Voters’ choice: polarizer or the problem-solvers
GLENALLEN, VA. » Listening to the conversation at Robert Jones’ Parkside Barber Shop, you’d never know we live in a deeply divided country that seems incapable of discussing everyday challenges.
Jones, a successful local entrepreneur, hosted a group of business leaders and educators here to ponder how to prepare the millennial workforce. They offered their ideas to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Democratic congressional candidate Abigail Spanberger.
Both are on the ballot Nov. 6, but the hour-and-a-half exchange on a Saturday evening didn’t sound like what we think of as politics these days.
It was all about how educational institutions at all levels — and employers themselves — could endow students with the skills to succeed and provide enterprises large and small with the well-trained labor they need to thrive. The dialogue was detailed and practical, with a “we’re all in this together” spirit.
It had nothing to do with the 2018 campaign. And it had everything to do with the 2018 campaign.
As voting approaches, President Trump is trying to drive the national dialogue toward the ethno-nationalist themes he hopes might scare voters into backing Republican candidates.
OnWednesday morning he was back to tweets about his favorite topic, the immigrant “caravans” from Central America, and charging — without any evidence — that they are “made up of some very bad thugs and gang members.”
Any normal president would be ashamed of ripping the nation apart on this issue soon after the slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The attack was unleashed by an anti-Semitic gunman who appeared motivated by the work of a Jewish group on behalf of refugees. But Trump is an abnormal — and normless — president. This is all he has.
Yet Democratic candidates aren’t taking the bait. They are insisting that the country is exhausted by acrimony, by the cries of right-wing ideologues and by the evasion of the dayto-day issues — health care, education, job training — that they believe most Americans want their politicians to grapple with.
“I think you’re more likely to pull people together in the context of solving problems,” Kaine said in an interview after the labor-force session. It’s a formula that has worked for him this year as he has built a large lead over Republican Corey Stewart. Stewart may be, as Kaine noted, one of the “most pure” Trumpian candidates on the ballot this year, given Stewart’s long-standing anti-immigrant activism.
Kaine said next week he is looking for “a wave of dignity and compassion and respect and community.”
Spanberger is a 39-year-old veteran of the CIA, and one of four Democrats in Virginia who could take a Republican seat. She faces tea party Re- publican incumbent Dave Brat. It has become a neck-and-neck race in an area where, until recently, Democrats were barely a presence.
She doesn’t bring up Trump and doesn’t have to. Should her campaign and the Democrats prevail, the victory “will be about solving problems and working with other people and working across party lines.” Citizens, she said, are tired of politicians “who are just ideologues, and trying to stop things.”
What often looks nationally like a split-level campaign is actually one campaign. Its closing days highlight the two very different approaches to politics voters confront.
The pipe bombs sent in the mail and the tragedy in Pittsburgh brought home the costs of Trump’s style of politics. Our nation is paying a steep price for leadership that knows only how to divide Americans.
The dialogue in a suburban barbershop brought together people across racial and ethnic lines to consider how to lift up the next generation. It illustrated the other way of doing politics. That’s the approach citizens have a right to expect from their leaders.
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Illinois on Saturday. Eager to focus voters on immigration in the lead-up to the midterm elections, Trump has escalated his threats against a migrant caravan trudging slowly toward the U.S. border.