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Port: Fargo School Board plays at victimhood as they backtrack on Pledge of Allegiance ban

One of the best things about our freedom of speech, and participatory politics, is that everyone gets a say. One of the worst things is that "everyone" includes a lot of morons.

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Fargo School Board member Nyamal Dei shares comments about the backlash that has been received about whether the board should allow for reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum
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Minot, N.D. — When it comes to being abused by mouth-breathing ingrates, I'm something of an expert.

On a good day, I'm merely an idiot to those people, and my only complaint is that my correspondents are not more expansive in their choice of vocabulary (if they're going to insult me, they could at least do us both a favor and be creative).
On a bad day, I get threatened. Not so long ago I received a threat to myself and my family credible enough that we had to take security measures at home. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

So I am not without sympathy as we learn that members of the Fargo School Board, while backtracking, tails between their collective legs , on an ill-considered decision to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from board meetings, have received ugly comments and threats from the public.

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Board member Nyamal Dei, the lone vote against the board's walk-back of its pledge policy, played at the meeting a racist, expletive-filled voicemail she received, and it is hard to listen to .

It pains me more than most that anyone would be subjected to that, because I've been subjected to it.

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Sadly, this sort of thing is rote in American politics, particularly when a controversial story reaches a sizable audience.

One of the best things about our freedom of speech, and participatory politics, is that everyone gets a say. One of the worst things is that "everyone" includes a lot of morons.

What bothers me is how often we treat these abusive messages as though they were central to whatever debate they're in context to. In particular, it's troubling when public servants and political figures use the abuse to muddy the waters around the criticism aimed at them.

Fargo School Board member Seth Holden, left, declines to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance with the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Color Guard at the Tuesday, April 12, 2022, meeting. The board will no longer recite the verse after it rescinded the motion on Tuesday, Aug. 9, voting in favor of removing it.Michael Vosburg/The Forum
Fargo School Board member Seth Holden, left, declines to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance with the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Color Guard at the Tuesday, April 12, 2022, meeting. The board will no longer recite the verse after it rescinded the motion on Tuesday, Aug. 9, voting in favor of removing it.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

You'll get no defense for the pathetic wretches hurling threats and slurs from me, but let's acknowledge that most of the people upset by the school board's actions on the pledge didn't threaten anyone. They were merely critical, not abusive, and don't deserve to be lumped in with the foul-mouthed peanut gallery.

And yet many defenders of the school board's actions find it salubrious to treat everyone who disagrees with them as if they were the ones sending threats and hate.

This sort of retreat into convenient victimhood is as common as the threats themselves.

We don't do enough, in our public debates, to draw distinctions between good-faith dissent and reactions that cross the line into bigotry, threats and violence. Worse, we tend to put on blinders on when those crossing the line are on our side.

So many on the left make excuses when it's pipeline protesters throwing rocks, or social justice activists burning buildings down. The right minimizes when Trump supporters storm the capitol to overturn an election. This is troubling not just because each side in the debate tries to besmirch the opposition by defining it by its most extreme members, but because in doing so we make the extremists mainstream.

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There is no political movement in America, beyond a certain size, that doesn't have some nuts participating in it. Can we please stop putting their nuttiness at the center of our debates?

I understand why we do it. It's so tempting to believe the worse about those frustrating people who oppose us on some issue we're passionate about, but in doing so, we're only encouraging them.

These days, armed as they are with the amplifying tools of the internet, the nuts don't need our help.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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