Before opening the event up to questions, Armstrong talked to the students about the nation’s deepening political divide, noting that urban areas are becoming increasingly liberal, while rural areas are growing more conservative.
“Whatever deeply held belief anybody in this room has, 50% of the county disagrees with you,” Armstrong told his young audience, adding that didn’t mean 50% of the country is dumb or evil.
“It means 50% of the country has a different world view,” Armstrong said, telling the students that the generation that came before them had failed them when it came to maintaining civility in political discourse.
To correct that situation, Armstrong challenged the students to be disciplined when expressing their views on social media.
“Your second golden rule is always, and should always be: If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it with a post,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong speaks to students at West Fargo Sheyenne High School on Thursday, April 1, 2021.
David Samson / The Forum
Armstrong also stressed that when it comes to the power of social media, it is up to young people like those in his audience to make sure such power is used to strengthen public discourse, not shut it down.
“It’s your job to figure out how we utilize really, really great technologies in a better, more responsible way,” Armstrong said, adding that one way to do that is to remain open to hearing opposing points of view.
“You will be better by talking to smart people you disagree with,” Armstrong said, adding: “We should attack ideas and not people.”
The question-and-answer period opened with a student asking Armstrong what measures states and the nation as a whole should take to protect members of the LGBT community.
“We should, first of all, be nice. It always starts there. Everyone deserves the right to be treated with respect,” Armstrong said.
But, Armstrong said, when it comes to government action such issues are better addressed at the state and local level.
When a student suggested he had dodged the question, Armstrong replied that the federal government cannot legislate good hearts and trying to do so “is a terrible way to do policy.”
On the subject of climate change, Armstrong said it has become a major political topic, primarily because many voters under the age of 30, regardless of party affiliation, feel passionate about it.
Armstrong noted that while “we want to lower our carbon emission,” he added that too often the conversation about climate is based on winning elections and “outsourcing our guilt.”
After the event, Armstrong said he understood that not every audience member he talks to will agree with what he has to say, particularly when that audience is made up of high school seniors.
But that’s fine with him.
“They challenge you and it’s great,” Armstrong said.
Megan Homuth, a social studies teacher at Sheyenne High School, said she and fellow teachers were excited for their students to hear from a member of the state’s Congressional delegation.
“We’ve just wrapped up our unit on the Legislative Branch, so this couldn’t be more perfect timing,” she said.