Detroit Discourse Takes a Turn for the Better

Nolan Finley's column used to be the toughest part of my Sunday morning. Part of my weekend ritual is catching up with the Detroit media, and in the interest of walking the talk I give my political science students, I read the editorial pages of both the Detroit News and Free Press weekly, since it's one way to try and understand more than one side to any issue.

In the past, I rarely agreed with either paper, but reading Nolan Finley's editorials in the News was a particular exercise in discipline, since each week seemed to be a helping of extremely conservative views that struck me as far from reality, and far from helpful in advancing public discourse.

Then my December 15 newspaper showed up.

In a piece that is still generating discussion in business and government circles, Mr. Finley expressed his alarm at the lack of African-Americans involved in the re-birth of Detroit. From the chic midtown restaurants to the new leader seminars, he warns that the city must avoid becoming "one for the upwardly mobile young and white denizens of an increasingly happening downtown, and the other for the struggling and frustrated black residents trapped in neighborhoods that are crumbling around them."

After reading this, my eyes glanced to the top of the page, to make sure I was reading The Detroit News.

The same thing happened this past week, when Mr. Finley addressed the thorny problem of gun owners who were openly carrying guns and ammunition into schools. His past writing made it clear he was a strong advocate for the Second Amendment, so I once again had to check the byline when I read "It's extraordinarily naive and perhaps narcissistic -- maybe moronic is a better word -- to stroll into a school toting a rifle and expect to be treated to a warm welcome." As a teacher, I've long been concerned about the presence of guns in schools; I just never expected Nolan Finley to feel the same way.

When I re-read each of these columns (when's the last time anyone did that with a newspaper story), I was particularly surprised by the principled pragmatism Mr. Finley offered in support of his conclusions. Far from abandoning his conservative principles, Mr. Finley advocates for a sharing of Detroit's new riches from the concept of fairness and experience. Common sense, he argues, tells us that those who have long lived in a downsizing city deserve some benefit for holding the fort down; history tells us of the devastation that brings everyone down when that doesn't occur.

The same is true for Mr. Finley's piece on open carry, where he argues that common sense needs to dictate gun behavior before new legislation does. "When people get uncomfortable" he writes, "they push for laws to restore their comfort level." In calling for greater self-restraint, Mr. Finley isn't abandoning his commitment to the right to bear arms. Rather, he is strengthening it.

It's exciting to see this call for middle ground because it is so lacking in public discourse. Too many generations have been raised on the Jerry Springer method of debate, where each side flings chairs at one another while holding to their position in the name of principle. This creates an absence of middle ground in everything from conversation to Congress, and is largely to blame for the lack of progress our country has made in a wide variety of issues.

Since compromise is the underpinning of our country's governance system, it should come as no surprise that our government doesn't work when compromise doesn't exist. What is very surprising -- and inspiring -- is when a well-entrenched party advocates for their point of view with a principled call for common sense and give-and-take. If you've forgotten what that looks like, take a look at this editorial, where the speed of Wayne County's justice system is criticized for its lack of regard for the rights of the accused. Then check the name of the paper you're reading.

There's something happening here.