Local politicians ignore angry constituents in wake of Trump
Legislators from around the country have been hesitant to hold town halls with their constituents.Image By: Katie Scheidt
Last week, my parents and I planned to spend an evening attending a town hall by U.S. House Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to hear his opinions on the various issues prevailing in Washington right now. We first noticed something was amiss when he began the meeting by reading off a list of authoritarian rules that left absolutely no room for dissent or discord. Given the contentious nature of Congress nowadays, this seemed like an unnecessary overreaction, as Sensenbrenner should be accustomed to disagreement and argumentation on Capitol Hill.
One man began the audience questions by asking Sensenbrenner why he, and the Republican Party in general today, are so corrupted by money, greed and profit in the age of Trump that they put party loyalty before equitably serving their constituents and country. The answer provided by Sensenbrenner avoided the issue by meagerly citing an example of how he has worked across the aisle. To be fair, there is some truth in this statement, as Sensenbrenner has been consistently rated as one of the more bipartisan members of Congress. In Wisconsin, only moderate Democrat Ron Kind, a representative from near La Crosse, outranks Sensenbrenner in this.
However, working across the aisle does not necessarily equate to moderate ideology, as one can be willing to compromise politically but still have extreme personal beliefs. This is the case for Sensenbrenner, as he is also frequently listed as one of the most conservative members of Congress. These qualities became apparent in what happened next at the town hall.
A woman stood up to ask Sensenbrenner why the salaries of congressmen have been steadily rising at a rate far above the minimum wage, which is still not at a livable level. He tried answering with false economic theory that unemployment rises with wage increases. The crowd reacted with resounding boos. Given the fact that this event was taking place in one of the most conservative places in the nation, and an area that Sensenbrenner has represented since 1979, I was surprised. The congressman responded to the negative outcry from his audience by pounding his gavel and chiding a crowd of 80 or so adults, of whom I was the youngest, like a strict schoolteacher reprimanding a rowdy classroom. He attempted to continue to degrade those who support raising the minimum wage, before he was drowned out a second time by dissent. Rather than let people voice their opinions or listen to their legitimate grievances for what was promised to be a 90 minute meeting, Sensenbrenner suspended the meeting after five minutes and escaped out the door with his aides as people yelled at him for his cowardice.
It’s one thing to hear on the news about the eruptions occurring at town halls around the country, but it was an eye-opening experience to witness it. Republican lawmakers for the past few months have been facing angry citizens when they return home, many primarily upset with the attacks and attempted repeals being made on Obamacare, and the uncertain future facing the masses who depend on it for healthcare and a stable livelihood. Particularly troubling is the controversy surrounding pre-existing conditions.
Sensenbrenner is not alone in his irresponsibility at town halls—in fact, he’s actually done a better job than some of his fellow Wisconsin Republicans. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, preferred to skip out on holding town halls altogether, because he was worried that his constituents might be harassed. It seems to me, Mr. Ryan, that you are only worried about yourself, and the fact that you might, heaven forbid, have to deal with critics.
Senator Ron Johnson, who has personally called me a communist (that’s another story), followed in the footsteps of Ryan and declined to honor those who elected him by also not organizing any town halls during his time back home. In February, in both in Madison and Green Bay, activists held town halls marked by Johnson’s absence, as he did not feel the need to attend.
All of these instances are once again akin to a cowardly, defensive teacher, that Sensenbrenner so accurately resembled, not showing up to class because they are afraid their students will not approve of the large research report they plan to assign.
This is what politics has descended to in the age of Trump; a long serving politician (who has served for far too long and done far too much damage to the people of southeastern Wisconsin and the nation as a whole), has such a thin skin that he cannot stomach being criticized even slightly and cancels a meeting after two questions. The man he defends, and the man who leads our country, is a despicable, cheating real estate mogul who reaffirms racism and sexism. All of this leads one to ponder what those who spread democracy and founded great nations would think about these erosions of governmental honor taking place daily.
Sensenbrenner, Johnson and particularly Ryan, are Trump apologists who support him in all of his increasingly ridiculous actions and leave everyday folks behind by ignoring or silencing them, as what I witnessed during that town hall at the West Allis Public Library illuminated. A man who retreats after two rounds of boos—and like the president, refuses to admit his own wrongdoings—is similarly immature, unfair, conceited, and completely unfit for office.
I urge everyone, especially my friends who are young or young at heart, people of color, queer or any other oppressed identity to consider becoming more engaged in politics on and off campus. We don’t deserve this kind of politician. We don’t deserve more of Sensenbrenner, Johnson, Ryan, Trump, or any of the others in league with them. We deserve respectable politicians who are like us and stand for our values and diversity—not their own self-interests. I think those who have fought for integrity, dignity, truth and equality to be the cornerstones of democracy throughout the turbulent history of our world would agree with me. Stay engaged, everyone.
Erik is a sophomore majoring in international relations and Spanish. Do you think that legislators should be holding more town halls with their constituents? Please send all comments and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter