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McConnell’s visit divides Danville, but only for a day

EDITORIAL

Advocate Messenger

Mitch McConnell visited Danville Tuesday, his second visit to the City of Firsts in less than two years (he previously stopped by for the Boyle County Republicans’ 2016 Christmas party).

McConnell’s field representative Stephanie Nelson was very complimentary of the Danville community for being welcoming and kind to McConnell when he visits.

The atmosphere inside the Community Arts Center was indeed congenial and respectful; the audience of around 40 gave McConnell standing applause, laughed at the occasional joke and posed for photos with the 76-year-old senior senator from Kentucky.

Outside in the heat, however, protesters stood with placards and chanted — they wanted to be heard by McConnell on the issue of immigrant parents being separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. McConnell has repeatedly avoided members of the Indivisible Danville group that organized the protest, refusing to meet with them even though they are his constituents.

There were two Danvilles on display Tuesday morning. But any other day of the year, it would be unsurprising to see some of those passionate and involved community members who were chanting on the corner of Fourth and Main working hand-in-hand with some of the passionate and involved community members who were hobnobbing and talking politics inside.

Whether or not you like McConnell, he pointed out something insightful toward the end of his visit: There has always been division and vehement disagreement among those running the country at the highest levels. He pointed to the 1856 incident when South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks literally beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane. But the general public has not always paid such close attention to the division as it does now.

In other words, what has changed is not how the U.S. government functions; what has changed is how the public functions. McConnell encouraged his audience to ignore the “noise” and trust that the U.S. government is in good shape.

It’s a great point. But McConnell can also be blamed for helping create the hypersensitive, hyper-partisan public that he criticized. In the same speech Tuesday, he touted his decision to refuse to hear President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016 as one of the most important of his career.

Blocking Garland’s nomination energized conservatives to vote and may have helped Republicans secure the presidency. McConnell not only admits it was a nakedly partisan move, he brags about it. It was done explicitly to benefit one party’s strength by further radicalizing and polarizing the country.

If McConnell wanted to improve national unity and shrink the outrage machines that keep so many of us riled up 24/7, he could begin by admitting he has been fanning the flames. He could take a moment to listen to the people outside the building, in addition to those inside.

That’s unlikely to happen. McConnell wants the protesters on the street just as much as he wants the supporters in their chairs.

But that doesn’t have to stop us from improving our local unity and rebuilding the bridges that divisive national figures try to burn for their own benefit.

There may have been two Danvilles on Tuesday, but that was just one day. There’s no reason we can’t be one Danville, one Boyle County, tomorrow.