By Justin Dahlheimer, First National Bank of Osakis president
In 1998, I remember putting on the “Retaliate in ‘98” T-shirt that my father gave me during the improbable election of Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota. As a 15-year-old, I had yet to understand the implications of a political outsider (Governor Ventura was not represented by the two major parties) coming to power in an unprecedented election victory. I did, however, understand the excitement that accompanied the improbable election of a “non-bureaucrat” to public office. My father attended the governor’s rallies and even made a large, fluorescent green sign in support of the governor.
During the 1998, election my father was in the process of a divorce from my mother — and I had to believe that the hope brought by Governor Ventura was a hope rooted in the possibilities of someone exerting change on an ineffective political system that had made many things about my father’s life more difficult or even impossible. Sounds familiar, huh? In 2016, the anticipation of President Trump’s improbable rise to power was fueled by a similar hunger for change in our political system. New voters, many of whom never believed in the system enough to cast a ballot in prior elections were motivated by his message of making America great again. Many of those voters were similar to my father in that personal circumstances gave them an excitement for something different than what they’ve grown to expect from our politicians.
Governor Ventura, just like President Trump, spent his four years in office fighting against the establishment for reforms that his constituents wanted. Much of those reforms did not occur, or had their effects significantly dampened. However, what I don’t remember during those years during and after Governor Ventura, was riots, insurrection, and the violence we are currently witnessing as a result of our political divisiveness. Could that have been a different story if Twitter existed? We will never know, but we cannot deny that the combative nature of both of them played a role in their own political ineffectiveness. There is no doubt the influence of social media, keyboard bravado, and alternative facts has since added fuel to fiery leadership.
The stark difference between the two is the manner in which Governor Ventura left office, not seeking reelection, frustrated by the media attention and lack of progress in his political revolution. Governor Ventura’s departing words included: “I lead the revolution, but at some point I turn it over to someone else.” His legacy was a group of constituents, who moved forward with the belief that our government can represent them. Since the late 1990s, my father has represented his community in a number of elected and volunteer positions. Possibly more importantly, I was witness to the empowerment and engagement my father felt from Governor Ventura’s election, which in turn inspired me to be informed and involved in politics. I just completed my four-year term on the Osakis City Council and will embark on a four-year term with our Public School Board this month.
The silver lining to President Trump’s era in politics is engagement of new people in our system of government. However, for that to produce any positive, lasting effects, it needs to be translated into action that works within that system. Discrediting our elections, storming our Capitol, and undermining our freedoms will not advance our society; the chaos will create a vacuum to something much worse.
There is a generation of children watching what we do, how we interact, and what we expect from our system of government. If Jan. 6’s attempted disruption to that system is the lasting legacy of President Trump, we are sowing discord into our future. Instead, if the choice is a new group of people running for local office, volunteering on a local board, communicating with our elected officials, and holding them accountable with their votes, the changes they want can be represented.
To this day you can drive by my father’s place and see that large, fluorescent green sign which has replaced “Retaliate in ‘98” with his sage advice of “Restart, Rethink, Catch-up.” 2020 felt like a decade, for many reasons, but 2021 presents an opportunity should we take my father’s advice and translate that excitement for change into positive interactions, better relationships, and an even better example to our next generations.
Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.