The Long Way Home June 17 2022

Some 20 years ago, at our local newspaper in Grand Marais, the intrepid news reporter Miss Vicki Biggs reported on the machinations of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. When the county board elected a new chairman one year, Miss Vicki thought it would be nice to have him stop by the office for a visit to meet and build a relationship with the editor, me.

So one morning we met at my office. Mr. Chairman, a lifelong resident of Cook County and committed public servant seemed cordial enough. A handshake, a greeting, an offer of coffee. Then we sat down to chat. To my surprise, almost right away, the Chairman looked at me and said, quite seriously, “The problems in Cook County are all your fault.”

Really? The newspaper, or I, or both are responsible for all the problems here? A shocking statement that I didn’t see fit to argue about. It was his opinion, even though it was utterly and obviously wrong. No amount of discussion would change it. We moved on to talk about other things.

Despite the crowing of the so-called talk shows on cable channels and the forums on social media, not every opinion needs a rebuttal. Most of the time, in fact, it makes more sense to bite your tongue or keep your fingers off the keyboard when someone’s opinion gets you on the defensive. Contain the rage and maybe learn something.

I wonder what that sincere county commissioner who thought the newspaper was the source of this communities troubles would think of social media. The issues that are current and persistent in Cook County, food trucks, zoning variances, housing, and tourism are sometimes discussed on specific community forums, primarily on Facebook.

Discussed may be an overstatement. Well-meaning people present their opinions, and then attempts are made to debunk a selected point or position by a cadre of usual suspects who seem to want to dominate any discussion. Worse, they often question an opinion poster's motives, commenting on literally every post in an argumentative tone. A moderate statement about wanting “the good old days” can make these people accuse the poster of being “Anti Tourism” or “Anti Progress.”

My favorite part of newspapers is always the Letters to the Editor section. Sometimes sappy and sometimes controversial, the letters come from real people with real opinions. Sometimes I agree with them, often I do not. But I always admire the courage and strength of character of those letter writers willing to put their name to an opinion, even when I disagree. And I always whisper thanks that the rebuttals to come in the next edition will have to pass a real editor to see the light of day.

In a recent Facebook “debate” on overtourism in Cook County, any suggestion that tourism growth should be managed differently saw every opinion, and its author labeled ANTI tourism. They aren’t much for nuance, this crew.

But it reminded me of this quote:

“It’s like watching a debate about how best to drive a car with no brakes. And the only idea that is off-limits is fixing the brakes.”