Leadership Requires Courage and Empathy
The recent protests in Lansing and a few other states against the temporary lifesaving personal and business restrictions have health and economic consequences for all of us. The moral stakes are high. Tribal reactions to serious events can bring a moral dimension to what should be civil and rational discussion. Moral psychology tells us that judgement about good and bad has consequences for the way we treat other human beings. Treating other people as if they are irrelevant to an important life affecting decision is a serious violation of the common interests of all of us. The question of whether or not to open up the economy is serious in the face of recommendations of experts like Dr. Fauci, who specialize in the transmission of infectious diseases like Covid 19, to keep it temporarily closed in light of the likelihood of serious transmission and potential mass death, especially among out most vulnerable citizens.
Some, if not all of the protestors, the ones who left their cars and did not practice social distancing recommended by medical professionals, put others at risk including members of their own families. They loudly claimed that those who were supporting the temporary shutdown should not be listened to and accused the supporters of the closing of non-essential services as imposing their will on the people of the state. In a sense, they were putting the majority of the people of Michigan into the “other” category, whose health and safety interests are irrelevant when compared to the personal freedom of the protestors. Putting a group of people into the “other” category has a way of making their humanity not as important and therefore not worth listening to. This attitude has the potential of dividing the state’s population at a time when it is necessary to protect lives that we come together in our response to this dire threat.
Governor Whitmer acknowledged the constitutional rights of people to protest her decision but forthrightly pointed out that the protest poses dangers to the rest of us. Donald Trump, on the other hand, sought to support the protesters, even while they violated the social distancing and business shutdowns he himself has approved. It is obvious that his support of the protests are aimed at his political opponents and part of a strategy of disinformation that is used to manipulate his political base into blaming others for his own incompetence during this crisis.
I’m sure that many of the protesters who were legitimately frustrated by the economic shutdown and the effects on their lives were horrified when they saw the publicity focused, not on their frustrations, but on the Neo-Nazi groups that ignored social distancing and flew their Nazi and traitorous confederate flags on the steps of the Michigan Capital. These extremist terrorist groups love to show themselves, knowing that the exiting federal government enjoys their support and encourages them to publicly display their hatred and often carry guns in public.
This is no time for any politician to encourage division and hatred and throw fellow citizens into the “other” category. It’s immoral and unethical and totally against the interests of all of the citizens of the state. We need empathy now. Putting ourselves into the shoes of the sick and the health care workers and others who are exposing themselves daily in an effort to keep us safe is important. Who will the haters blame if there is a second wave of the virus or if someone in their own family gets the virus and dies?
The Governor’s concern for us all wins the “moral compass” test. We are all in this together. There are no “others”.