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What, exactly, was wrong with Minneapolis leaders’ comments on Trump’s upcoming visit?

I politely disagree with my friends on the Star Tribune’s editorial board, who rebuked the Minneapolis mayor and city council president for being, in the board’s view, insufficiently welcoming to President Donald Trump. 

Star Tribune Opinion
MinnPost file photo by Corey Anderson

Is there such a thing as being too “Minnesota nice”?

If so, I rise to politely and civilly disagree with my friends (and former Star Tribune colleagues) on the paper’s editorial board, who spent some ink and pixels yesterday rebuking the Minneapolis mayor and city council president for being, in the board’s view, insufficiently welcoming to President Donald Trump on the occasion of his upcoming visit to our city for an Oct. 10 Target Center event.

I believe in “Minnesota nice.” I’ve lived in ruder places, I’m not squeamish or prudish and I can handle blunt talk. But I think the civil tone that is part of “Minnesota nice” is generally the way to go, even when — perhaps especially when — we are expressing our differences with someone else. I even endorse Michelle Obama’s slogan, “When they go low, we go high.”

But, within reason, the question is sometimes: How low? And how high?

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Donald Trump has lowered our national discourse to previously unimaginable depths. And while I defend his First Amendment right to be as big a jerk as he chooses, a substantial majority of the nation, as measured by various polls, is tired of his ugly act. A substantial minority is apparently not. Let freedom ring, but let’s count the votes. No cheating please.

Trump thinks he can perhaps flip Minnesota in the 2020 election. I predict he will fail, but I defend his right to try, including his right to come to Minneapolis and give a speech that will be filled with hate and lies and perhaps some lame attempts to defend himself against the latest alarming allegation of misconduct against him.

I defend the right of his admirers to attend the rally and even to chant, ridiculously, “Lock her up” if Hillary Clinton is mentioned, and to chant “fake news” about a lot of true news. I defend Trump’s right to label all true criticism and investigation of his many misdeeds as “witch hunts” and to claim “total exoneration” on various allegations of which he has most certainly not been exonerated and still stands very credibly suspected and accused, though not impeached.

I hope and, in my more optimistic moments, believe that the electorate in 2020 will send him where he belongs. And, if they don’t also thank him for his service as he departs for whatever awaits him, I will not criticize them. 

After the upcoming Minnesota visit was announced, Mayor Jacob Frey and Council President Lisa Bender made what I would call some very restrained remarks about how they felt about it. I’m willing to bet that they have said stronger things about Trump, about the discrepancy between Trump’s overall tone/message and their fundamental tone/message. Here are the remarks, as quoted in a Star Tribune news story:

“Our entire city will stand not behind the President, but behind the communities and people who continue to make our city — and this country — great,” [Mayor] Frey said. “While there is no legal mechanism to prevent the president from visiting, his message of hatred will never be welcome in Minneapolis.”

City Council President Lisa Bender echoed Frey’s statements, saying Trump’s “hate is not welcome in our community but we cannot stop the visit… I know this event will cause stress and fear — the city will do all we can, and ask for support, in keeping everyone safe.”

They didn’t need to be rebuked by a Strib editorial for a single syllable of that. I admire Frey and Bender for their restrained tone in expressing their views, and I hope the current White House incumbent will benefit from their example of how to express their apparent dislike and disapproval without lying, name-calling, race-baiting or threatening physical violence.

(Here, if you care to refresh your memory, is a 90-second video of some of the many instances of Trump encouraging violence against critics and protesters. I welcome you to compare it, in tone and substance, with the remarks of Frey and Bender.)

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But the Strib editorial that appeared yesterday rebuked Frey and Bender. The mayor, the editorial stated, “could have said they would provide security to make sure that supporters and opponents of the president are safe and that fundamental rights of free speech are upheld. He could have simply noted, as his city coordinator did, that officials are expecting protests outside Target Center. He could have added, if he felt the need, that he shares many sentiments with the president’s critics, while assuring citizens of varying views that his staff is planning for the event and coordinating with other public agencies as they did during the Super Bowl and Final Four. Instead, after the Oct. 10 rally was announced, the mayor and other city leaders implied that they’d rather the president and his supporters stay home. Frey said that while he would typically welcome a visit from a sitting president, Trump’s ‘actions have been reprehensible and his rhetoric has made it clear that he does not value the perspectives or rights of Minneapolis’ diverse communities.’”

I don’t get this. Of course, Frey could have said those things. And he and other city officials will certainly do those things. What I don’t get is why it was in any way out of line for these elected officials — who are certainly entitled to hold and express any views they choose that don’t actually encourage anyone to set fire to a crowded theater — to say what they said, which was undoubtedly sincere, on point, and fully covered by their First Amendment rights.