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My Point of View: U.S. needs to come together on solutions, not be divided

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

 

In late June, triggered by activist Shaun King saying that depictions of Jesus as white are inaccurate and should be removed, our congressman showed his full hand in a Facebook post. While Jesus likely resembled a modern-day Palestinian rather than the sandy-haired, blue-eyed version that I grew up thinking was correct, Hagedorn could have just defended the beautiful diversity of Christian iconography across cultures.

But he did not. He had a different agenda.

Instead, he wrote that the “Democrat (sic) ‘Black Lives Matter’ Party” is “at war” with both America and “western culture,” and “we must never let them take power.” Furthermore, “we” must defend “our nation’s identity.”

Apparently, Hagedorn thinks BLM’s primary stated goal of stopping police brutality — which disproportionately maims and kills people of color like George Floyd in Minneapolis — is anti-American.

Our country was, after all, founded on freedom for white male landowners and the subjugation or extermination of pretty much everyone else, so in that sense, wanting fair and humane treatment for everyone does hew against our founding reality.

But our founding principles are different from, and higher than, our founding reality. Fortunately for our country, we have stretched ourselves to reach our founding principles more and more over time, through laws, court decisions, social change and even fighting a bloody civil war to end chattel slavery.

And those principles are that everybody is created equal and has fundamental rights, including free speech and freedom of religion. Everybody deserves equal justice under law.

When Hagedorn says “we,” he implicitly does not mean everybody.

In the context of white nationalism, “western culture” is a term that rejects multiculturalism and true representative democracy. Our “nation’s identity” has a narrow meaning that does not include Black Lives Matter.

He’s telling us where he stands, and his post made international news. This is how he’s representing Minnesota’s 1st District, not just to the country, but to the world.

It’s like Hagedorn is eyeing the ostracized space that Iowa’s Rep. Steve King will soon be vacating. Republican voters in Iowa’s 4th District had enough of King’s notoriety for making white nationalist statements, which House Republicans stripped him of his committee assignments for in 2019, and he lost to a primary challenger this year.

George Floyd’s murder was an inflection point in 2020 and probably in American history. His body was merely the one that broke the dam, and a flood of other names have been spoken, chanted and shouted with his name as people hit the streets in every city and in many smaller towns across southern Minnesota, including Albert Lea, to protest these deaths. Black Lives Matter became mainstream as a majority of Americans finally woke up to the fact that police can summarily execute a Black man on an American street for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Something is terribly amiss. It’s not “radical” or “Marxist” to acknowledge that most people are on the losing end of wealth inequalities created by the current status quo, which has been an outright death trap for minorities.

We need systemic change to fix a rotten system so that it works better for all Americans. If Republicans automatically hear that statement as “the state must take ownership of the means of production,” they won’t be useful in helping us find practical solutions for our entrenched problems.

Look, even white people without a high school education are losing years of life because of increased risk of dying in middle age, and their early deaths have caused an overall decline in life expectancy in the U.S. for several years running. On top of that, more than 5 million people have lost health care due to the pandemic because they had employment-based insurance and lost their jobs. Citizens of other developed countries have not experienced this twin calamity.

We all need to come together on solutions and not be divided along racial or ethnic lines by mediocre legacy pledges like Jim Hagedorn. He’s no longer as explicitly racist as he was in his “Mr. Conservative” blog posts he scrubbed from the internet, but he still thinks the same.

My kids at Hawthorne Elementary and millions of school children across the U.S. are taught to recite in front of an American flag, with their hand over their heart, that our country stands for “liberty and justice for all.” As I believed that Jesus was blond so many years ago, many of these children think it literally means for all.

Does it mean that in practice? Not yet. But should it?

Dan Feehan will represent the best of who we are in the 1st District. He will not embarrass us, and he will help us stretch toward the principles our country was founded on, including liberty and justice for all.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.

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