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Dig Deep: Is there a magic bullet?

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Heidi Holtan: Listening to dig deep on Northern Community radio. I'm Heidi Holton with Aaron Brown or liberal commentator and Chuck Marohn  is our conservative commentator today. We are talking about. Small towns. Our small towns of northern Minnesota and how to get things done. Is there a Magic Bullet? We in our prior conversations about what a university of four-year University be that silver bullet that would change everything.

How do you start having these conversations?

Chuck Marohn: Well, I think what we need to do is just elect more people who think like me then. Yeah, they will overwhelm the

Aaron Brown: I disagree. I think I think people should be more like me

Chuck Marohn: and if we could just you know at any cost elect more people who think like me. Then we can just shout down and defeat the people who think like you and everything will work fine.

Aaron Brown: Right? I think that's the problem we've got right now is I've heard it called tribalism this notion that if our side wins and wins sufficiently in other words, not just an election here or there, but if we. Dominate and destroy the opposition.

Chuck Marohn:  Yeah, we're like we pour salt in your Fields. So so salt so you can never reconstitute yourself.

Aaron Brown: Right? Right only then will we have achieved total Victory and the reality of a democratic system and the way that Americans and Human beings are inpatient and and easily distracted that has never worked out for more than a couple years at most if you can argue. That in 2008 to 2010 when the Democrats had all three houses in Washington or the executive and legislative branches in Washington.

And then now when Republicans have the same dynamic I think you'd be hard to argue that they truly have control in either of those time.

Chuck Marohn: Well, it's funny because you look back historically at times where we think like one party had control 1860. Yeah, Republicans when all the you know, the Democrats like left the country you look at.

1932 when FDR came in and the New Deal and we think like back then because the changes were so huge and abrupt that they just had clear sailing, but when you actually look at historically what it was actually like no, like none of this is easy. So it's painful

Aaron Brown: Southern Democrats, you know, when Democrats had Congress for all those years seventh of Southern Democrats were their own thing and only supported the party line.

So to speak when it suited them. And then other times you had to divide in the Democratic party you had different factions in the Republican party. And this was more common. We actually I shouldn't say that. It's still common. We still have factions both on the state level and the national level within our parties.

I think one of the things that's challenging now though. I think it's I don't know if it's the mass media affect the fact that everybody can believe firmly that they're a political Insider with the amount of information that they have access to so everybody therefore thinks they're smarter than everybody else.

So, What we see is you can't dare even think that somebody on your side. Might be overreaching or making just quantifiably bad decisions or conclusions about a political issue and it gets really difficult. Then you see it in the DFL here in Minnesota. We have a disagreement over Mining and it becomes very personal to having lived through that debate for a long time.

It becomes very personal and then when you have single-party rule, which is what everybody seems to want. You know, their party to be THE party you then see problems of potential corruption. You see week or unqualified candidates not only get elected but for rise to leadership positions and things like that happen when one party has control for too long, and these are things that.

You normally need like the famous Mark Twain quote. You need to change your politicians like you change diapers. And for the same reason, right? Well that Dynamic if you really want a one party your party to win all the time, you're inviting in the kinds of problems that come with stagnation. I know Chuck and I have commiserated.

In fact, it might be the basis of our friendship is the fact that we don't quite fit in all the time with our our home parties. The side of the political Spectrum or on. For me, it's been an issue where here on the Range I have called out practices that I don't like in terms of how money is influences politics of how ideas become political realities.

There has been Insider essentially insider trading that I've called out over the time that I've been involved in both in politics and as a journalist. And so even though I might agree on the ideological Spectrum with a lot of the people that I'm criticizing I had to take a chance and I had to basically say certain things weren't going to happen in my life.

Chuck Marohn: You're not a team player.

Aaron Brown: I'm not a team player and and you know, I like to think and I could be my own delusion that I'm doing a service by doing these things and that if I didn't then it would be worse in the long run. But you know, it takes somebody to say these things and normally it would be the opposition party and you would be afraid of getting caught up in sleazy business because it could be used against you in election.

But what if it couldn't. You know, that's what we're seeing in the country right now sleazy business is status quo.

Chuck Marohn: Yeah, uh read the Republicans in California have no say. Let me throw out something along the lines of this white night at the local level and have you react to it? I think if we go back historically and let's go back on the Iron Range cities of the early 1900s.

I think the Main Force driving those communities was the company was the industry essentially there was a consolidation of power in a very few hands and those hands were largely interested in utilizing these cities and these places in these communities for the benefit of the corporation. That was reflected in the politics.

And the way they were governed we've talked about roads getting paved in the middle of the night two different things. The people had to figure out how to counter that massive corporate power. The people had to essentially ban together to overcome that there wasn't a white knight. There was maybe a black night and then there was the masses of the people now we have in 2018 in many ways.

