Step 1 to Creating Awesome Communities? Leave National Politics Out of It.
During my multiple decades in local government, I remember countless headlines in the media that said things like:
“City Council Enacts Ordinance, Terrorist Group Crumbles.”
“County Commissioner Successfully Enacts Liberal/Conservative Agenda, County Now a Liberal/Conservative Utopia.”
Just kidding. That was sarcasm.
I’ve actually never seen anything like that, even back when there was such a thing as local media.
Yet in each election cycle, in many communities across the country we see an increasing nationalization of local politics. We see local politicians running campaigns focused on issues that fall well outside the positions they are seeking.
A poisoned brand of local political dialogue that makes it more difficult to address the threats and maximize the opportunities communities actually face.
That’s exactly what we shouldn’t do.
Avoiding the nationalization of local politics is an important part of creating communities that work, according to Atlantic writer James Fallows. From 2014-2016, Fallows and his wife toured America in their small plane, visiting communities and trying to identify the traits successful communities shared.
Fallows’ tour occurred during the hard-fought and often-bitter 2014 midterm elections, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, and of course, much of the recent presidential campaign.
And first on his list of traits that successful communities share?
A tendency to leave national politics out of the discussion. In fact, Fallows writes that national politics often didn’t come up at all in his visits to communities that are thriving.
It’s easy to see why.
Discussions about abortion, terrorism, same-sex marriage, or any one of a number of national issues automatically raise our blood pressure. They automatically cause us to simultaneously get defensive and aggressive.
And that’s okay. In fact, given that the opposite is apathy, it’s a good thing to have passionate positions and opinions on important issues. However, there is a time and place for these discussions—and that time and place is in forums and venues where we can impact those issues.
And that venue isn’t a City Council meeting.
At the local level we need to focus on what we can impact.
For example, in this region we have managed to create one of the fastest-growing startup and technology hubs in the entire nation.
Did that happen because the federal government stepped in to make it happen?
It happened because a diverse group of people, who likely held a wide variety of positions on national political issues, focused on what they could do to create a stronger local economy.
St. Charles County–where we have succeeded in moving beyond divisive national dialogue–is poised to become one of the region’s most important manufacturing hubs. Like the success of the startup movement, our ability to strengthen our manufacturing base will require us to focus on what we can accomplish locally—which is hard to do when we are all shouting at each other about issues that are outside of our control.
In this region we have an opportunity to show the rest of the country how a community can succeed in a divisive political era. The communities James Fallows visited help show us the way, and I believe we are very close to being just like the model communities he visited.
But we have work to do.
And we can start by turning off CNN or Fox News and focusing instead on a discussion about what we can do to bring the type of jobs and create the type of communities that raise the standard of living for everyone in this region.
That’s what successful communities do.
And that’s what we will do here.
Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.