Lance Morrow: How Minnesota Went From Tom Sawyer to Huck Finn

From a Wall Street Journal commentary by Lance Morrow headlined “How Minnesota Went From Tom Sawyer to Huck Finn”:

I wrote a 1973 cover story for Time magazine that praised Minnesota as “the state that works.” The cover photograph showed Gov. Wendell Anderson, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, grinning and holding up a northern pike that he had just caught in one of Minnesota’s 12,000 lakes.

The story began with this archaic rhapsody: “It is a state where a residual American secret still seems to operate. Some of the nation’s more agreeable qualities are evident there: courtesy and fairness, honesty, a capacity for innovation, hard work, intellectual adventure and responsibility. . . . Minnesotans are remarkably civil; their crime rate is the third lowest in the nation (after Iowa and Maine).”

Almost 50 years later, I received an email from an old friend who lives in Minneapolis. He began: “Another report from the hinterland. The people of Minneapolis now share online updates of carjackings and other crimes. It would be difficult to exaggerate the extent of violent crime throughout the city. Everyone now knows someone who’s a victim. This will be a huge issue in this year’s elections.”

More than 650 people were shot in Minneapolis last year; 95 died—just short of the city’s record. There were more than 2,000 robberies. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, carjackings in the city rose 537% from November 2019 to November 2020, and then rose another 40% in the 10 months after that.

What happened? Minnesota once enjoyed a high degree of social cohesion rooted in the traditions of previous waves of immigrants. But as the region has grown and become more diverse, the Twin Cities in particular developed most of the problems that bedevil much of the rest of urban America (crime, unemployment, drugs and so on). The reasons for this are complicated and widely debated. In any case, Minnesota now ranks among the worst states in the country when it comes to racial inequality.

In 1973, there were two strong political parties in Minnesota, both centrist and in touch with the state’s voters. A profound change occurred in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, especially among the wealthy and young. They contrived to seize political power by leveraging certain idealistic or merely sentimental impulses in the public mind. It was the prospering woke who elected the progressive Minneapolis City Council that supports defunding the police, and it was those white elites who, more than her fellow Somali-Americans, elected Ilhan Omar to the House. A mostly white “meritocracy,” caring more about, say, transgender rights than about job creation, took command in Minneapolis and elsewhere in the country. Both parties have become much more ideological, controlled by angry amateurs—the woke and the antiwoke.

The woke had this unhappy fact to support them: The Minneapolis Police Department harbored an unusual number of racists and bullies. There were fatal and well-publicized encounters between police and black men that stirred rage and protest demonstrations.

The great crisis came amid the pandemic. George Floyd died in a gutter outside Cup Foods under Derek Chauvin’s knee. There was endless video of that and all that followed. (The smartphone verifies the Heisenberg principle of observation, which states, roughly, that the observing of an event alters the event itself.)

The summer of 2020 followed. Black Lives Matter emerged. The progressive mayor of Minneapolis abandoned a police precinct and allowed the mob to loot and burn it. George Floyd was declared a saint. Mr. Chauvin, damned as the devil who murdered the saint, was cast into prison. Minneapolis cops left the force in droves and the ones who remained stood down, reluctant to risk any new incident.

A similar pattern imposed itself elsewhere, until prosecutors in Democrat-ruled cities across the country (Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York) began to refuse to prosecute minority criminals—almost no matter their crime. See no evil, prosecute no evil. An age of magical thinking persuades itself to embrace many inversions of the truth—one of them being the idea that the criminal is the victim.

The left, now dominant, will pay the price. Fantasies of retaliation will play vividly in voters’ minds when they go to vote in November—just how vividly, the Democratic Party and President Biden will discover.

The difference between my 1973 story and the news reports of 2022 amounts to the difference, as it were, between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Tom gives you the boyish, innocent, sun-shot rendering of Hannibal, Mo., in the middle of the 19th century. Huck’s story is the version of America that includes poverty, murder, alcoholism, child abuse, race prejudice, blood feud and imbecility. Minneapolis today looks a little more like the Huckleberry Finn version, although without Huck’s humor or his rascal charm.

Lance Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His latest book is “God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money.”

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