I'm an optimist, but in the wake of the Burleigh County Commission's turbulent 3-2 vote to accept 25 refugees, it's about realism. It's not a victory. It sure wasn't North Dakota nice. Let's call it what it is — a start.
We don't get bonus points for doing the right thing. Not when it used to come so easily to us. At best, this was a missed opportunity for the majority to use its bully pulpit to resoundingly reject the bigotry that permeates the party. Instead, we're led by political cynicism and opportunism. Perhaps “led” is too strong a word. Cowards are incapable of leadership.
Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken, whose last defense of the city occurred during the harrowing siege by Parkland shooting survivors, played to his base of gun-toting bigots. Golly, our city of 70,000 couldn't possibly absorb 25 whole people. Not when we're working 24/7 to help homeless veterans. And get this — Native Americans. The amount of charity in our hearts is finite. When it's gone, it's gone.
Meanwhile, Bismarck Rep. Rick Becker, the Libertarian boob doctor (choice of inflection is yours) who careens between noble causes like personal rights to cynical political opportunism, wrung his hands over the 'unknown' fiscal impact. Allow my crack staff of me to help.
First, an overview of America's social safety net: Statistics from the conservative website www.usgovernmentspending.com reveal that federal, state and local “welfare” expenditures fell from $671 billion in 2010, after the Bush Administration's Not So Great Recession, to $464 billion today. That's an annual cost to a family of four of $50. Comparatively, the burden of corporate welfare on an average family is $6,000. But by all means, let's wrestle over crumbs in the arena for Caesar's amusement.
The rest of the story is that refugees actually add a net $63 billion to our national economy. Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, pointed out Monday that New Americans in North Dakota paid taxes on $560 million in wages in 2014. We desperately needs such workers to grow, but with this self-inflicted black eye, will corporations and workers line up to move to Bismarck? Racism's bad for business.
Cynical faux conservatives applaud the president's executive order to only allow refugee resettlement with community consent as “local control.” No, it is what it has been since the day Donald Trump launched his campaign on a platform of prejudice — a ploy to divide. It's chum in the water, and it has Stephen Miller's paw prints all over it. And anyway, shouldn't white supremacists resemble Dolph Lundgren instead of Barney Fife's evil twin?
Bigotry isn't new to North Dakota, but our soulless president feeds it and feeds upon it.
Respect to Commissioners Kathleen Jones, Jerry Woodcox and Mark Armstrong who voted for basic human kindness. Chairman Brian Bitner, whose motto is “All for one and all for one!” expressed concerns about his political skin. He and Jim Peluso voted no.
There was an opportunity here for “leaders” to stand tall against the racism, but mostly we got platitudes or placid non-involvement. The true leadership came from a community of good souls who said, “Yes, I am my brother's keeper. Let them come. Here, let us light the way.”
Sadly, when the light switch is pulled, we find cockroaches in our midst.
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service.