My Point of View: Hagedorn comments on suicide disheartening

Published 7:55 pm Monday, September 23, 2019

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

 

Jim Hagedorn demonstrates again and again that he is unfit to be our congressman. He is a hard right politician representing a swing district that he barely won by 1,300 votes.

Despite the split nature of his constituency, he chooses to speak divisively — like the Washington bureaucrat-by-day, unrepentantly uncivil partisan blogger-by-night he once was — instead of diplomatically to a broad audience.

At his latest town hall in Winona, in the context of questions about gun violence and gun suicides, Hagedorn said, “I don’t believe in suicide. I think it’s terrible. My religious background tells me if you kill yourself, you go to hell. It’s a bad thing.”

What?

First, it’s a near certainty that in a crowd of constituents, somebody has lost a close friend or relative to suicide and would feel the impact of that statement personally.

Second, he’s repeating an outdated religious teaching. While some Christian laity still believe it, it’s out of step with most denominations today, including the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, in which Hagedorn was raised.

Third, religious teachings have changed largely because of a better understanding of psychology and mental illness, including the torment of clinical depression and PTSD.

Fourth, family survivors of suicide need grief support, not the burden of stigma. When we know better, we do better. We increase our capacity for empathy and extend compassion. Perhaps Hagedorn has not kept up with changes, or he rejects new evidence in favor of old beliefs. Regardless, by sharing the antiquated religious belief that suicide victims “go to hell” in a public forum, Hagedorn hurt many people. It was a terrible and needless unkindness.

Fifth, over 700 people lost their lives to suicide in Minnesota in 2017. It’s a problem that affects Greater Minnesota disproportionately, due to factors such as social isolation, inadequate access to mental health services and availability of guns. Hagedorn’s constituents are more vulnerable to suicide because many of them live in rural areas, some of them in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas.

Sixth, the number of farmers who commit suicide is disproportionately high for their small share of the population, and it has risen as farm income has declined and financial stress has contributed to anxiety and depression. Farm income dropped 50% between 2013 and 2016, and has not recovered. Trump’s trade war with China and his ethanol waivers for giant oil companies’ refineries has reduced markets for corn and soybeans that farmers grow in our area. Depressed farm income is eating away at farmers’ bottom lines and their hearts.

Seventh, veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide than civilians. In 2015, nearly 21 veterans a day died by suicide, on average.

Look back at the Mr. Conservative blogs that Hagedorn infamously penned. He scrubbed them when he first began running for Congress, but the internet has a long memory. For example, in 2002, Hagedorn celebrated the eventual defeat of Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee from wounds he suffered in Vietnam, with the send-off, “adios, half-soldier.”

Yes, Hagedorn, who never joined the military, thought it was funny to use that line from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” about a veteran who took a grenade while serving our country. Hagedorn is proudly and heartlessly “anti-PC.”

In 2010, in his failed bid for the Republican endorsement for the 1st District seat, he observed, “Some of the votes pledged to me decided to go with Jim (Engstrand) on the first ballot, as an emotional response to his recent service in Iraq.”

Thus, when Hagedorn thanked veterans for their service at the beginning of his Albert Lea town hall, it sure sounded more like pandering than gratitude. He obviously doesn’t think much of the service of veterans who disagree with him or get in his way. And now we know that Hagedorn thinks that veterans who commit suicide receive eternal damnation.

Hagedorn doesn’t seem to have changed much from his “Mr. Conservative” days if he still thinks it’s OK to tell constituents that people who commit suicide go to hell. The 1st District deserves better representation.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.