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Washington Post: Is There Any Hope For Our Divided Nation? Antonio Delgado Has Some Ideas.

December 14, 2020

Wanted to be sure you had seen this opinion article by Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt which discusses his conversation with U.S. Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19) about the value of bridging our nation's divides and restoring faith in democracy. To read the piece in full, click here and see below:


Is there any hope for our divided nation? Antonio Delgado has some ideas.

By Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor

Dec. 13, 2020

Is there any hope for this hopelessly divided nation?

We can't agree on who won the presidential election. For months, Congress has failed to deliver desperately needed assistance for people suffering during a pandemic. We can't even agree on whether to wear masks — so how can we possibly come together to advance racial justice, safeguard our democracy or save the planet?

I put the question to someone who lives it every day: a young, Black Democrat who just handily won election to his second term in Congress from an Upstate New York district that is overwhelmingly White, rural and well-stocked with Republicans. To do so, Antonio Delgado carried several counties President Trump also won handily.

Who are these Trump-Delgado voters? I asked him. Do they suggest a way toward bridging the divisions?

Delgado, who unlike some politicians prefers talking about his constituents to talking about himself, reframed the question: Who are the people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and for Donald Trump in 2016?

His answer: They are people who are losing faith in the system, who desperately want change, but who have not — yet — dropped out entirely.

"The way they express their frustration with how dysfunctional and nonresponsive and broken and corrupt our democracy has become, rather than totally check out as they typically might do, is go for something that looks completely different from the status quo," he said in a telephone conversation last week. "That applied to Barack Hussein Obama — hope and change — someone to shake up this mess. And then some of those folks felt the need to go even further."

In 2020, many of them stuck with Trump, not because he had kept his promises, but because they felt connected. "The way he communicates, how directly he communicates, there's a familiarity of a sort we've never seen before in politics," Delgado said. "He's very intimately in their lives in ways we've never seen."

Delgado aimed to establish a similar level of comfort, but in a totally different way. Two years ago, in his first race, he squeaked into office, overcoming unfamiliarity and some vile, racist ads.

He spent the next two years almost fanatically focused on his district — New York's 19th, which is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined — and its concerns. He turned down almost every invitation to appear on national television while visiting any farm, hospital, volunteer fire station or town hall that would have him.

At those sessions, he listened. "I associate liberalism with that commitment to let all points of view be aired, not be dogmatic," he told me.

That didn't mean trimming his sails or pretending to agree when he didn't. He said having a positive agenda was key to not being forced on the defensive.

"If someone's talking about the Green New Deal, if I don't have my own bill, the Green Jobs and Opportunity Act, then I have to engage on their terms," he said. "If you want to talk about defund the police, well, I was a proud co-sponsor of the Justice in Policing Act, and it does not defund the police, but here's what it does do.

"I'd rather say, this is what I'm working on, no disrespect to anyone else out there."

And when deciding what to work on, Delgado said, he is hoping to build coalitions, not agendas. "I'm trying to push something that has a really good chance to land on the president's desk and become law," he said.

Engagement. Listening with respect. Arguing on substance. Working for achievable change. It begins to sound like a recipe for bridging divides in what feels like a hopelessly divided nation.

But Delgado has an incentive to appeal to voters from both parties, I pointed out. Many of his colleagues have to worry more about primary challenges. What's going to bring them on board?

"You're right, there are very red districts, there are very blue districts," he said. "But if you just want to play the game of throwing red meat to your respective base, I have to ask, are you really thinking about the country? Our constituents send us here, but at the same time, what we do affects the whole country.

"We're in a very fragile moment right now," he continued. "We have to reinvigorate people's faith in democracy. Because if we don't, it's going to get worse. . . . So my plea would be to see the greater objective and understand that this is a long road. You might not get everything you desire, but you can put it in motion, you can place the next brick. . . . You have a responsibility to the most diverse democracy the world has ever known. This is the grand experiment. . . . You have a responsibility. How do you want to manage that?"