And I think we've done this with all the best intentions. We was actually flip that around and there is no corporate entity that dominates all of our cities. There's no series of bosses that sit in the back room smoking cigars deciding what's going to happen, but it really hasn't empowered. I think people to feel like they can make decisions that the way that I think the theory would have suggested.

We feel beholden to bureaucracies. We filled the beholding two out-of-town corporations. We feel behold into the narrative or given on cable news and I feel like this white knight concept that was thrown out at us and I've heard in other places too. Is this this kind of desire to have someone come in and restore order to this chaos.

Like, you know someone to walk in the door and say I have the answer follow me. Empower me and I will fix this. And I I feel like the problems we're having now are almost like the problems that people would have said were good problems 100 years ago, and now we're like desiring almost to go back to what they looked at as oppression.

Because these problems are plugging us. Yeah. Yeah, of course. I'm right in the midst of researching these old Iron Range towns in that corporate power dynamic and you know, one of the things that stands out is little things like the city council would pass resolutions for giving the heat and light bills for widows whose husbands had died in the mines imagine that because there was no social work or social right, uh, safety net for those people and it was just considered part of business of doing a being a city as.

You know Widow Jenkins is got nothing. So let's help her out. She's got three kids and they got no money and a little like, I don't want to go back to that. You know, uh, you know, I don't I'm glad we have developed a social contract of sorts not as strong as in other industrialized country today,

Chuck Marohn: we would we would wait till winners over and then shut off their power, right?

Aaron Brown: Yeah. Well, there's things like

Chuck Marohn: that's it is that what we have done is we have changed the system for where you have the benevolent one that you can go kneel down in front of and kiss. And and essentially like pressure something good to happen within a despotic system, or you can have a less despotic system where bureaucratically we kind of decide that despotic things are going to happen now.

Aaron Brown:  In a certain way to happen in a certain way exactly.

So yeah that gets really complicated. So you don't want to deal with an entity like the Oliver Mining Company in its prime. They were spying on people. They ran things. They used all kinds of means that we wouldn't. Corporations using today. And then we also the way that the political power was rested from those massive powerful hands.

Probably not things that like I research Victor Power, you know, he's a fascinating figure. One of the things I Come Away with is, you know, he was a fascinating figure. He did a lot of good but I if he tried if someone today did what he did. We would call them viciously corrupt, you know, like it wasn't by the standards of the time.

Chuck Marohn: Yeah

Aaron Brown: I mean I shouldn't even say that because some people did think that at the time but he got away with it because people wanted what he did.

Chuck Marohn: I think this is crazy. But like I just read a poll this week the most revered person in Russia Today. You would think you know, Vladimir Putin would be Vladimir Putin was down in the list the most revered historical figure in Russia Today.

Joseph Stalin,

Aaron Brown: yeah,

Chuck Marohn: and you're like this is a guy who killed tens of millions of Russians

Aaron Brown: We were on top of the world baby, you know.  And that's that's the thing behind this this notion is when we deal with these tough partisan environments where it's hard to even talk to your neighbor or your uncle or whoever because of these political disagreements.

We want someone to just fix it. Make the pain go away and in reality is and I teach conflict resolution. Not that I can fix this but conflict I can say comes from this notion that we both care about something the country, the world, our town and we disagree. Because we have different Visions for it. We have different ideas for it.

But we both want it to do well. And so we have conflict. And I think people you know, they want to be left alone, or they want to live a good life, or they want they want everything to be the way they want it to be. But we disagree because we all care about it in our own way. And so yeah, I'm not surprised.

In fact in Russia, for example, having come out of an authoritarian system. They never really shook, that not really not for long the Democratic notion. Democracy is we would understand. It was always been a minority in the 20th and 21st century in Russia. And so it blows me away in the United States of America, allegedly, won the Cold War.

That we as we deal with the pluralism of many different people with many different opinions, different points of view, that we are now drifting toward a much more authoritarian way of thinking about our problems. Where as we would like. Somebody to ride in.

Heidi Holtan: That's Aaron Brown, our liberal commentator for Dig Deep. Chuck Marohn our conservative commentator.

They're talking about this notion that a white knight could come in and solve our problems in society. Aaron continues,

Aaron Brown: It happens on the left because when Bernie Sanders was running. A lot of my friends aren't going to like me saying this. But when Bernie Sanders was running for president against Hillary Clinton and even Hillary Clinton supporters could be accused of this too, but they actually there were memes shared online like Bernie Sanders literally garbed as a night, you know to slay the dragons.

Chuck Marohn: I saw them with Donald Trump.

Aaron Brown: And I think like if you want to beat the Scoundrels elect the Scoundrel in Chief to come in and just do what he does.

Chuck Marohn: He's beholden to no one. Yeah, and he will go in and slay every beast.

Aaron Brown: I think the appeal of Sanders was the same. He's never fit in with the Democratic party. He's this outside guy. And I don't want to despair.

I mean people have their own opinions.

Chuck Marohn: In elections,  We all get a little starry-eyed.

