"North Dakota nice" appears in danger of dying during the pandemic. The state’s friendly reputation has taken a hit during the COVID-19 fight, but the rot began before the coronavirus attacked.
The most recent example came during a Bismarck City Commission meeting on Sept. 22. Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch was explaining to commissioners how she has become the target of personal attacks because of her work on COVID-19 when she was booed by someone in the audience.
Mayor Steve Bakken admonished the audience member, but the statement was made. You can no longer expect to be treated with civility if you are involved in something somewhat controversial.
In her public health position and her role on the Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force steering committee, Moch is at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle. The task force has no enforcement powers, but it can make recommendations to local commissions. The task force urged commissions to adopt a mask mandate, with the idea either rejected or not discussed by all of them.
Many people abhor the idea of a mask mandate, which is their right, but it has resulted in personal attacks on Moch and others. The hostile climate is especially apparent on social media.
“The hearts in the windows and the love and the ‘we’re all in this together’ that was in March has faded away to vulgarity and rude untruths that is just beyond my comprehension,” Moch told the commission.
It’s an exceedingly sad commentary on the state of our society. Instead of considerate and passionate debate, we lash out. It’s not caused by the pandemic; it has been festering for some time.
For years, social media has been a source of caustic remarks and personal attacks, and it has spilled over into public meetings and other events. It was evident in public meetings at the beginning of the year over the resettlement of refugees in the Bismarck-Mandan area.
We are losing our ability to control our tempers and conduct civil debates. Unfortunately, the bad example is being set at the very top. This week’s presidential debate was a mockery of how the nation’s key issues should be discussed. Name-calling has become the norm in this nation.
Gov. Doug Burgum blamed some of the bad behavior on the stress of the pandemic, then he acknowledged the role social media has played in encouraging nasty conduct. It makes one fear that "North Dakota nice" is just a false image.
It doesn’t need to be. We need to listen and debate without getting personal. If someone at a meeting next to you gets out of line, they need to be reminded how to behave. Otherwise, we will sink into chaos.
Moch and other public servants fighting the pandemic shouldn’t be the target of anger. They are using their professional training to make the best recommendations possible to protect society. All they can do is offer advice; it’s up to elected bodies to decide whether to adopt mandates. The public has the right to testify and influence elected officials. We can be heard without boos and insults.
We can’t allow decency to become a casualty of this difficult year.
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