By Catherine Conlan
I went to the Trump rally last week (here’s hoping I don’t end up getting more than I bargained for). It didn’t offer anything unexpected or unusual, and beyond the historic moment of seeing a sitting president in person for the first time, it was a little sad and boring. I was mainly interested to see how Pete Stauber, regularly described as an everyman, worked with Trump.
Turns out, the sitting congressman from the district Trump was visiting didn’t speak during Trump’s time here. But it’s clear from Stauber’s words and actions that he supports Trump and Trump’s policies. As such, is he really the best representative we can get for our area?
In running for reelection in the Eighth, Stauber likes to talk about “our way of life,” including as a hashtag on Twitter. The phrase is a homey one, meant to conjure visions of fishing, hunting, maybe a little snowmobiling in the winter — if you live that way of life.
But there are other ways of life, too. Some people in the 8th gather rice. Some play a lot of video games. People hike, knit, zone out, work three jobs. Some bike to work, some drive, some don’t work at all. But no matter what, every person in CD8 is a member of a community, and whatever their way of life is, it’s a valid one, as long as it’s not hurting someone else.
“Our” is meant to sound inclusive. But like all populist terms and tactics, it divides more than it unites. If there is a we, there must be a them. If the politician runs on “we,” their opponent is automatically “them.”
It’s the laziest of culture-war tactics, and an effective one. Voters can project quite a few things onto a politician who runs on such a tactic, which is why populism — the idea that there are “real” parts of a nation, state or community, and those that are “fake,” “elite,” “outsiders” — is such a draw across the political spectrum.
And running on a populist catchphrase makes it easy to not have to say much of anything — voters hear the phrase, read themselves in it, and move on without examining it. But when you dig a little deeper — or if the candidate doesn’t get more specific than campaigning on feel-good phrases — that’s where thing can get tricky for them.
Are Trump’s policies and actions — the ones Stauber supports — really our way of life?
• The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) came up for a vote in the House earlier this year. It was meant to eliminate some of the barriers to union organizing that workers face and increase penalties for employers who try to get in their way. Stauber voted against it. If what Stauber stands for is #OurWayOfLife, does that include allowing employers to bust unions more easily, to intimidate workers trying to organize, to classify more workers as independent contractors who don’t have the right to bargain collectively?
• Stauber reportedly flew on Delta knowing he had been in contact with someone with coronavirus. Does your way of life include putting others in danger without apprising them of the risks?
• At the rally Stauber attended, Trump bellowed that the “radical left will shut down the Iron Range forever.” People from across the political spectrum — and those who don’t follow politics at all — know that when the mines are working full-blast, it’s good for Minnesota. Are scare tactics part of our way of life?
• Standing in front of Stauber and other Republican candidates, Trump trotted out his usual contempt for refugees and immigrants, stoking hearty boos from the crowd. He decried the refugees coming from “Syria, Yemen, and your favorite country, Somalia…they’re turning Minnesota into a refugee camp, and it’s a disgrace.” Later in the evening, Trump praised the “brave, incredible people” who came to northern Minnesota to start new lives. As a transplant to the area, I have been struck by the pride the descendants immigrants take in their ancestors’ origin stories from the old country. Speak for yourself, but shutting the door on those who come after us looking for opportunity is not my way of life.
• Like all Republican politicians including Stauber, Trump is grasping for the votes of suburban women, and at the rally he lowered his voice into his scare-the-children murmur and said, “30% of the people in the suburbs are low-income people. 30% are minorities. We’re ruining this American dream for everybody.” Fear-mongering between the classes instead of fostering solidarity is not my way of life, and I’m hoping it’s not yours, either.
Minnesota is a big place. The ways of lives we have in CD8 look different for each of us. The narrow, limited vision that Stauber has for the district under Trump is simply wrong for CD8, and Trump is wrong for America.
Stauber’s ‘our way of life’ rhetoric doesn’t hold up
By Catherine Conlan