Aaron Brown: Yeah, right and and then you have the the cold pragmatism of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Who both met their end in their own way. So, this is we would like it to just have a president -  for instance to fix us. Right. And and the reality is as we see is a president can't.  Obama couldn't.  I think Obama achieved whatever Obama achieved. He achieved through through some kind of agreement with his Grassroots support. And got enough votes, enough things to do a little bit.

Whereas the top down notion that we get with Trump. Probably with whoever comes after Trump. And probably whoever comes after that person. Is this notion that we're electing a person to make us feel good and they'll impose something that makes us all feel good. But the reality is we don't all feel good about policy.

We want very different things. Well, uh, a lot of cases.

Chuck Marohn:  Looking back at history. Again, we can see a time when someone did do this and was successful and his name was Augustus. He came in and basically killed off all of his opponents and said now we will have peace. It worked, you know in a sense that they had Generations then of dictators. Some who were good, some who were not when we think of the Roman Empire or the Roman period of Pax Romana the gray that was after they got rid of their democracy.

That was after they got rid of the Republic and basically said this is too big and complicated. We're gonna have one person run it. I think if we switch back to the local level just for a second. I do think that the interesting dynamic that we have at the local level is that. As we have gone through this transition through the Depression and World War Two. And then on through where we really had a national consensus amongst people who had lived through the Depression together and gone to war together and faced a mortal enemy together. People who got along better than we do today because they had that experience of getting along.

They also lived very differently. They lived in cities that had conservatives and liberals. They hadn't kind of self sorted the way we have today. So is a different Society we went through this period of basically centralizing our decision-making your little city can no longer have its own set of weird taxes and rules and regulations.

We're going to do that at the state level because it'll be more efficient. It'll be better and we can handle things better. What this leaves us here at the local level is with like a very limited. Kind of dummy set of tools. We have all these issues that we're facing here all these problems we have to solve and we have like three tools to do it with. It's like we have to build this house and I will give you like a tiny hacksaw, a rusty old hammer, and a screwdriver and it's a flathead screwdriver and you've got all these Phillips screws. And you know, like you're never gonna get it done and you wind up fighting with each other, and getting mad each other, and going to the state and asking for help with this and that and.

Think that what we have done is we've actually in the guise of trying to help. Limited our own ability to solve our own problems. Yeah, that is like a liberal conservative kind of I think that Aaron and I can agree on what the problems are in the need to actually take them. Seriously. I feel like what has happened is as we've centralized things.

We have one party that really focuses on identifying the problems and then coming up with more centralized solutions to them. While the other party says that's not a problem at all. Just ignore it like, you know, not a big deal. And then actually tries to devolve some of the power occasionally unless they're in power and then they run huge deficits.

Don't do it. For me, the frustration is that at the local level? I would love to be able to roll up our sleeves. Work together and actually try to figure this out. But we wind up fighting over abstract concepts because we don't actually have the tools to do anyting.

Aaron Brown: Yeah, you know, the biggest controversy of the year in the city of Hibbing is The Ten Commandments plaque that was up in this Courthouse got more attention than anything else.

Everyone can have your own opinion about whether it should or shouldn't have been there. Point is, that's not the most important problem the city Hibbing right now, right one of the things I find in looking back at the old Council minutes was the audaciousness of their ability to think. Hey, we can try to solve this.

There's a lot of things they didn't do that. They considered that were just audacious but they thought that way. And I think the bigger thing after many generations of on the Range just for instance of having so many other streets and Roads and sewers paid for through mining money is over time, you lose the ability to think of the ideas.

It's not that they're against it. It's that the people who get elected are elected, you know kind of on personality and and their Social Circles and things but they don't have the idea. Yeah, and then they say well, I'm sure the community will have ideas. But if nobody's thinking of ideas there are no ideas.

Chuck Marohn: I cannot applaud Aaron that is we have a dearth of imagination at the local level. And we do because we have beaten it out of  local. 

Aaron Brown: If a mayor comes along who does have an idea or a city council member

Chuck Marohn: You can't do that. There's liability you got this at that issue. You got to get to the state to approve that you can't.

We can't you know tweak that it's insane. And what we have done is we have created a system where creative people. The people that you want being creative in your community coming up with ideas and trying things that is not allowed. Not acceptable and we get frustrated with the way our local governments run.

I'm gonna say something. I was going to say you don't have the best and brightest there. Like running for mayor running for Council. I don't mean that in like a pejorative way. I don't mean that people there are not smart and don't care. But what you don't have is you don't have a system open to creativity and actually problem-solving. You have a bunch of people who are asked to be technocrats and run a system that's been given to them a dysfunctional system and you can't do it.  It won't work.

Heidi Holtan: Chuck Marohn our conservative commentator. Aaron Brown is our liberal commentator.   In our next segment, we take a look at the ramifications of thinking differently on a local level. This is Dig Deep. I'm Heidi Holtan. Thanks for tuning in sign up for the podcast through iTunes.

There's a link at KAXE.org.

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.