In a typically sudden seasonal transition, the cool mornings of Michigan spring gave way to the burgeoning heat of summer over the long holiday weekend. For Michiganders, it marks the start of three months, more or less, of basking in the sun, joining a pontoon boat promenade around a shimmering lake, firing up backyard barbeques with all manner of charbroiled gastronomic delights, savoring Michigan-made craft beers around a flickering campfire, or wetting a fishing line in hopes of landing a whopper. Our passion for outdoor recreation is so intense in part because the opportunity is so fleeting: We have to make the most of it before the gloom of winter closes in on us once again.
As summer splashes across the Great Lakes State, the heat is rising in more ways than one. Simmering resentment over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown orders may soon boil over into even more widespread defiance as people yearn to be free from the shackles of mask wearing and social distancing. For some, the threat of catching COVID-19 is no match for the allure of a Michigan summer, and that could spell trouble this fall. A second wave of coronavirus infections could force yet another round of restrictions aimed at dampening the pandemic’s pace, inflicting even more damage on Michigan’s economy. Areas of the state that so far have escaped the worst of the scourge may be the epicenter of a COVID resurgence, thanks to swarms of contagious downstaters exercising their freedoms in Michigan’s favorite Up North playgrounds.
Rising summer temperatures have long been part of the recipe for rising tempers. We have no doubt that Michigan’s summer swelter will push the anger and frustration thermometer even higher, further deepening the schism between those who support Whitmer’s actions and those who don’t.
One Michigan believes Whitmer is destroying the state’s economy and imprisoning its people because she is on a power trip, or because she is burnishing her credentials as a potential candidate for vice president of the United States. COVID doubters and deniers bandy about all manner of conspiracy theories, misinterpreted data and bald-faced lies to support their trivialization of the COVID threat, using the social media echo chamber to reinforce their cognitive dissonance. Apparently, tens of thousands of deaths and overloaded hospital intensive care units are merely a figment of our collective imagination, thus we should be able to get on with our lives and let the chips fall where they may.
The other Michigan believes Whitmer is doing the right thing to combat the spread of the virus, relying on data and professional medical advice to keep a lid on the outbreak and ease the strain on our health care systems. To this point, public opinion polling in Michigan heavily favors Whitmer’s approach, leaving little room for Republicans to devise a messaging counterpoint that resonates beyond their base and doesn’t sound like the hapless yammering of foolish partisans on a desperate — and dangerous — quest for relevance. Backed by President Trump’s desperate quest to reopen the economy, hoping to salvage a second term from the smoldering ashes of his disastrous tenure over the past three-and-a-half years, Michigan Republicans have made a conscious decision to follow him down the path of division and acrimony, pinning their own reelection prospects on the hope that stoking even more anger toward Whitmer will translate into Republican votes this fall.
Whitmer’s extension of her Safer at Home order to at least June 12 is sure to push the mercury even higher. Will the COVID rebellion become an insurrection? With increasing numbers of people brazenly ignoring the emergency mandates, will Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel crack down even harder on violators? The Declaration of Independence notes that our democratic form of government derives its just power from the consent of the governed. If the fabric of that consent slowly unravels this summer, one wonders if Whitmer will recalculate the political consequences, speed up the state’s reopening and let COVID speak for itself.
There is an argument to be made that no matter what we do, no matter how draconian the restrictions, a certain number of people are destined to get sick and that thousands more will lose their lives before this is all over. The coronavirus hasn’t gone anywhere. While we have successfully flattened the curve, COVID is simply waiting for us to let down our guard. Proponents of this view believe the ongoing damage to our economy is far worse than COVID’s human toll and that short of an effective vaccine the only solution is herd immunity, which can only be accomplished by allowing the coronavirus to run its natural course. While there may be threads of truth in this argument, no sensible politician wants to be the one who stands on the sidelines while a vicious virus takes an even heavier toll. Thus we continue to give Whitmer the benefit of the doubt that she is doing the right thing.
Come what may from the political squabbles, let’s do our best to have a safe summer. Nearly all of our favorite summer activities are outdoors, which eases the need to wear a mask, and many can still be enjoyed while six feet apart from one another. Peruse this summer edition of the City Pulse for some terrific ideas on how you can safely make the most of the season in and around Lansing.