Susan J. Demas: Your safety is being decided by leaders who believe the rules don’t apply to them

October 5, 2020 6:59 am

President Donald J. Trump announces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Rose Garden of the White House on Saturday, September 26, 2020, who was joined by her husband Jesse Barrett and their children. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr Public Domain

Nine days out from President Trump’s triumphant nomination of ultra-conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, experts are increasingly warning that the maskless celebration was a super-spreader event.

Trump is hospitalized with COVID-19, staging increasingly bizarre (and now dangerous) PR stunts, culminating with an extremely ill-advised joyride around D.C. before returning to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. First lady Melania Trump, campaign Manager Bill Stepien, and advisers Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway and Chris Christie are among those who have been diagnosed.

U.S. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who are critical votes to replace women’s rights icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Barrett, have all tested positive.

We’re told Barrett has tested negative, with the Washington Post reporting that she already had coronavirus — a crucial detail that she and the White House have not confirmed. We don’t know anything about the status of her maskless family, because transparency is for little people.

Barrett is expected to be a critical vote to cement the decades-long right-wing project of taking over the courts to ensure that corporations get carte blanche, while voting rights, civil rights, abortion rights and safety net programs from the Affordable Care Act to Social Security are neutered for generations.

Trump and Republicans like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are openly declaring that the Supreme Court needs to be at full capacity to determine the fate of the election, which, of course, is not what the high court is supposed to do.

If confirmed, Barrett also may have to rule on emergency actions to fight a pandemic after she and Republicans demonstrated an arrogant disregard for public safety.

We don’t deserve to have public health and our general welfare determined by those who have shown nothing but contempt for common-sense public health advice and for Americans writ large. Although we’ve been hearing about elites in Trump’s orbit who have caught coronavirus, we will never know the names of all the people they came into contact with, like service-sector workers, who also ended up with COVID-19.

We’ve already lost about 210,000 souls to this pandemic, with a staggering 7.4 million Americans becoming infected. How much is enough?

But the White House and its allies believes rules are for other people. And if people get hurt — or even die — so be it.

And that’s sadly the attitude of Republicans in Michigan, who are gloating over winning a long-shot conservative case to effectively overturn Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency actions that studies show saved lives, likely tens of thousands.supermajority of Michiganders approve of her actions.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the auto insurance reform bill signing, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Almost 130,000 have been sickened and 6,800 have died of coronavirus in our state. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a conservative model that was used by the White House, projects 11,871 deaths by Jan. 1 with current restrictions in Michigan. With everyone wearing a mask, that drops to 8,603 deaths. If you take away the mask mandate, however, the death rate balloons to 13,909.

But the GOP is very eager to do the bidding of their funders, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and corporate lobbyists, who hate rules about masks and patron limits in stores. So they’ll likely push Michigan back into recession — just as a second wave may be gearing up for winter flu season — because many responsible Michiganders will stop frequenting businesses who don’t care about their health. National online retail giants like Amazon will do fine, but sadly, many of the chamber’s Michigan-based members may not.

Republicans terrifyingly seem just fine with the idea that more than 4,000 people could die in the next few months. That doesn’t have to happen, if they would just stop pretending masks are a victory for the Democratic governor, and accept that they’re about protecting the people they serve.

The senseless loss of life and damage to our state already would make any leader with an ounce of compassion or common sense want to work with Whitmer on solutions that most states — red and blue alike — have enacted. But not GOP leaders.

How can they get away with that?

In Michigan, we have one of the most badly gerrymandered legislatures, which means that even when Democrats win more votes statewide, as they frequently do, Republicans still win majorities in the House and Senate — because they drew the lines! It’s a neat trick, but it may be coming to an end in 2022, as fed-up Michigan voters in 2018 approved an independent redistricting commission (which Republicans repeatedly tried to kill in court and lost).

Nevertheless, we currently have in charge state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), both of who have repeatedly shown a Trump-level contempt for the public’s right to know and even the rule of law itself.

In 2018, Chatfield brought a loaded, unregistered handgun to a small northern Michigan airport. While you or I would almost certainly see the inside of a jail cell for doing so, the Republican got off with paying a small fine. Since flouting firearms law, Chatfield has refused to take up any gun reform legislation and ordered a Democratic House member that she couldn’t ban guns from her office to protect her own safety.

What a cool system.

Shirkey meanwhile also decided laws were for other people as he boasted about getting illegal haircuts during Whitmer’s stay-home order. While some people rolled their eyes, as vain politicians are nothing new, it’s clear that he told a reporter about it to undermine public health orders people were supposed to follow. That’s not what leaders are supposed to do, especially conservatives who claim to believe in the rule of law.

And let’s not forget that a few months later, it was a national firestorm when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took off her mask during a haircut — showing a pretty clear gendered double standard.

But it gets worse.

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Last week, state Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), who routinely tries to get on Fox News tweeting about “Emperor Whitmer,” tested positive for COVID-19, shortly after he didn’t always wear a mask at work, as some colleagues said and committee hearing footage showed. He said he contracted it in Lansing, but wouldn’t give any other details.

Chatfield’s spokesperson repeatedly stonewalled the Advance and other media about basic information. So we don’t know how many people might have been exposed or how many legislators have COVID-19.

This is a huge violation of the public trust and shows contempt for the safety of anyone who enters legislative buildings.

GOP leaders still don’t have a mask mandate for lawmakers in the Capitol, a staggeringly beautiful but creaky old building which may not provide ideal ventilation during a pandemic. We’ve already had long meetings and sessions — and more are certainly to come in a chilly December Lame Duck — which means that staff, lobbyists, legislators and reporters are all in danger just for doing their jobs.

That’s a particular risk to people like state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), who’s pregnant with her first child. Her husband, Ray Wert, wrote an anguished Twitter thread last week, noting, “Every day, I get to turn on my TV and watch the “messy” results of @SenMikeShirkey’s freedom-as-a-suicide-pact on display as he and his Republican colleagues regularly flout mask-wearing. Every day, they increase the risk my wife and our unborn daughter might get sick.”

That is indeed an odd position for Republicans, who claim to be the pro-life party.

Crain’s Detroit columnist Chad Livengood savaged the anti-mask policy last week and addressed Shirkey and Chatfield directly: “I’m not going to mince words here: It’s appalling that you have let this institution operate like there’s not a real threat to public health raging outside of the Capitol’s sandstone walls.”

Now, thanks to a ruling from Michigan’s conservative Supreme Court, these GOP leaders get to function as a roadblock to public health for 10 million people.

That’s not checks and balances. That’s a reckless disregard for human life.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.