Over the last several years, we have all seen an alarming increase in the coarseness of people’s words and actions. While there have always been those who seek to divide us or intentionally use inflammatory rhetoric, our national discourse has taken a troubling turn for the worse.
We have seen this first hand with disturbing comments from our opponents in our campaigns for the Minnesota House of Representatives comparing the Holocaust to measures being taken to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Julie Buria, the Republican running in District 6B (Virginia, Aurora, Eveleth and surrounding area on the Iron Range) shared a post on Facebook that used graphic images from the Holocaust to suggest that paperwork deeming employees essential during the pandemic was more dangerous than COVID-19. She initially apologized before retracting that apology, stating that she had been forced to apologize. She recently held an event with President Trump’s campaign.
Paul Brandmire, the Republican candidate in District 14B (St. Cloud) said in a July city council meeting, “I mean if we can mandate masks we can certainly mandate that any COVID-positive people wear some sort of identification badge, maybe like a bright yellow star or something on their lapel.” He refused to apologize and was later censured by his fellow City Council members. This statement fits a pattern of offensive, dog-whistle statements from Brandmire over the last few years.
These statements are ridiculous, disappointing, and exactly the type of divisive behavior that has ripped our state and country apart. Playing off of the pain and suffering of the genocide of millions of Jewish people and other victims of Nazi Germany should not be taken lightly or shrugged off. Words matter. Their excuses for their offensive language shouldn’t be tolerated. This behavior is certainly unbecoming of those seeking to represent our communities at the state capitol.
Buria and Brandmire refuse to apologize even after Jewish community groups called for action. When those affected are telling you that what you’re doing is hurting them, we would hope they would listen and believe them. We should be treating our community members with respect, not doubling down on inappropriate comments.
COVID-19 is causing significant harm to our state and country, hurting our businesses, workers, education system and worst of all, taking more than 180,000 lives from us. We can disagree on policy or the response to the pandemic, but equating measures to protect the public health to Nazis and the Holocaust is reprehensible and shows a stunning lack of empathy, historical knowledge, and judgment. It diminishes the systematic murder of two-thirds of European Jews and the real sacrifices Minnesotans and other Americans made to defeat Nazism.
We stand in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors and other communities victimized by the Nazi regime, and we need to continue to call out this unacceptable behavior when we see it.
We live in challenging times and extreme behavior does not help. We expect our opponents and all those engaging in public debate will be more respectful, thoughtful, and compassionate going forward.
State Representatives Dan Wolgamott and Dave Lislegard represent District 14B and District 6B, respectively, in the Minnesota House of Representatives.