Letters: Look further back when considering decline in some American cities – TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press

Poor Joe Soucheray! So put upon to have to switch to a paper mask to enter a building in St. Paul. His Feb. 12 column (“I write this as a vaccinated, boosted citizen of the United States“) reveals that he has clearly reached his limit in his willingness to make such difficult sacrifices for the common good of attempting to ease the crisis in our health care system.
Soucheray then segues into a lament about the decline of American cities, denigrating current municipal governments as incompetent by invoking the tiresome trope that they are so because they have never “made payroll.” Really Joe, when in your nostalgic fantasy were our city councils primarily made of business owners? My historic recollections, which are of similar in length to Joe’s, are of mostly career politicians. Of course, they used to be from less diverse backgrounds than today’s. City governments have always consisted of more activists than business people. While their motivations are varied, I believe the majority are high minded and genuinely want to serve their cities.
Joe seems particularly frustrated by the troubling changes in “rules and regulations and mandates and lockdowns” invoked by “undisciplined” municipal governments. Yes, it was inconsiderate of the pandemic to come unannounced and disorderly and for there to be no all-knowing omnipotent medical deity to set municipal governments on the correct course from the beginning.
In Joe’s view our city politicians are ineffective because they are preoccupied with finding examples of racism and inequity around every corner. Perhaps some of the demise of American cities was abetted by the failure of the non-diverse city governments of Soucheray’s nostalgic ideal to see the racism and inequity that existed around every corner.
I’m afraid that the pandemic has made cynics of many of us, and it now appears that Joe Soucheray has become one of them. Chasing around the evolving dynamics of covid has been frustrating, for sure. But to suspect our government of deliberately using it as an opportunity to ruin the country just seems absurd. Public health experts from Dr. Fauci on down have been widely suspected of lying to us, even though their pronouncements are usually backed by everyone in the field including our own highly respected Dr. Osterholm. But no, we’d rather believe a former chiropracter in Texas, with no public health credentials, who claims the vaccine is killing people. Just what were our health officials supposed to be doing, I wonder. The pandemic has killed 918,000 people, most of whom were unvaccinated.
It seems to me we have a case of spoiled children, who were brought up to believe that bad things should never happen to them, coming back to roost as immature adults, who believe that when bad things do, it must be time for a riot; time for an insurrection; time to take down the government. We saw this kind of lawlessness after George Floyd’s death, after Trump was defeated, and now with the truckers in Ottawa.
Joe tends to point a finger at city hall (I must admit that the streets in St. Paul sound pretty bad), but what really seems lacking to me is any sense of citizenship among the citizens. (Do high schools even offer a civics class anymore?) If you aren’t happy with the candidates elected last time, well, try to do better next time. And in the meantime, be a good sport and cooperate with your elected government as a good citizen should. It’s how democracies work.
G.J. Mayer, Forest Lake
What? Columnist Jay Ambrose (“Closing the border to killer drugs,” Feb. 9), must have been living under a bridge in New York someplace for decades. Blaming the border guards and Mexican Army for the illegal drug trade and the 100,000 overdose deaths last year?
He obviously doesn’t know that many of the drugs are now shipped in the mail. Would take only a few truckloads to bring over a year’s supply of illegal drugs.
Jay’s other ignorance is how Portugal solved their illegal drug problem over 20 years ago. Portugal has 1/5th our drug addiction rates, less than 1/10th our drug overdose death rates, which proves they also got rid of most of their illegal drug suppliers without better border guards.
Blame it all on the Border Patrol? After 50 years with our drug laws, a southern border desert wilderness impossible to guard, our American illegal drug industry made El Chapo the fifth richest man in the world and created the well-funded criminal gangs in Mexico —  and then we blame it all on the Mexican government.
Look up Portugal’s decriminalized drug use system with far more robust addiction treatment services than we have anywhere in the US. Check out DPA, Drug Policy Alliance.
Mark Nupen, Anoka
I know that sharing columns from sister newspapers is a common practice, but it’s difficult to imagine a more laughable example to share than Thursday’s “Durham exposing a threat to democracy,” written by Nolan Finley, columnist for the Detroit News.
Finley certainly makes the story sound compelling by arguing that Special Counsel John Durham had uncovered proof Democrats were spying on the Trump campaign and his administration. And that the spying was part of an effort to cripple the Trump presidency as part of some Watergate-level political corruption.
Durham’s filing is a bit hard to follow, but if Finley had bothered to read it (or even crack up the news pages of the Detroit News), he would have discovered that everything he laid out in his column was wrong.
