Reprinted from the Quad-City Times July 22.
We shudder to think this is what the 2020 presidential election will be about.
Last week, after President Trump told four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to the countries they came from, the ensuing debate got even uglier.
We saw it in our online commentary. We saw it on cable television. We saw it on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. We saw it at the president’s rally in North Carolina on Wednesday.
Much of the argument has been over whether Trump is a racist and claims by his supporters that if critics “don’t like America” they should leave.
We should say straight away: We condemn the president’s tweets that carried an unmistakable message to people of color. Three of the four lawmakers he targeted were born in this country. Another legally immigrated here. Their country is this country.
What worries us is that this is what the 2020 presidential election will be about.
The choice of our next president should not boil down to arguments about who is the better American or who is a racist.
This does nothing to expand health care to more people and lower its cost.
It does nothing to help kids who are stuck in under-performing schools. Or who can’t get decent day care.
It does nothing to deal with the real threat that rising global temperatures present to our planet.
It does nothing to help boost the pay of a middle-aged worker who hasn’t seen a raise in years. Or whose job is being phased out and needs to be retrained.
Think about this: In the Quad-Cities, the economic recovery has been underway for a decade and we still have thousands fewer people on the job than we did before the recession started.
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How does arguing about who is a “real American” solve that problem? All it does is divide us. And it plays into the hands of those who profit by our anger at one another.
Look, we know there are major divisions in this country. But we don’t move ahead by tearing at those wounds; instead, we focus on what moves all of us forward.
Last week, we were fortunate to see a number of presidential candidates in the Quad-Cities. Judging by the news accounts, the questions they faced were aimed at, among other things, bringing down the cost of prescription drugs and ensuring the long-term viability of Social Security, the safety net for tens of millions of older Americans.
This is what most of us care about.
We care about how to keep our kids safe and make sure they have the same opportunities as everyone else in this country. We care about clean water and clean air. And the ability to lead our lives with as much freedom as possible.
Iowans have had a lot of experience with presidential politics. We know that far too often campaigns motivate by stoking anger rather than optimism. And it has been made easier by being able to go online and vent at the other side without ever having to see their face.
It used to be that the campaign that steered more toward optimism than anger ended up being the winner — witness Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Now, we’re not so sure.
What we are sure of is this: If the 2020 presidential election resembles last week, it’s going to be a long and awful 15 months ahead. And it will leave us more divided than ever, if that is possible.
It is our hope that we avoid that unhappy prospect. It is our hope that this campaign is more about making sure that we have sensible trade and immigration policies — and that we seek ways to stop the school shootings that break our hearts.
We think the candidate who is the most successful at addressing these issues stands the better chance of winning the White House.
Along the way, that candidate also just might help hold this country together.