I hope the visit is pleasant for President Trump — and for us — and that it occurs without any incivility or unrest. We should use this opportunity to showcase East Tennessee’s Appalachian spirit of working together and remaining hospitable to our guests and to one another even when we disagree. Along these lines, I’d like to thank the law enforcement officers and others who will be working to keep everyone safe. I’d also like to acknowledge the ETSU students and Johnson City public school students whose scheduled events were unfortunately disrupted by this visit.
The last two years have been perplexing. Each day’s news seems to bring a new challenge to our most important values. How did we get to this place of accelerating anger, divisiveness, and sometimes overt hostility? What happened to “love thy neighbor,” “care for the least amongst us,” and “thou shalt not bear false witness”?
I really think we can do better. More than anything, values and relationships are why I am disappointed in Washington. Too often, our elected officials allow themselves to rubber stamp the decisions of influential others, whether they be party bosses, administration officials, or powerful corporations and billionaire donors. What happened to connection and dialogue with constituents? Congressmen should not operate like absentee landlords, ignoring the tenants except when it’s time to collect the rent or renew the lease.
During this campaign, I’ve visited and listened to citizens in diners, gas stations and homes in each of the 12 counties of Tennessee’s Congressional District 1. People have been telling me that this election feels different from any they have experienced in their lifetimes. It is finally sinking in that generations of single-party rule have simply failed to bring our region the prosperity, progress, security and achievement enjoyed by other areas of our country.
Most importantly, people recognize that this year they have a real choice.
When a single party dominates for far too long, as has been the case in East Tennessee, the results of the primary election essentially dictate the regular election. But when two parties are strong, a great phenomenon occurs for our democracy. Instead of sitting back and taking voters for granted, incumbents suddenly find themselves being held accountable.
President Trump is not a candidate in this election. This election is about our representation in Congress. While there are many areas in which I question whether President Trump’s policies are in the best interests of East Tennessee, there are also areas in which I agree with him. For example, I agree that steps need to be taken to protect American inventions and intellectual property from Chinese pilfering. I agree that our nation needs to promote continued technological advances. And I certainly agree with the spirit behind “Drain the Swamp.” But I’d like to point out that you can’t Drain the Swamp if you keep sending the same swamp critters back to Congress.
I’m very thankful that so many citizens — Republicans, Independents and Democrats — have shown that they are open-minded and willing to give me an opportunity to earn their votes. And when I’m elected to Congress, if the president proposes good ideas I’ll support them. But when the ideas are bad, or just not the best that we can do, then I’ll be part of the check and balance system that the Founding Fathers expected when they designed our government. I will work for the citizens of East Tennessee, my constituents, the people who elected me. Not party bosses. Not special interest groups. Not billionaire donors.
I hope that we all use the President’s visit to look into our hearts and think about the future of our great country. Think about America’s role as a leader in world peace. Think about all the people who have given up on the concept that the American dream applies to them. Think about the values and examples we expect our leaders to provide for our children. Think about the future we are passing on. Think about how your vote matters. We have big decisions to make. We can vote for more of the same. Or we can vote for Responsible Change that pursues the potential of East Tennessee and the United States of America.
Martin Olsen is the Democratic nominee for the 1st Tennessee Congressional District’s U.S. House of Representatives seat.