Minneapolis bridges falling down

In my line of work, I’m paid to create metaphors. I work for a company that produces large events and meetings for national corporations.  If a company is poised to have a huge sales year, we might suggest a theme such as “Blast Off!” using space, flight or rocketry as a metaphor for the improved sales climate.  

On the other hand, if a company is coming off of a disappointing year, we might suggest within our creative treatment the exhortative phrase, “To a Higher Ground!,” as a means of rallying the troops to prepare for the challenging year ahead. Our proposed set design, logo design, supporting graphical and visual elements, and content phrases would employ grand staircases, mountain climbing, or extreme sports as the appropriate representational metaphor.

Having done this for years, I’ve fallen into the habit of looking at individual incidents as being representational of trends on a larger scale. I found it meaningful when a seemingly-happy family Christmas photo depicted the mother to the side of the frame while the father and daughters were clustered together. Within months — perhaps predictably — divorce proceedings were underway. I recently picked up a children’s chapter book from a park bench. It was water-soaked, having been left there prior to an afternoon rain. It, to me, was not just a forgotten item. It was a metaphor for the neglected state of reading by children in our society.

And so, when a bridge falls down within our community, I can’t help but examine the symbolism of this tragedy.

Those who have been denying additional funding for transportation and transit needs were very quick to say, “Let’s not use this tragedy to push unnecessary legislation.”  Huh? Come again?  

A bridge falls down and we don’t want to look for the reasons behind it? I can somewhat buy the “let’s-not-use-a-tragedy” argument when it has to do with attempting to connect the tenuous dots between a perceived cause and an effect, say between violent song lyrics and real-world violent acts.

But a falling bridge is a different matter altogether. It doesn’t have the levels of complexity that artistic violence in America embodies. There aren’t six degrees of separation between a lack of appropriate funding and a crumbling infrastructure. There are two. Improper funding equals poor maintenance equals, well, eventual failure and, worse, collapse. Connecting the dots in this case involve very few ambiguities or complexities.

We currently have a governor who has achieved national prominence based on his pledge to have a working, functional government without having to ever consider raising taxes.  And guess what? That simplistic slogan of his — “No new taxes!” — was wrong. He gambled and lost.

He appointed Carol Molnau to head up a critical Minnesota department, the Department of Transportation. Rather than fighting for more funds for her department in the form of a gas tax, she actually fought for fewer funds.  

We haven’t seen such a cynical appointment since James Watt was appointed Secretary of the Interior or John Bolton as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Molnau’s lack of leadership and foresight was more costly than frustrated drivers in bumper-to-bumper traffic. For 13 Minnesotans, that lack of foresight was deadly.

And so, our fallen bridge will be with us for years as a symbol of several things: a failed government, an unwillingness to consider all options when putting together a state budget, an unwillingness to invest in infrastructure and growth, and an unwillingness by state legislators to properly invest in Minnesota’s largest city.

And, so, to those who refused to support a gas tax, for those who vetoed the gas tax, and for those who refuse to consider a tax increase as a viable option for conducting state business, let me introduce another powerful metaphor: the act of falling on one’s sword.

Glenn Miller shares this column with his wife, Jocelyn Hale. They live in Fulton.