Sunday, March 26, 2023

OPINION: Political and cultural uniformity is an ugly goal

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| February 1, 2023 1:00 AM

Maybe we’ve been looking at the turmoil at North Idaho College all wrong.

In "To Kill a Mockingbird," Atticus Finch said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Imagine you’re a conservative transplant from a liberal state. You just moved to Coeur d’Alene, a place that you believe embraces your personal values, your personal religion and your personal politics. And it’s one of the most naturally beautiful places in America to boot!

After years of feeling like an outsider, you move to Idaho and finally find comfort among “your” people.

Then, amid all this joy and relief, you are told by an aggrieved politician that one of your town’s largest employers and a beacon of the community doesn’t neatly fit the conservative mold. You are told that “your” community college, paid for with “your” tax dollars, does not always reflect your values.

At the Jan. 18 North Idaho College Board of Trustees meeting, one community member said, “NIC belongs to the community of Kootenai County. The good of the college is that it teaches in conformity to the values of this community. Voters have spoken quite clearly in recent elections, including this last one.”

Climbing into their skin, we see these supporters of NIC’s disruptive board majority might be experiencing political PTSD. Unthinkably, a part of their political utopia, supported by all our tax dollars (Red and Blue alike), could partially resemble the liberal place they just left behind.

We as Democrats can empathize with this perspective better than one might imagine. It would be refreshing for us, if we too could live in a place where our views were widely embraced. We are, after all, in the minority in Kootenai County, and we know it.

But here is one crucial difference: Democrats are a coalition party. We embrace diverse ideas in competition with one another. Oddly enough, we are the North Idaho party that favors an open market for competitive ideas and points of view.

This embrace of diverse ideas in competition with one another also makes Democrats strong advocates for higher education.

Like any prestigious institution of higher learning, North Idaho College allows, and even encourages, diverse thought. In its classes students examine complex ideas of all kinds, discuss them, chew them over and then develop some sort of opinion. Diversity of thought not only matters — it is the essence of higher education.

Considering diverse perspectives tests your ideas and ultimately makes them stronger.

Anyone who has exercised, knows that having something to push against makes you stronger. Resistance builds strength and endurance. That is why Kootenai Democrats are some of the strongest people I know. They keep working so hard when our ideas are often shouted down and our political prospects are not so good.

The ability to constructively discuss things you don’t agree with is a strength — but that strength is weakened by political and cultural uniformity.

The KCRCC-backed board majority continues to push for a homogenous faculty and staff that does not consider outside opinions or unconventional lifestyles.

History teaches us that this path is dangerous and self-defeating. A community that wants every institution to be a reflection of dominant political party values should make us cringe.

Let’s examine the ugliness of cultural purity further. What’s the most prominent government in modern history that purged LGBTQ+, gypsies, Blacks and Jews?

What have we learned about cultural and regional sameness from our area’s history with the Aryan Nations?

What happens when one political party maintains unbreakable dominance?

Our nation’s founders balked at the idea of homogenous monarchical political power. They found it so ugly that our founders crafted a Constitution specifically designed around checks and balances and differences.

To those who say that NIC (from the classroom to the boardroom) should be an ideological extension of Kootenai County’s political majority, we say consider the consequences. “Climb into another man’s skin and walk around in it.”

Cultural and political diversity in our community helps us to build a more perfect Union.

• • •

Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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