tom prigg

Tom Prigg

A recently published study reported that Washington, D.C., is more partisan today than it was during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War. We don’t need a study to tell us that politics have become increasingly more divisive.

In the past year, the country has witnessed multiple protests consisting of hundreds of thousands of people speaking out against gender, race, religious and LGBTQ inequality. We’ve had tens of thousands of scientists marching in the streets to protest cuts to scientific funding and the growing distrust of scientific results.

Nationally, the wedge between our political ideologies has expanded from a split to a gaping chasm. It is this divide that a recent Politico article tried to exploit.

In the article, “Johnstown Never Believed Trump Would Help. They Still Love Him Anyway,” Michael Kruse of Politico paints the people of Johnstown as too dumb to realize they’ve lost everything. Moreover, they have no chance to recover due to their blind faith in the empty promises of President Donald Trump.

The article was a cliché piece of myopic journalism that fed into the nation’s prejudice about people who live in small towns and rural areas, which then spread across the nation like wildfire through social media. Kruse questioned a few Trump supporters he interviewed previously, and then generalized their quotes to project their beliefs onto the entire Johnstown community. The result was a slanted, agenda-driven piece filled with misinformation.

As a Democrat running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 12th district, which includes Johnstown, I have met a lot of people from the area. However, unlike Kruse’s three-day visit to speak to the same six Trump supporters he had already interviewed, I’ve been running for office for 10 months. Although I have met people similar to those featured in the Politico article, the majority are far from what Kruse described.

As stated in the article, Johnstown is a blue-collar community, but the people of Johnstown are also diverse, thoughtful and aware of the current state of affairs. They are ready to do the hard work of rebuilding the town they love and call home and are ready to hold politicians accountable when they aren’t helping to get it done.

I’ve been told that Johnstown is Trump country – a lost area of red that will never come back. This is not true. Johnstown didn’t go for Trump in the presidential election; Hillary Clinton won the majority of the votes, even if it was by a slim 1 percent.

This Politico article, like others, would have its readers believe that small towns and rural areas are filled with desperate, uncultured Klansmen living in caves. But the facts don’t back up this narrative.

Johnstown just elected two African-American residents to its city council. The town has its own symphony and three museums –  the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, The Johnstown Flood Museum and the Heritage Discovery Center.

Johnstown is the home of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, which enrolls about 3,000 students. There are multiple community groups – such as Revitalize Johnstown, We Will Recover 2017, Talk up Johnstown, Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies, NAACP of Johnstown, and Indivisible Johnstown – working together to address known issues.

The problem with the Politco article was that its only agenda was to blame Trump supporters for the challenges facing the city. This only helps to widen the ever-increasing political gap. Assigning blame does not provide the solutions needed to move us forward.

It won’t help children who will lose medical coverage once their CHIP benefits are taken away, improve the quality of our schools, bring back good-paying union jobs such as the one that Pam Schilling, one of Kruse’s interviewees, once had.

The story does nothing for the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day, and it won’t fix rising health-care costs that push more of our citizens into bankruptcy every year.

The only thing it accomplished was to reinforce a national prejudice against people who live in small towns and rural areas. The article failed to acknowledge the many good people who are proud of their homes and are working hard to make their towns and communities better places. 

Articles such as this, written out of anger and frustration about all-too-common struggles facing many communities across the country, are plentiful in today’s political climate.

As readers, we can sympathize with the journalists’ sense of powerlessness in our current state of affairs. We can perhaps understand their instinct to point fingers and lash out as a way to feel proactive, and possibly to define themselves as “not part of the problem.” 

But Johnstown understands that hate, and blame will not lead it to where we want to be.

Residents know that the challenges facing their community will only be solved by working together. 

Johnstown recognizes that actions need to be taken by families, neighborhoods, schools and all levels of government for the town to reach its full potential. Anger and frustration brought on by the slow pace of change is a natural response, but Johnstowners recognize that energy must be redirected to rebuild their community, not tear it down.  Hate will do nothing to help us tomorrow; it will only keep us from making progress today.

Our priority as a nation should be to move past our differences. That is why I am running for Congress. We need to focus on where we can come together. We need to identify and embrace our shared values (which are far more numerous than the social consensus may believe), and move forward from there.

Our current leadership appears more focused on division rather than unity. This has to change, and I know the residents of Johnstown agree. Towns such as Johnstown have been ignored by the political elite for too long.

Its residents are looking for strong leaders who will focus on providing solutions to lift up the community and improve the well-being of not only their lives, but the lives of all Americans.

Tom Prigg of Pittsburgh, a Democratic candidate for the 12th Congressional District, is a research associate at Carnegie Mellon University.

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