Glenn Thompson says he gets frustrated when pursuing programs to benefit the agriculture or energy markets but finds no room for a dialogue with certain groups in Washington.
The Republican lawmaker says many Democrats are guilty of “weaponizing climate change.”
“There’s no discussion if something’s not part of your agenda,” said Thompson, who represents the 15th congressional district, which includes much of Cambria County.
At a recent Cambria Regional Chamber gathering, he extended the “weaponizing” concept to the topic of diversity.
“Now, there are some people that want to weaponize diversity, and that just drives me nuts,” Thompson told a roomful of mostly business people at the Holiday Inn in downtown Johnstown.
The comment came during a question-and-answer session after Thompson had delivered a speech on jobs and economic development.
Thompson was asked by a young person in the audience what individuals can do daily “to better our region?”
Thompson, in a telephone interview on Friday, said he was referring to those who have accused President Donald Trump and others of racism for political gain.
“When I mean by that is when you take something as important as diversity – which should be a strength – and attempt to capitalize on it, using it strictly for scoring political points and influencing votes,” Thompson said.
“You’re doing that through division.”
Asked if he thought Trump was equally guilty of using divisive tactics to gain political ground, Thompson said: “Weaponizing is not limited to one party. Sometimes it’s based on the individual.”
At the Chamber event, Thompson did follow his “weaponize” comment by urging people to use their differences to find a positive path forward – or to set aside their harshest differences to find some common goals that can be accomplished.
“There’s folks here, we maybe have different political views, different cultural backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, whatever. I think that makes for stronger problem solving,” Thompson said.
He added: “We need to leverage diversity. That’s our strength – the strength of who we are and our ideas, maybe our political perspectives. Be willing to come to the table. You don’t have to talk about the things you disagree upon. For me, I just turn on the cable news network. I get a dose of that every time the station comes on, it doesn’t matter what the station is.
“You start with the basis of what you can agree upon, and make that the basis for cost-effective solutions.
“That’s what I would encourage. Take responsibility. Step out. Be a part of the solutions. I love home-grown solutions. They’re the best. They’re the best because they’re formulated by people who are living it. They know their community. They know what the issues are.”
Joy Cox, a Johnstown native, is an administrator with the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
She has worked with Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies and the Hope For Johnstown movement, both taking steps to improve the social and racial climate of the Cambria-Somerset region.
And through her work at Rutgers and with community groups, she has encountered the notion of diversity being “weaponized.”
“This idea of weaponized diversity, or identity politics, has been used for years – mainly as an argument by those opposing diversity and inclusion efforts,” Cox said.
“They, in turn, paint those who call them out on their resistance as the real offenders who are using diversity as a weapon against them.”
She said those who would tout “weaponized diversity” are employing a strategy similar to reverse psychology.
“Through this lens, ‘progressives’ are the real villains and those not wanting diversity or inclusion have perfectly good justifications outside of being labeled a racist, sexist, etc.,” Cox said, “even if their reasons reinforce the labels they say they are not.
“The problem with this is that people who believe this way only have this problem when the identities with which they paint themselves, or are being painted with, no longer suit their purpose for advancement.”
Alan Cashaw, president of the Johnstown branch of the NAACP, said his organization works with local schools and colleges to offer diversity inclusion programs to help students relate to one another.
“If we’re ‘weaponizing’ diversity, we’re doing it so that kids will understand the value of our differences, so that they interact with each other and know each other,” Cashaw said. “And that’s not just a black and white situation. We’re international here in Cambria County.”
He added: “We approach this from a non-violent experience point of view. If you interact with people who are different from you, you’re less likely to fear them or to have any angst about them.”
Thompson said the term “weaponize” came “from somewhere in my head” – not from a conservative strategy session.
A week removed from that Chamber gathering, he did say: “Perhaps there are better words I could have used. I acknowledge that. But I use that word to reflect the intensity of my concern about this practice of using diversity to sow division.”