Kelly Stafford said what a lot of folks think Thursday morning when she recorded herself in her car and posted an anti-lockdown pandemic rant to Instagram.
Like many, she’s over COVID-19. She’s “done” with shutdowns. She’s tired of folks losing their livelihoods. If that had been her message, she would’ve gotten thousands of likes and everyone would’ve moved on, because most can relate to the frustration.
It has been a long nine months, a brutal nine months, a tragic nine months: a couple hundred thousand dead, millions more sick, millions more without jobs.
But when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest round of shutdowns took effect Wednesday, Stafford snapped. And in her now-deleted Instagram post, she insinuated Whitmer was a dictator.
In fact, she said: “I’m over living in a dictatorship we call Michigan.”
That single word turned an ordinary venting into a viral post and sent her trending on Twitter. The backlash — as well as the kudos — fell along predictable political lines.
“I understand there’s a pandemic,” Stafford, who is married to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, said in the video. “And I understand it’s very scary; I’m scared of it, too. If you are at-risk, do not leave your house, until there’s a vaccine. But shutting down all these small businesses, things that people have worked their life for; shutting them down again is not the answer, because they will not make it. So, once we are able to leave our house, once this dictatorship decides to let us to have some freedom, there will be nothing left.”
The problem, of course, aside from COVID-related deaths and the virus’ economic destruction, is the idea of freedom. Few of us agree what it means, and that tension is infusing every level of our civic life.
There are conversations to be had regarding shutdowns, their length, their reach. But we aren’t having them. Not in Michigan, at least.
Here, the Governor and the state legislature can’t agree on what should be done. So Whitmer, using her authority under public health codes, issued an order to stop in-person dining in restaurants, close high school and college classrooms, and cease organized sports among other things. State Republican leadership balked, accusing her of acting alone.
And they’re right. She did. Though Whitmer argues the state legislature won’t hammer out a plan in good faith.
The finger-pointing has trickled down to the rest of us, which brings us back to Stafford. She is right that the latest round of shutdowns will cause financial stress and pain. She is right that the loss of small businesses isn’t just about money and the ability to pay bills. It’s about identity and, often, a person’s life work.
As she said: “ … there will be nothing left.”
If that sounds melodramatic, it is, and Stafford later posted a video admitting that she recorded her first video in the heat of the moment after learning a friend might lose their business.
Still, I’m not convinced Stafford was literally saying there there will be nothing left, that the apocalypse was upon us. Instead, I think, she was trying to ask a question:
“What will be left?”
Can’t most of us relate to that?
Stafford just directed the question at the wrong person, or wrong people. The governor isn’t the one who let the federal unemployment and small-business help run out.
Whitmer is trying to keep the residents of this state safe, based on the advice of public health doctors and scientists. She isn’t the only governor who is doing this.
Ideally, she’d be making these decisions with the help of the statehouse, and with the help of the federal government, and the federal government would still be providing relief for its citizens, as it did in the spring.
That the feds can’t agree on another relief bill is damn near criminal, and another sign of how little we get done together these days. For this is a once-a-century pandemic; a vaccine is on the way. The least the government could do is bridge the time until it gets here.
But then ranting on the lack of federal relief is a harder target, and doesn’t make for as compelling video on Instagram, not that Stafford was trying to be compelling.
She was just venting. And that’s fine. Not to mention her right; we should all be able to express our opinion.
The trouble comes in expressing it in anger, in hitting send when the juices are roiling. Because when they settle down, the view invariably looks different.
To her credit, Stafford said that reading and listening to the backlash helped ground her. And that once her blood cooled, realized she needed to apologize, especially for the use of “dictatorship.”
“Probably not (a) smart use of the word,” she said.
Yet that’s where we are. Assuming the worst about those with whom we disagree.
Whitmer is a democratically elected official. Her voice represents the majority of people in the state. In her anger, though, Stafford forgot that.
Still, she isn’t alone. So many of us are doing the same and it’s knee-capping our society. And while I may disagree with part of Stafford’s view, I’ve certainly said plenty I’d love to have back.
As she said in her second post:
“I just want it to work for everybody. And I know it’s not going to work for everybody. And it just kills me to see people suffer from financial burden, from losing their business, and also from getting sick. I don’t know … I apologize.”
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