A Tale of Two Chatfields; It’s the worst of times

By Mark Pontoni  April 18, 2020


It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

As Michigan and the nation struggles to work through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had an opportunity to see what leadership looks like.  In the same way we have had the opportunity to see the true nature of a whole lot of our fellow citizens.  So whatever misery COVID-19 ends up bringing us…and it’s been substantial so far…at least we will know a lot more about who we are as a people than we knew before this started.  And that is valuable information as we head into another election season.

The best of times.  The cliché about Americans coming together in times of crisis regardless of our differences has panned out once again.  A vast majority of Americans have pitched in to do their part to help slow down COVID-19.  In a USA Today/Ipos poll on April 13, 70% of Americans support stay at home orders and the same number also support their respective Governors’ attempts at controlling the pandemic.  (Compare this to only 44% who support Trump’s bungling of the process.)

We have seen something with our own two eyes that I have long argued: Not every American hero wears a military uniform.  Doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists are dying in horrifying numbers as they tend to the sick and dying. Workers in the food industry, who are keeping the country fed, are also paying with their lives. While many of us have the luxury of actually staying at home, these people risk their lives daily in spite of all the road blocks thrown in their way by Trump’s inept “leadership.”

All of the fears we had in January of 2017 that we were witnessing the worst day in American history have come to full bloom in the Spring of 2020.  For those of you fond of measuring “worst days in American history” by body counts, you now have your winner.

But I digress.

We have seen people not on the front lines of the battle dig into their pockets to provide donations to fight the pandemic.  We have seen furloughed auto workers stepping up efforts to produce personal protection equipment (PPE) for the front line workers.  We’ve seen business people don masks and help at COVID-19 testing sights.  We’ve seen teachers booted from their classrooms by this “very smart germ” participating in food distribution in their communities.

And we have seen a Governor here in Michigan really take hold of the leadership reins that so often before this she seemed reluctant to do.

The worst of times.  On the other side of the aisle in Michigan we have seen once again the difficulty Republicans have in caring about people, especially people of color and the poor (too often the same people.)  As we learned that COVID-19 kills the poor at extraordinarily disproportionate rates, the GOP’s interest in combating the virus has fallen at the same rate.  It is very reminiscent of Republican attitudes towards AIDS during the Reagan administration.  “AIDS is killing a lot of people! Oh my, we must do something!  Oh, it’s mostly gay people?  What epidemic?  I don’t see an epidemic.”

So as Governor Whitmer and her team continue to find ways to inconvenience us into surviving this thing, the Republicans can’t seem to bother.  You can see it coded in their words and deeds.  “Most of the people dying are in Detroit, why can’t the rest of us get back to doing important things like planting our gardens during snow storms?”  And in complete defiance of every ounce of common sense, a very diverse group of dudes with beards, beer bellies, and camo, draped in Confederate Battle flags and Nazi regalia, waving their guns around just in case we forgot they had penises, jammed the streets of Lansing to bitch about having to listen a woman trying to save their lives.  Signs threatening the Governor’s life and floats calling her a c*nt were all part of the life threatening parade of Trump’s silly people.

And that finally brings me to the titled subject of this piece:  Lee Chatfield, Michigan’s ill-equipped Speaker of the House.

Chatfield made news twice this week in a full blown display of the worst of times.  While this aforementioned parade of COVID-19 spreaders passed by his Capitol window, he waved an American flag out his window and tweeted his support for those not only directly threatening the life of the Governor, but also the lives of every person in the towns to which they would be returning once they finished pissing all over the Capitol lawn.

Just as he did in insisting that churches remain exempt from bans on large gatherings during the pandemic, Chatfield wrongly asserted that the First Amendment gave his base the right to endanger the rest of us by conducting their virus-ridden parade of un-American values.  Every third grader in Michigan knows that our very important First Amendment rights are not absolute.  That in the public interest, the government can and has limited those rights.   The Congress has passed laws, the President has signed them, and the Supreme Court has upheld them.  But Chatfield must have missed that lesson.

On top of that, when Trump once again went off the rails and encouraged the dangerous behavior we saw in the parade by tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”, (Sorry for the brief delay in getting this published; I had to go back and change that to all caps.) Chatfield immediately tweeted his thanks to Trump. Instead, he should have picked up the phone and diffused the situation.  Now if Chatfield wasn’t a DeVos puppet here’s how his phone call should have gone with Trump.

Trump: Hello Lee.  Great state Michigan.  The best state.  You have a problem though.  That governor is really popular.  That’s bad Lee.  Very bad.

Chatfield: Well, Mr. President, while I understand why her popularity is a problem for you, she’s actually doing what governors all over the country are doing to fight COVID-19.  We should all stick together here for a little while longer and then we can get back to campaign politics.

Trump: Lee, c’mon.  That’s a smart germ.  She’s a woman.  Figure it out.

Chatfield: I understand your concerns about women in power.  I have them too. But this isn’t the time to send them back into the kitchen.  We’re struggling here, and as Speaker of the House (sound of muffled laughing on the other end of the phone) I need to step it up here and protect all Michiganders.

Trump:  But you had all my people there.  I have the best people. They had those flags with the cross on them.  And my name was everywhere.  Beautiful building.  Not as beautiful as my building.  And they had their guns.  And my name was on signs.  You should…

(author’s note: Ah, shit, I can’t do the Trump dialogue anymore. Chopped word salad is not my specialty, but you get the point.)

But instead of admonishing the President, Chatfield publicly praised him for his leadership. He has yet to say anything about future planned rallies. If he was a leader, he’d be imploring people to stay home and follow the Governor’s orders as he cooperates with her on developing a plan to re-open our state. Instead, as people begin to die in larger numbers over the next couple of weeks because of what happened in Lansing on April 15, I wonder if Chatfield will recognize the blood on his hands.

It is the worst of times.

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