What if we got a do-over for 2020

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How many times have we replayed those major points in life and wondered, what if I had … 

Sure, it’s unhealthy to dwell on it for too long, but some reflection helps us grow. To take a risk. Rely more on our common sense. Listen to others. Trust your gut.

In a year like 2020, when so much went wrong, maybe looking at this past year’s major political events through this lens is helpful.

Making the best decisions in a crisis is hard. Showing compassion and understanding to those who acknowledge mistakes, correct them and learn from them may say more about us than the person who makes them.

So, with that, here are four instances where a do-over would have changed the trajectory of 2020.

1. Department of Health and Human Services Gary Gordon: Putting recovering COVID-19 patients in nursing homes.

Background: In early April, COVID-19 case numbers were skyrocketing. People were dying quickly. Hospitals were quickly being overwhelmed. Images of an Italy-like crisis was scaring the bejesus out of everyone.

What happened: The recovering patients had to go somewhere and the Centers for Disease Control suggested nursing homes. In hindsight? Bad idea. Exposing this highly contagious virus indoors where elderly and vulnerable people live made nursing homes deadly COVID-19 incubators.

Republican legislators politically hammered the DHHS until they basically did what the R’s suggested in creating specific stand-alone COVID recovery buildings.

What if: The TCF Center and Novi Suburban Showplace field hospitals were used to keep recovering patients until specific stand-alone COVID recovery pods could be set up.

Agreed, these huge civic centers have all the comforts of a bus terminal. Moving a lot of vulnerable sick people isn’t ideal. But a lot of money and effort went to outfitting those facilities — and they were hardly used. It’s hard to argue lives wouldn’t have been saved.

2. Lansing Mayor Andy Schor: Not attending the May 31 Capitol demonstration condemning racism.

Background: The peaceful display against George Floyd’s death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer drew thousands to march around Lansing.

What happened: By nightfall, anxieties rose. Troublemakers replaced protesters. Numerous downtown Lansing buildings had their windows smashed and an incredible mess was left in behind.

All the while, the Lansing mayor was nowhere to be seen. Allegedly following police recommendations, Schor stayed away from downtown. It opened him up to criticism that he was either callous toward the cause or not the leader the city needed at that point in time.

What if: Schor had shown up? Took a bullhorn? Marched alongside demonstrators with the chief of police? Shared in the chants?

If the city could have hurriedly set up porta-johns, trash cans, tubs of bottled waters and even some snacks for protesters at Adado Park, the crowd would have had somewhere to congregate and decompress away from a business center.

Would some destruction had happened after nightfall anyway? Maybe. But Schor wouldn’t have had to spend the remainder of 2020 showing he’s not a wuss. His family would have had a few more nights of peaceful sleep, at a minimum.

3. President Donald Trump: Referring to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as “the woman from Michigan.”

What happened: Trump singled out Michigan’s governor during a Mar. 27 press conference for “complaining” that the federal government didn’t have a national response for COVID-19 by dismissing to Whitmer chief executive as “the woman in Michigan.”

The condescending reference is classic Trump and might have been blown off if uttered during a campaign stop in late October. Instead, insulting the governor at a time when her popularity was sky-high inadvertently created a national rallying cry.

Women and some men circled the wagons around Whitmer, a leader they saw as doing her best protecting residents with arguably little help from a hard-headed president.

The result: Yes, Trump’s plainspoken, off-the-cuff quips are part of his appeal, but even Trump recognizes that avoiding martyrdom is wise. He knew it was a bad move. He never said it again.

What if: Trump didn’t say it? Showed Whitmer and others a little more respect? It’s a hard ask, I know, but does he lose Michigan by a little less than 145,000 votes? I’m going to guess more than 145,000 “That woman from Michigan” T-shirts were sold this year.

4. Governor Gretchen Whitmer: Appearing on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

What happened: The governor’s April 1 interview on the Comedy Central program wearing a “That Woman from Michigan” t-shirt while telling host Trevor Noah, “I don’t think any of us has the energy to deal with politics right now.”

The results: Up until that point, the governor received high marks from even Republican legislative leaders in steering the state through the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s sexist dismissal of Whitmer days prior was universally frowned upon.

But instead of letting the uproar build naturally, Whitmer overplayed her hand by crossing the line into the political realm for the first time in the pandemic. She accused Trump of playing politics by subtly doing it herself.

After this point, it became fair game to criticize Whitmer for playing politics with the pandemic to raise her place in the Joe Biden Veepstakes. Lansing’s traffic-jam protest happened two weeks later. The liberty protests with gun-toting patriots two weeks after that. Only in Michigan, I might add.

Sure, the bipartisan kumbaya was going to crumble eventually, but Whitmer pushed the issue. Governors like Mike DeWine in Ohio, who avoided politics in their COVID response, kept their popularity numbers higher for a longer period than those who didn’t.

What if: Whitmer appeared on FOX News instead? Talked about Michigan’s response to an entirely different audience? Maybe she wasn’t invited, but given how networks lit up our TV-ready governor’s phone in 2020, it’s hard to believe they would have turned her away.

Either way, showing up on a program that can’t decide whether it’s reporting serious news or parodying it changed the trajectory of the governor’s public perception sooner than needed.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

Melinn’s column is brought to you by the City Pulse Fund for Community Journalism. If you wish to support community journalism, please contribute to City Pulse at www.lansingcitypulse.com/donation.

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