Which candidate do you think can ease the hatred across the nation?
The main campaign strategy of Donald Trump is to cement his base while luring suburban voters by convincing them that without him, the disorder on the streets will reach their own communities. Actually, it is much more likely that our streets across America will have a different kind of disorder, similar to the event I witnessed over the holiday weekend.
Mattituck is a small town around 90 miles east of Manhattan on the north fork of Long Island. It is home to some 4,000 people and marked by farm stands, victorian homes, old churches, and antique shops. It is so faithful to a pastoral aesthetic that the local fast food chain restaurant can easily be mistaken for a farm house. For political junkies, Mattituck is in the first district of New York, the seat held by Republican stalwart Lee Zeldin then was formerly represented by Democratic stalwart Tim Bishop. The area went for Barack Obama twice, then went for Trump in 2016.
At the center of Mattituck is Love Lane, a block that features a restaurant, gourmet deli, several boutiques, a hardware store, a vacant bank building, and a post office that was the site of a recent war. My wife and I biked into town over the weekend to mail letters. Standing alone in front of the post office was an older woman named Pat who held a sign that read, “Defend our postal service. Defend our right to vote by mail safely.”
When I emerged from the building, I saw a man haranguing her over her sign. My wife and I stayed nearby, offering her our moral support. When the man claimed that the only reason Democrats support mail voting is because of this corrupt conspiracy to enrich Nancy Pelosi, I then asked where he heard that. He replied, “You must be a Democrat.”
Another man stormed into the debate howling, “Democrats are a bunch of socialists!” He was elderly with white hair and thick arms. Most of the folks around us rolled their eyes or grumbled. Then he revealed what lays in the pits of the stomachs of many of the most ardent supporters for Trump. He said, “Some of us work hard. Why should things be equal?”
The subtext was that some people do not work hard and do not deserve equality. It turns out that line for the Declaration of Independence about equality was some kind of antifa slogan. When one bystander asked why Trump mocks our military, the man turned red and screamed profanities then “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!” as he stormed away.
What really gets me is that the anger was triggered by a respectable older woman standing alone in front of a post office simply advocating for more voting access. Those two men, however, view it differently. They view dark forces that will deny Trump his rightful second term. They view the fueling conspiracy behind every headline, even the ludicrous claim that somehow Pelosi wants more voting access so she can line her wallet.
Over the weekend, I had the chance to read “Twilight of Democracy” by Anne Appelbaum. She characterizes the impulses of people like the two men on Love Lane. They believe “they deserve to rule” as they churn on the belief that “the system is unfair.” Meanwhile, Trump affirms their gut suspicions with almost every tweet. He has convinced them Democrats are not only people of another party but existential threats.
If Joe Biden wins the election, they will think it was stolen and protest in fury. There will be many on the left who will feel the same if Trump wins. Either way, places like Love Lane will be filled with hatred. The president now sets us toward a modern civil war when the country needs healing. Here is my question. Who do you think has the greater desire of the two candidates to calm the anger in the streets across America?
Steve Israel represented New York in the House over eight terms and was chairman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can follow his updates @RepSteveIsrael.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.