Madeleine LaPierre: Whitmer's strong COVID-19 response

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 - 12:19am

As the semester winds down while the weather warms up across the state, it’s easy to forget that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. But while the pandemic may have slipped our minds, it certainly hasn’t escaped that of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who announced the extension of her stay-at-home order through May 28. This decision has garnered severe backlash, both from her constituents and the Republican-controlled Senate in Michigan, and has even brought the Michigan political landscape under the searing eye of national politics. 

But Whitmer is no stranger to sending ripples through national politics, having delivered the democratic response after President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address back in February. Now she is rumored to be a potential running mate for Joe Biden. Recently, Whitmer has also been the subject of Trump’s infamous Twitter tirades, and has been labeled “that woman from Michigan.” Beyond her involvement in politics, however, Whitmer displays an unwavering commitment to the safety and wellbeing of Michiganders, demonstrated by the extension of the emergency order, regardless of political backlash.

Whitmer’s approach is one that takes the best interest of Michiganders into account and is done so out of genuine compassion for her constituents, not political gamesmanship. Nevertheless, she has faced harsh criticism from politicians and protestors in Michigan’s capital alike. Just because these critics can’t witness first hand the catastrophic havoc wreaked by the virus doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. After all, any issue that preys on thousands of Michiganders’ lives should transcend party lines and amass unilateral support. Unfortunately, the political landscape in America is so marred by divisive discord and blind ignorance that many are unable to expand their views to consider more than themselves. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the ever-widening chasm of political disparity into focus, and, rather than being an agent to catalyze unity, it has only served to worsen these tensions. This is not a time to be restrained by political ties but rather a time to come together in solidarity to solve the issue at hand. In refusing to budge in her approach to the pandemic when human lives are at stake, Whitmer intends to do just that. It is refreshing to come across a politician who genuinely values human lives and is undeterred in the wake of backlash. Unfortunately, these qualities are incredibly rare, the highest office in America being corrupted by the antithesis of the qualities displayed by Whitmer. In response to Whitmer refusing to compromise by opening the economy at the cost of lives, Trump urged Whitmer to “give a little, and put out the fire.” Nevertheless, Whitmer holds steadfast in the wake of a political storm, refusing to lower herself to political quibbles when Michiganders’ lives are at stake. 

Her actions in response to the coronavirus pandemic prove her a leader well equipped to deal with a crisis (namely that she won’t urge citizens to ingest chemicals) and demonstrate a selflessness and genuine concern for her people that make her a great governor and a praiseworthy politician. But, unfortunately, Whitmer has become the latest scapegoat in Trump’s pattern of blaming others for his blunders. While she should be heralded as having her constituents’ best interests at heart, instead she is falling victim to a sick double standard present in politics, wherein women are criticized harshly for doing the same thing that men do. After all, how is Whitmer’s approach any different than Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s in New York? Sure, New York has more cases, but with Michigan still within the top 10 states with the most cases, Whitmer is simply heeding Cuomo’s warning as “the canary in the coal mine.” 

On top of criticism from Trump, Whitmer is facing criticism in Michigan’s capital of Lansing. Michigan saw its largest protest yet, dubbed Operation Gridlock, with many gathering outside the Michigan capitol building. The narrative these protestors have adopted is one that criticizes Whitmer’s lockdown, saying it jeopardizes their liberty and infringes on their constitutional rights. These protestors seem to argue that, because they personally haven’t witnessed the havoc caused by the coronavirus, they shouldn’t be inconvenienced by its effects. 

These protests have even been compared to Rosa Parks’s infamous protest during the Civil Rights Movement by the Trump administration. Apparently what these valiant protestors fail to realize is that a crucial part of the Civil Rights Movement was nonviolence, which their possession of assault rifles directly contradicts. Also, it is impossible to equate systematic racial oppression to government intervention designed to safeguard the health and wellbeing of an entire population. Furthermore, the fact that swastika and noose flaunting protestors are being compared to Rosa Parks is a testament to the gross ignorance that festers in the White House. In addition, many protestors flouted Whitmer’s guidelines, not social distancing and not wearing masks. What these protestors seem unable to realize is that a likely reason the virus hasn’t affected their lives is due directly to government intervention, and, without that, the coronavirus would ravage communities, leaving thousands dead in its wake.

The fulcrum of protestors’ complaints lay in the closure of businesses and the harm thus dealt to the economy. And, yes, the economy may be declining. Yes, we may deal with these effects for years to come. But economies can be rebuilt, jobs can be created and normalcy will return someday. Human lives, on the other hand, cannot be redeemed once claimed. So if Michiganders want to voice their opinions, they are more than welcome to do so. However, when lives are on the line, maybe it's time they take a page out of Trump’s book, and criticize “that woman from Michigan” from the relative safety of their Twitter accounts.

Madeleine LaPierre can be reached at madlapi@umich.edu.