – many carrying weapons – marched in without resistance. There was no violence. There were no threats. Police and protesters, thankfully, did not find themselves pointing guns at each other. Nevertheless, it shows what is possible, should politicians like Whitmer get above their station and rile the people to anger.
While a lot of ordinary Americans are now without a job, thanks mostly to the governors of their respective states, those same governors would do well to remember for whom they work.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.
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