Trump to visit Ford plant in Michigan as political tensions flare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump travels on Thursday to the crucial U.S. election battleground state of Michigan to visit a Ford Motor Co plant amid hostility with its Democratic governor over how quickly to reopen its economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, a Republican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has urged states to loosen coronavirus-related restrictions so the battered U.S. economy can recover even as public health experts warn that premature relaxation of restrictions could lead to a second wave of infections.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, seen as a potential vice presidential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, is facing a backlash from some critics against her stay-at-home orders in a state hit hard by the last recession.

Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding from Michigan over its plan for expanded mail-in voting, saying without offering evidence that the practice could lead to voter fraud – though he later appeared to back off the threat.

Rising floodwaters have caused more trouble in Michigan, displacing thousands of residents near the city of Midland.

Trump will visit the city of Ypsilanti to tour a Ford plant that has been recast to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment and to discuss vulnerable populations hit by the virus in a meeting with African-American leaders.

It is not clear if the president, who has said he is taking a drug not proven for the coronavirus after two White House staffers tested positive in recent weeks, will wear a protective face mask. He has declined to wear one on previous factory tours despite guidelines for employees to do so.

When asked by reporters before leaving the White House if he planned to don a face covering, Trump said, “I don’t know. We’re going to look at it. A lot of people have asked me that question.”

On Tuesday, Ford reiterated its policy that all visitors must wear masks but did not say if it would require Trump to comply.

Whitmer told a news conference she spoke with Trump on Wednesday and he pledged federal support in the flood recovery.

“I made the case that, you know, we all have to be on the same page here. We’ve got to stop demonizing one another and really focus on the fact that the common enemy is the virus. And now it’s a natural disaster,” Whitmer told CBS News, describing her conversation with Trump.

Regarding Trump’s funding threat, Whitmer said, “Threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary, and I think something that is unacceptable.”

Whitmer on Thursday moved to further reopen Michigan’s economy, signing a series of executive orders that let people gather in groups smaller than 10, retail and auto showrooms to resume operations by appointment, and nonessential medical and dental services to resume.

The Midwestern state ranks seventh among U.S. states with 53,009 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, a Reuters tally showed, with at least 5,060 deaths.

Trump and Ford have been at odds over its decision last year to back a deal with California for stricter vehicle fuel economy standards than his administration had proposed.

Trump first sparred with Ford during the 2016 campaign over the automaker’s investments in Mexico and had vowed to slap hefty tariffs taxes on its vehicles made in Mexico.

U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said on Twitter that she hoped Trump will “follow the protocols and wear a mask when he visits the Ford plant.”

Trump won narrowly won in Michigan in the 2016 election, the first Republican to do since 1988.

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Safety vs liberty in era of coronavirus requires prioritizing values

One friend, a conservative in her 70s, hasn’t left the house in over three weeks. She supports the governor’s stay-at-home orders. Another friend, late forties and liberal, refuses to wear a mask. Needless to say she’d prefer something closer to South Dakota’s lighter-handed approach to slowing the COVID-19 contagion.

What explains people’s differing perceptions of the pandemic and government stay-at-home orders? Age and health? Temperament and aversion to risk? Preferred media source and amount of media exposure? Trust in government and those in office? Opinion of peers? Financial circumstances? Other values? Certainly all of these factors play a role in how a person responds to this crisis and other challenging situations for which there are no easy answers.

Some posts on social media, however, suggest there are just two kinds of people, those who care (about lives, livelihoods, constitutional rights, science, etc.) and those who don’t. Occasionally a meme will hit closer to the truth. One viral Venn diagram illustrates that people can be simultaneously “taking COVID-19 seriously,” “worried about expansion of authoritarian government policies,” and “very concerned about impending economic devastation.” The “me” at the center of the diagram’s interlocking circles is most everyone.

Who doesn’t care about staying alive, exercising basic freedoms, and putting food on the table? We value the same things but when situations place those values in tension, we value some things more than others.

To illustrate this point in my political science classes, I put my students through a simple exercise. I ask them to list good reasons for and against moving into a neighborhood with strict covenants. I want them to see that there are benefits and tradeoffs. Live in a no-covenant neighborhood and you might end up next to a hot pink house with sun bleached lawn kitsch and a rusty campervan in the yard. It will affect your home’s resale value. Live in a covenant controlled neighborhood and your property values will be secure but don’t try to paint the exterior any other color than the board-approved shade of beige.

