ND Has a Lot of Social Distance

While most people have been badmouthing the coronavirus, I am trying to look on the positive side. This hope that we will bounce back the better is unfounded. We need to search for the good side of the virus attack. So far, there are two positives, pun not intended.

If North Dakota plays its cards right, the requirements of “social distance” (six feet apart) can be a greater financial boon than the billions of tons of lignite coal under western North Dakota, most of which will not be mined.

Lots of social distance

North Dakota has a huge surplus of social distance. Throughout most of our history, social distance has been our cross to bear. Upon our founding, we advertised in Europe for immigrants who wanted social distance. Some came, found too much and went back. Not a fjord in the place!

Because of social distance, highways have been a challenge. So has it been a burden on the railroads. When I was tax commissioner, a railroad tax man, arguing for a lower property tax assessment, said that “we would just as soon North Dakota wasn’t here… all we want to do is get to Seattle.”

2,673,271 per person

Before we had a population in northwestern North Dakota, counties without residents were mapped out to make the European investors believe we were a booming place. It was embarrassing.

To implement social distance, each person needs 36 square feet. There are 27,878,400 square feet in a square mile.

Rounding out the state’s square miles to 70,000, we get 1,951,488,000,000 square feet. Dividing this by an estimated population of 730,000 gives us 2,673,271 square feet for person. (Okay, do your own figuring.)

Anyway you do it will bring you to the conclusion that we have a fabulous surplus of social distance. In this virus crisis, New York is sadly in need of social distance.

Deal of the century

This is the time to make the deal of the century – trade our social distance for stock in the Brooklyn Bridge for which there has never been a serious buyer. We need to conclude this hot deal before Wyoming wakes up.

The second positive growing out of the virus pandemic is a pleasant surprise: we are becoming a community in which people demonstrate care for each other – even if only for a couple of weeks.

Over the past few decades, our country has been sliding into a contentious collection of selfish individuals, corporations and groups. Polarization, we call it. The hate between Democrats and Republicans was growing more bitter election after election.

Practicing community

Today, we see an army of service and medical workers endangering their lives by their heroic response to the crisis. Some companies are going into debt to keep their employees on the payroll. Money is flowing into a variety of charitable organizations. Neighbors are helping neighbors they never liked.

Much of the rancor is gone. Many Americans have put their selfish hates aside.

Unity is back

President Trump has dubbed this a war. The mood in the country is pretty much as it was in World War II. The President is too young to remember World War II but it found Americans sharing and sacrificing in unity in the battle for democracy.

When this virus crisis is over, will we see more community or will we go back to pre-virus days and pick up our hate where we left it? Or do we begin to realize that we need more community and less self-centeredness?

This may be our chance to change direction.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.


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