MINOT, N.D. — "Hostile school board meetings have members calling it quits," a national Associated Press report tells us.
The article details the travails of local elected officials as they deal with the convulsions attendant to a strident, social-media-driven wave of angry populism.
The issues are myriad, and the people pursuing them are unreasonable.
A Wisconsin man, in his letter resigning from his local school board, described the job as “toxic and impossible to do.”
Our region isn't immune from this trend. It's becoming almost typical for public meetings to devolve into shouting matches. Nor is this a new development. In 2019, local members of Democratic Socialists of America showed up to a legislative committee member to shout expletives at lawmakers.
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“What’s been disappointing to me are the threats we’ve been getting as board members,” said Amber Flynn, vice president of the Grand Forks School Board, said of more recent public tantrums, prompting the Grand Forks Herald to editorialize: "take a breath and voice opposition — even firm and resolute opposition — in a respectful manner."
The pandemic, with all of its misery, is driving consternation to new heights.
"I wanted to serve my community, but not as their punching bag," one school board official in a western North Dakota community told me. Fed up, he's considering stepping down from his post.
Some lawmakers, too, are reconsidering their commitment to public office.
"It won't be Democrats or the work in the Capitol that will push me out. It will be the fact I'm burning out with dealing with folks who have no idea on how the government works yet claiming they're conservative," one Republican lawmaker from the eastern side of the state told me.
I'm aware of a long-serving Republican lawmaker in central North Dakota who will be announcing their resignation in the coming weeks, in no small part because of the machinations of vituperative populists.
Nor is this just a problem on the right. I've had a handful of Democrats, including some holding elected office, tell me this year that they have begun avoiding their party's events because, as one of them put it, "the only people who show up are the nutters."
I can understand these impulses, but now is not the time to beat a retreat.
Now more than ever is the time for cool-headed, rational people to engage.
If asked, the footsoldiers of these shouty, intransigent mobs would probably tell us they're exercising democracy. Except that the democratic process isn't on its own sufficient for a successful democracy.
We must also trust that the people, at least in the aggregate, know what they're on about.
"[W]herever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government," Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789.
Can we say that the belligerent hordes who flow from Facebook and Twitter into the halls of local government are well-informed?
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.