Michigan is sometimes called “the Mitten State” and it's time for the Mitten to get a grip.
Recent political events have given the Great Lakes State an image that is, by turns, terrifying to outsiders and subject to national ridicule on “Saturday Night Live.”
Much of that was on display over the weekend when protesters, shouting obscenities and perhaps armed, menaced the private Detroit home of Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state.
They don’t like the fact that Michigan voters chose President-elect Joe Biden over soon-to-be-former President Trump. “Stop the steal,” they chanted through bullhorns.
On MSNBC Monday night, Benson called the disturbance “the escalation of the months of hateful rhetoric . . . combined with the efforts to misinform the public about the reality of our election.” She also said Trump and his supporters “perpetuate mistruths and lies” about the voting.
The same nullification impulse got spoofed Saturday night on SNL, which mocked last week's Lansing “hearings” where Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani presented a series of belligerent crackpots before two Republican-led committees.
Giuliani and his reality-show guests spouted the disproven nonsense that many Biden votes were illegal – especially in African-American Detroit. (Might the vote-challengers fear a woman of color as vice president? Oh, no, of course not).
Thus we complete a horrific year for Michigan’s image.
In the spring, armed protestors barged into the Capitol to oppose restrictions to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 280,000 Americans -- including more than 10,100 in Michigan.
They didn’t pack heat to defend their Second Amendment rights to protect their homes or defend themselves from criminal attack. They brought guns to intimidate legislators. And they were successful.
The Republican-mahority Legislature still refuses to ban guns in the building and its leaders were summoned to the White House two weeks ago for arm-twisting from Trump. Later that night, at least one of them -- the unmasked House Speaker Lee Chatfield -- drank champagne at Trump’s hotel.
Representing Levering (pop: 215) on the northwestern side of the Mitten, Chatfield used to teach high school at Northern Michigan Christian Academy after getting a master's degree from Liberty University.
He was busted two years ago at the Pellston Airport trying to carry a gun on a flight. Has he ever thought of carrying it into the Capitol building, like those protesters?
Guns, lies and virus
Some of them were among the 14 men arrested in October by federal agents and charged with a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. How dare she try to save lives? They’ll teach her.
And many of these same legislators were exposed last week to the lies and virus droplets spewed from the unmasked mouth of Giuliani, now hospitalized with the coronavirus.
On SNL, Kate McKinnon (as Giuliani) announced “a dozen highly intelligent, barely intoxicated individuals” who would testify that the election was rigged. Other actors spoofed the camo-clad kidnappers, as they did in a previous episode.
Cecily Strong (as witness Mellissa Carone) held a martini and told the SNL panel: “I personally saw hundreds if not thousands of dead people vote. ... I’m not lying. I signed an after-David.’”
Hicks from the sticks
Might part of Michigan’s free-floating rage be due to misogyny? In the midterm election two years ago, Benson, Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel combined for a sweep of Michigan’s top offices by female Democrats.
Those three are now trying to work with a legislature so gerrymandered that it lets a minority of Michigan voters choose the majority of Michigan’s lawmakers. Many of them – Chatfield, for instance -- are from towns smaller than, say, Detroit.
We are ruled by narrow-minded hicks from the sticks, which won’t change until a newly independent commission redistricts the state next year in time for the 2022 midterms.
In the meantime, we are left to ponder our state’s image, where the Mitten seems to be morphing into a hand grabbing a gun or a clenched fist shaken at the nation or an obscene finger gesture to the world.
None of this flatters Michigan. This isn’t how you attract tourists or investors. The message we now send is “Cure Michigan.”