A closed Mom and Pop business and its message to Washington
© Salena Zito

PITTSBURGH- Since the late 1990’s, the family who owned and ran this Texaco gas station tried everything to remind the glut of suburban traffic that passed them every day to get to their well manicured homes outside the city limits the importance of shopping local.

Before everyone escaped to the suburbs to live, this filling station served it’s city neighbors well.

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The plea of enticing specials, reminders to support small businesses and inspirational sayings etched out on a blackboard in white chalk that jutted along the two lane highway began long before shopping local became a catch phrase.

The family did everything right. The men who worked the gas station wore the traditional crisp Texaco uniforms with their names spelled out over their left pocket. They offered to fill your tank or you could self serve. They had a small convenience store and mechanic on duty. The service was pleasant, their location was convenient, yet the cars passed them every-day and rarely stopped.

Their customer base, who they had served for over thirty years had moved on — they had moved out of the city and preferred to have their gas and their car maintenance done closer to home.

Despite doing everything right, everything by the book, the world had passed them by.

Sometime over the last few months, the gas station closed; weeds now jut out from every crack in the asphalt. Along the flower beds once meticulously cared for by the wife of the owner, stones from the highway clog the planters. Cobwebs drape across the gas pumps and the glass paned garage doors, where overheated cars and flat tires were repaired with care and a smile.

The only trace of who this family was, who tried their best to live the American dream through hard work and determination, is a lonely sign on the side of the building that reads:

“When you buy from a small Mom business, you are NOT helping a CEO buy a third vacation home. You ARE helping a little girl get dance lessons, a little boy get his team jersey, a Mom put food on the table, a Dad pay a mortgage, or a student pay for college.

Our customers are our shareholders-and they are the ones we strive to make happy.

Thank you for supporting small businesses!”

American politics has become reflective of our economic displacement that has been building in this country for over ten years. It’s not something that has happened over night, it is not something that has happened to just one type of business or industry. It’s impact has had no set pattern.

Americans have responded by wildly swinging their support behind both parties, in the hopes that one of them would hear their voice and listen. They took the power away from the Republicans in 2006, and replaced them with moderate House and Senate representation in that year’s wave elections.

They upped their trust in the Democrats by giving Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocratic governors fizzle in presidential race Obamas reportedly buying Martha's Vineyard mansion Trump has 62 percent disapproval rating in new AP poll MORE a landslide victory in 2008, opting to give that party power in all three governing bodies, with the hopes they would hear their concerns and do better than Bush and his majority Republicans did for eight years.

They were wrong — Obama and the Democrats did the same thing that Bush and the Republicans did; over-reach. After less than 2 years in power, the Democrats were overthrown by the Republicans in a historic way, and regained control of the House.

It was not that voters like Republicans so much more. It’s just that the Democrats didn’t understand what the voters wanted them to do, or even worse, didn’t care, and did what they wanted to do because, ‘they know our own best interests’ better than us.

Two reasons remain why that wave did not continue and impact Obama in 2012. His team did a remarkable job of telling white working class Democrats that essentially he’s not great for them, but neither was Romney, suppressing any reason for that voter to show up, while he kicked his base in gear to win.

By 2014, voters were still unsatisfied with Obama, and they gave the Republicans a bigger majority in the House, as well as finally giving them the majority in the Senate They increased their historic down ballot dominance in the off-year elections of 2015, and currently hold the majority of elected offices in a number that has not been seen since the 1920’s.

When a country has a series of wave election cycles such as what we've seen in recent years, no pundit should have missed the movement that has emerged in this election cycle. Populism is energy, it is not ideology, and it is always directed at the status quo. And for the first time in over 100 years, it has been felt across both sides of the aisle.

It is against all things big, it is against party brand and it wants to be heard.

The Republicans, for good or bad, have placed their populist candidate at the top of their ticket. Like him or not, Donald J. Trump got there fairly, and by a large amount through a series of primary contests.

His presence has caused an open blood bath between him and true conservatives who cringe at his lack of conservative principles, values and reforms. Whether he wins or not, he has begun the realignment of a political party which is probably a good thing.

To stay fresh, connected and in touch with the people they represent, a little shake-up is good for a party. It’s not pretty, but in the end it is good, because it creates the opportunity to begin again. No one, not even a political party, can achieve great heights without experiencing great lows.

The Democrats have shoved their problem to the side effectively. Their progressive movement mess is less visible to the naked eye, but if you paid the least bit of attention to what was happening on the convention floor last week in Philadelphia, you would know all is not well.

Not only were boos and large silent protests conducted during almost every person’s speech except Katy Perry, Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard hits DNC over poll criteria for debates The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Keystone XL Pipeline gets nod from Nebraska Supreme Court MORE delegates were literally separated from Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats ABC chose a debate moderator who hates Trump MORE delegates to make room for donors and family members of Hillary delegates.

The entire Sanders Pennsylvania delegation arrived to their seats on the convention floor, only to find they were gone. In seeming coordination, the Clinton delegates arrived early with donors and family members in tow sitting in their seats. The Bernie delegates were placed across the aisle with Arkansas.

Effective in the moment, but to a person, none of the Sanders delegates said at that moment that they would do anything to help Clinton in the fall.

In each and every election since 2006, Americans keep sending Washington a message and Washington keeps misreading it.

In the same span of time, the owners of the gas station kept sending their neighbors a message, and those neighbors kept misreading it.

Last week, a man and his family pulled into the gas station and was surprised to find it closed, “I kept meaning to stop here on the way home, but other things got in the way,” he said.

He read the sign and sighed, “They kept telling us we need you, and we kept thinking we’ll get there soon, they will always be around,” he explained.

Hard to tell if Washington has learned it’s lesson yet — we won't know until January of next year. But the party that starts to rebuild now, rather than later, with a clear message and solutions, will likely emerge the real winner.  

Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. Contact her at szito@tribweb.com.
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