It’s a pretty darn big deal anytime the leader of the free world drops into northern Michigan for a visit.
It was a special occasion when former President Donald Trump made a campaign stop in Traverse City late last year.
Similarly, President Joe Biden’s Fourth of July weekend trek to our neighborhood was a unique and important occurrence.
Presidential visits are always special, regardless of political undercurrents or overtones. They are a chance for the folks on the ground to hear from the single most powerful policymaker in our nation.
They are a chance for that leader to hear our voices directly, without filters imposed by layers of handlers who surround our top leaders.
Maybe that’s why we were left underwhelmed by Biden’s recent visit—a massively complicated and expensive trip that offered Michiganders effectively no opportunity to hear even a few minutes of remarks from the president.
No comments on the COVID-19 pandemic. Or infrastructure investment. Or school funding. Or Great Lakes restoration efforts. Or sites of former government-funded Native American boarding schools. Or Line 5. Or Turkish cherry dumping. Or PFAS contamination in our groundwater. Or unemployment. Or child care. Or foreign policy.
The recent presidential visit was elaborately orchestrated and controlled. Even the few journalists (including ours) who were granted access to Biden’s jaunt to Traverse City and King Orchards in Antrim County were held at a distance and denied a chance to ask even one policy question of any relevance to folks in our region.
A single downstate reporter who was given a chance to ask a question at King Orchards wasted the opportunity on a meaningless softball (Why did you come to northern Michigan?)
To boot, journalists who arrived with meaningful questions to ask on the behalf of our community were held out of earshot as the president chatted with the few people who were allowed to meet him, make a comment or ask a question during the visit.
Adding to the pile on is the fact that the three people who were afforded substantial contact with the president are the three people who could dial a phone and connect with him almost at will—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.
So we have spent the past few days wondering what was the point of Biden’s trip to our region? Did we attend and witness the world’s most expensive cherry orchard photo op? (The president’s plane alone costs more than $170,000 per flight hour to operate, not to mention the thousands of hours of overtime logged by dozens of law enforcement agencies and security personnel to make such a trip happen.)
Don’t get us wrong, we appreciate any effort by a sitting president to set foot in our hometown.
We just hope the next visit includes at least a little acknowledgment of the substantive issues weighing on Michiganders.