Finley: Gov's arbitrary orders test state's patience

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

It was affirming to see Michigan citizens clogging the streets of Lansing Wednesday to show their opposition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's near total shutdown of the state. They were loud, they were angry and they were filled with the sense of injustice every American should feel when our civil liberties are threatened. 

Here, finally, is evidence the people who understand their rights don't evaporate every time something scares them.

In my lifetime, I've witnessed Americans heaping their freedoms on the bonfire in the name of protecting themselves against drugs, and then against terrorism. Those losses were permanent.  The restraints on liberty could be enduring this time as well, if they aren't questioned and challenged.

And that's what was going on in Lansing Wednesday. It was wonderful to see.

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Whitmer had the support of the people of Michigan  when her orders were perceived as rational and necessary to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19. Michigan is one of the hardest hit states, and most of us are willing to accept very painful measures to defeat the virus.

But when the lockdown became arbitrary and capricious, when the edicts began to feel punitive and vindictive, when they took on the aura of a police state, the people dug in. If they're going to give up their paychecks and stay locked in their homes, they want the restrictions to make sense.

They understand the difference between reasonable precautions and control for control's sake.

Too much of what Whitmer is doing is indefensible. You can ride in a rowboat, but if you attach a motor to it, you're subject to a $1,000 fine. You can stop at Home Depot for a can of Lysol, but if you swing by the garden department for a potted plant, you're breaking the law. 

Cars aren't moving on North Capitol Avenue as protesters, from their cars and on foot, surround the state Capitol during Operation Gridlock in Lansing on April 15, 2020.

Stories abound of citizens being stopped and fined for pulling out of a nursery with a trailer of mulch. Of drive thru car wash owners being harassed.

Reasonable steps to ensure safety and keep the health care network from being overwhelmed have given way to totalitarianism. And people are starting to chafe.

Whitmer's response is to note she has a thick skin. She also has a propensity for caustic dismissiveness. It's a governing trait that kept her from reaching consensus with the Legislature on anything of significance during her first year in office. 

House Speaker Lee Chatfield is urging her to move from an essential and non-essential standard in deciding which businesses can open to a safe and not safe one. It is good counsel. And yet Whitmer won't discuss the idea, or much of anything else with legislative leaders.

More:Speaker Chatfield: Gov. Whitmer, think 'safe' not 'essential'

Operating under emergency powers, without the bother of having to negotiate with the Legislature, suits her just fine.

She will blame the public uproar on conservative operators — she's already falsely accused Betsy DeVos of funding Wednesday's Operation Gridlock protest — but the demonstrations aren't about partisan politics, or corporate profits, or the selfish desire to go for a boat ride.

They're about Americans setting limits on how much of their rights they're willing to have stripped away by a power happy governor. Whitmer has pushed against that boundary, and the people are pushing back.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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