As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tackles the COVID-19 crisis, she has been met with criticism and attacks from President Donald Trump. The president neglects to mention her by name and instead resorts to “that woman from Michigan.” During his phone interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, the president expressed concerns about our governor’s knowledge of the situation at hand. He went on to discount her efforts by claiming she was young and had no idea what was going on. While the president’s attacks seem out of place in the midst of a global pandemic, Gov. Whitmer and women in politics are all too familiar with persistent criticism and attacks meant to undermine their successes.

At the time of publication, the state of Michigan sits in fourth place for the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States. In response, Gov. Whitmer has stepped up to issue shelter-in-place orders, the closure of non-essential businesses and the suspension of the in-person school year for public schools. The federal government has taken a free-for-all approach when it comes to the states and has pushed for governors to bid on supplies and not rely on the federal government’s support. In addition to this approach, President Trump advised Vice President Mike Pence not to call “the woman from Michigan” because she does not treat him right, again neglecting to refer to her by name.

The lack of recognition or support from colleagues is nothing new to Gov. Whitmer. She started her State of the State speech this year by saying “This is not the red carpet. Please, I urge you, focus on the substance of my speech. It’s about issues, not appearances.” This came after countless articles and posts shaming Whitmer for her appearance after her first address to the state as governor. Gov. Whitmer and other women in the public eye face societal stigmas as viewers and voters frequently focus on what they are wearing rather than what they are saying or doing. There is always a need for women in politics to be one step ahead and overly prepared in the face of misogyny. This reality is heavily perpetuated by the president as he elects to attack Gov. Whitmer rather than uniting a country facing mass casualties and economic catastrophe.

The extra hurdle women must clear in order to be at the same standing and consideration as men was personified by the “electability” argument in the 2020 Democratic primary. As many are painfully aware, the primary field began as the most diverse in history with a crowded race of women, racial minorities and the first major LGBTQ+ candidate. But, the flawed electability argument of how someone’s neighbor would vote and who could beat Donald Trump left us with a duo of white men over 70 years old. This argument for electability turned out to be a veil of internalized racism and misogyny as the party that represents the broadest coalition of people of color and minority groups found itself with two privileged candidates.

The electability narrative allows for a greater level of criticism as 33 percent of Americans believe their neighbors and community members wouldn’t support a female candidate. The knowledge that those around us are apprehensive or unsupportive of women in positions of power has seemingly excused individuals’ lack of trust and support of women in politics. While women like Gov. Whitmer, a former Democratic Senate Leader and prosecutor, are qualified for the offices they hold, it is all too common to write them off as aggressive, young, inexperienced and pushy.

While President Trump has focused on how Gov. Whitmer’s calls for support are unappreciative, let us instead look to what she has done for our state during this time of unprecedented uncertainty. Within three days of our first cases, Gov. Whitmer announced the closure of our schools, banned large gatherings and announced restrictions on entry to health care and juvenile facilities to reduce the spread of the virus. Since her early response and action, Gov. Whitmer rolled out a long string of legislation, executive orders and trailblazing moves to limit COVID-19 in Michigan. This leadership by the governor has been overlooked and undercut by the president. His inability to address Gov. Whitmer by name, along with advice to withhold support from our state as we are overwhelmed by the virus, is reprehensible.

Our president frequently undermines the successes of public officials and attacks those at odds with his mission. While he does this, we must pay close attention to how he and those up and down the political totem poll treat and speak about women in positions of power. Many Americans assume those around them do not have faith in women in the political sphere as they write off and criticize women in relation to men. It’s past due for us to take it upon ourselves to look at the policies rather than the outfits and not participate in the herd mentality of electability when determining who is “best suited” for the job. And it’s past due for our president to refer to the governor strained for supplies and support by her name. 

Owen Stecco can be reached at ostecco@umich.edu.

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