Aside from the fact that all of the major points in the filing had been reported months ago by the New York Times, Finley seems to have gotten all of his arguments from some of the rabid reporting coming out of the conservative media.

The facts are that no one was spying on the Trump administration. An organization was hired to scan White House traffic for malware and other viruses following the breach of data from the White House and other Democratic Party sources in 2015 and 2016. In fact, the time period for the data mentioned in the Durham report covers the Obama Administration, not the Trump years.
The Durham filing also never claimed the cyber security firm in question was being paid by the Clinton campaign. It also mentions in passing that the Trump connection doesn’t result from some sort of spying effort targeting cell phones used by Trump associates. Instead, it comes from a warning by the security firm that Russian-made phones owned by several Trump associates had been connecting to the White House network during visits.
It’s also worth noting that if Durham had truly believed that laws had been broken, he could have filed his report with a recommendation to consider prosecution. Instead, he waited until two days after the statute of limitations had expired. Which makes this all feel more like political theater than a serious attempt to uncover the truth.
Rick Ellis, Inver Grove Heights
I commend you for the truly excellent series on our Constitution. I was impressed with the Sunday article on the electoral college, but there is additional relevant history about it that I believe would be of interest to your readers.
The man known as the “father of the constitution,” James Madison, has a reality check for folks who make the standard “the electoral college exists to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority” defense. We know that Madison said this thanks to his journal documenting the debate in the 1787 Philadelphia Convention — which is one of the few historical resources we have that confidently puts us inside the room where the constitution was drafted. Tyranny of the majority is not why the electoral college is in there (well, it is, but because of a different kind of tyranny of the majority).
Per Madison:
”The people at large was the fittest in itself. It would be as likely as any that could be devised to produce an Executive Magistrate of distinguished Character.”
Translation from 1700s-speak: The majority of people should probably choose the president.
The actual, documented history of the creation of the electoral college had less to do with the relative power of the states and far, far more to do with the relative power of slave-owning states. The evidence of that is contained in Article I Section 2 Clause (3) of our Constitution which in pertinent part reads:
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
Take a wild guess at who the founders were talking about when they mentioned “three fifths of all other Persons.” This part of the constitution is what is commonly known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, and the reality behind it is what the “father of the constitution” was speaking of when he said the “substitution of electors obviated this difficulty.”
The electoral college exists because slave-owning states wanted representation in the constitution relative to their population, but they did not want their entire population to be represented in the constitution. Enslaved people comprised 40% of Virginia’s population. This was no small issue; further cementing James Madison’s status as the father of the constitution: he owned slaves in Virginia.
You cannot look at pre-Civil War America through any primary lens other than slavery. It was the defining issue of the day, and was not exactly a secret. It was the first thing Mississippi wrote in its declaration of secession for leaving the union, and in that it was joined by a number of other slave-owning states, and it asserted in its declaration:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”
The notion that slavery has nothing to do with flaws in the constitution is as absurd as the notion that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. The two events are directly linked. The South fought to preserve the “institution of slavery” while slave-owning politicians fought to enshrine it in the constitution.
We are sometimes told that the Civil War was fought over “states rights,” a claim just as unfounded as the claim that the electoral college was about the relative power of the states. Should there be any doubt about the reason for the Civil War the vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said in what is referred to as the Cornerstone speech:
“The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions — African slavery as it exists among us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. … The prevailing ideas entertained by (Jefferson) and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. … Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.
So what James Madison said was, majority rule is best to pick presidents, and the reason we “substituted electors” was because of the slave-owning southern states, not to assure that smaller states had a say in electing a president.
What we learn from this history is that the rationale for creation of the electoral college had a fundamentally disgraceful premise and is discriminatory and one which would be illegal today, and should be abolished.
Finally the Electoral College is in tension with a strong and fundamental democratic ideal … and one that is otherwise generally endorsed throughout this country, and that is the idea of one person, one vote. The Electoral College ends up counting votes unequally depending on where they’re cast. That is at totally at odds with a modern democratic sensibility of counting all votes equally.
When it comes to governors, we count all votes equally, and if the election is close, we recount all votes carefully. This is how we do it in every one of the 50 states. And the governor analogy is useful because governors are, in effect, mini presidents. They typically have four-year terms and veto pens and pardon pens, and in no state do we have a mini–Electoral College picking the governor, and there is no justifiable rationale for selecting our president in such a manner.
One further note; the argument in favor of the Electoral College speaks to the relative power of the states, underlining the concern of the so-called slave states which without the College and because of the 3/5ths count would have less power. But, that ignores the true objective of voting which  is responding to the will of a majority of the people, not the power of the states.
Bernard P. Friel, Mendota Heights
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