If Michigan’s independent voters need a compelling argument for which party they should support in the November elections, last week’s debacle at the State Capitol made an emphatic case for voting Democratic.
As political theater goes, the so-called American Patriot Rally, spurred and supported by state Republican party leaders and President Donald Trump, was a revolting act of reckless endangerment that unnecessarily put at risk the health and lives of Michigan State Police officers, legislative staff, lawmakers and the demonstrators themselves. Angry protesters crowded the entrance to the House chambers in proud defiance of the governor’s orders to stay at home and stay at least six feet away from other people, ironically proving once again why the orders are necessary: Too many people are too reckless, too ignorant, or both to responsibly self-regulate their behavior.
While Republican leaders huddled behind closed doors in their caucus lounge, undoubtedly chortling about the unqualified success of their anti-Whitmer machinations, their Democratic colleagues were shouted down by heavily armed paramilitary kooks in the gallery above the legislative chambers. More than one lawmaker reportedly donned a bulletproof vest, understandably unnerved by the notion that all it takes is one trigger-happy, pissed-off wacko to turn the legislative gathering place into a death chamber.
Trump-loving Republicans across the state must have been delighted by the national news coverage of the fiasco that highlighted assault weapon toting thugs dressed like ISIS terrorists lining the halls of our State Capitol, while their maskless, COVID-spewing brethren bravely barked at the stone-faced police officers and sergeants-at-arms who wisely wouldn’t let them storm the floor of the House.
Abandoning the old public relations trope that there is no such thing as bad press, legislative leaders who spent the last few weeks purposefully stoking the protesters’ anger suddenly realized that the optics of the rebellion they incited were actually undermining their cause. Sensing a public relations train wreck with their names written all over it, the party’s top leaders quickly backtracked and turned against their own spawn. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey referred to some of the protesters as “jackasses” — an understatement of significant proportions — while Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, famous for attempting to carry a loaded pistol onto an airplane, opined that some of the conduct was “un-American.” Chickens, meet roost.
Meanwhile, lawmakers ramped up their own marginally more civilized protest against the governor, refusing to extend her emergency declarations and vowing to file a lawsuit in an effort to rein in her authority. Evidently it is a “power grab” for Whitmer to exercise the statutory authority that every Michigan governor has held since at least 1945. Who knew? The Republicans’ politically driven lawsuit turns on such thin legal gruel that their attorneys may well risk court sanctions for filing frivolous claims.
Last week’s ruling by the Michigan Court of Claims upholding Whitmer’s authority was on point, noting that the temporary infringement of the protesters’ constitutional rights is necessary to protect the interests of the public at large. None other than Chief Judge Christopher Murray, former deputy legal counsel to Republican Gov. John Engler and a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society, wrote that “our fellow citizens ... have an interest to remain unharmed by a highly communicable and deadly virus, and since the state entered the Union in 1837, it has had the broad power to act for the public health of the entire state when faced with a public crisis.” The court’s decision foreshadows the all but certain judicial rejection of similar claims.
On a positive note, the scene at the Capitol was so ugly that some Republicans were finally shocked into rethinking the wisdom of allowing armed protesters into the Capitol building, a notion that should have occurred to them 16 years ago when a shotgun-toting lunatic stormed the Illinois Capitol and murdered a security guard. Like most states, Illinois now uses metal detectors to screen visitors to their capitol building. When confronted by reporters, state Republican mouthpieces scurried to rationalize the Michigan Capitol’s open door, open carry policy as part and parcel of making the building accessible to everyone. Of course, banning weapons from the Capitol literally has nothing to do with making it accessible to the public and everything to do with appeasing the party’s gun-crazed right-wingers, who demand fealty to the Second Amendment over protecting the safety of the general public.
Normally we would call on Republican leaders to abandon their reckless partisan gamesmanship and do the right thing. Rather than beat a dead horse, we instead reiterate our unequivocal support for Governor Whitmer, who should continue to make the science-based, data-driven decisions necessary to keep Michigan residents safe and continue to ignore the mindless mavens of mendacity who purposefully misconstrue the voices of a tiny, radical minority of Michigan citizens as representing the interests of us all.
In the end, we do have one bit of advice for the Party of Trump: Before Michigan voters pass judgment on who has handled the COVID crisis appropriately and who has not, state Republicans might consider pivoting to a new strategy that salvages whatever shreds of credibility they still possess. Promptly enacting a ban on firearms in the Capitol building would be an excellent place to start.