I then ask them to distill the pro-covenant and no-covenant cases into one word each. They invariably pick security and liberty. I use this nonpartisan example with my students to demonstrate that decision-making involves more than placing costs and benefits on a scale and seeing which way it tips. What we value most carries greater weight. Secondly, we value liberty and security but when these values are in competition, we prioritize one over the other based on our interests, temperament, experience, and other factors.

What is true in a lower stakes decision like picking a neighborhood is true in a much higher stakes situation such as determining government policy during a pandemic, which will impact the spread of contagion, hospital capacity, survival rates, employment, mental health, civil rights,  bankruptcy, foreclosure, family dynamics, other health outcomes, prices, retirement savings, government debt, education, and food production.

Every potential course of action entails significant costs. Rather than assume the worst of each other, we should seek to understand our differing perspectives. “The idea is that once you identify the underlying values and put them on the table, you can start the hard work of working through them and deciding what is the best course of action,” recommends Colorado State University Professor Martín Carcasson, Ph.D., director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation. “At times, many will likely argue that we must prioritize one of the values above the others, but that argument should be made in a way that recognizes the tradeoffs and the impacts on the other values.”

Unfortunately, it’s an election year which makes cultivating mutual understanding and creative problem solving harder to achieve. Social distancing means we’re having debates over social media rather than face-to-face discussions over coffee. It doesn’t always bring out the best in us.

Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer.

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Protests against Colorado’s coronavirus stay-at-home order planned for Sunday at state Capitol

Multiple groups plan to descend on Colorado’s State Capitol on Sunday to protest what they argue is overreach and unconstitutional restrictions in the face of governmental efforts to stop the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The protests — one a planned “Operation Gridlock” event around the Capitol building in people’s cars at 1 p.m., the other calling for people to bring signs and stand outside from 2 to 4 p.m. — have been organized by various groups, including Libertarian parties around the metro area.

It is the “draconian measures” from Gov. Jared Polis, local mayors and health departments that have forced people to speak out, said Victoria Reynolds, chairwoman of the Libertarian Party of Colorado and a candidate for Douglas County commissioner.

“We want to send message to the governor, to mayors, to the federal government even to say: We elected you to represent us. You are our employees,” she said. “You don’t get to stay working, collecting a paycheck, while you’re putting us all out of work.”

Reynolds has asked those who attend to wear masks and stand 6 feet apart.

In a statement, a spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis said: “Coloradans have a First Amendment right to protest and to free speech. Those participating are only endangering themselves and others by ignoring the stay-at-home order, and we urge them to stay home. No one wants to reopen Colorado businesses and lift these restrictions more than the governor, but in order to do that, Coloradans have to stay home as much as possible, except for critical activities, wear masks and wash their hands to slow the spread of this virus.”

Colorado State Patrol, which runs security for the Capitol, said the protest is unsanctioned, but that troopers plan to treat it as they would any other protest of its kind.

“They’re not going to just disperse them right away,” said Trooper Gary Cutler, a state patrol spokesman. “People still have the right to protest and speak freely.”

Much as they would any other protest, Capitol security will monitor and take actions if they determine there is danger to the public, Cutler said.

A spokeswoman for Denver’s Joint Information Center said the city is aware of the planned gridlock protest and will take action if necessary.

“We understand people are frustrated with our current situation, but the stay-at-home order protects the health, safety and welfare of our entire community,” Erika Martinez, a Joint Information Center spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “Operation Gridlock would be a wholly irresponsible and reckless way to express those frustrations.  We must remind everyone that it is illegal to willfully block a public right-of-way.”

The planned protests come as people from blue and red states alike — including Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah — have organized in recent days to express displeasure and anxiety surrounding the economic impact the new coronavirus outbreak has caused.

Michigan’s gridlock protests clogged Lansing’s streets for miles, bringing thousands of cars and chants of an unjust power grab by the state’s Democratic governor.

National and state health officials have repeatedly warned that hundreds of thousands more people would die of COVID-19 if social distancing measures were not in place.

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