GREENWICH — Finding common ground as a politically divided nation is the biggest challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Himes believes the country will face in the coming years.
While the Fourth District congressman is celebrating recent wins that gave Democrats control of the U.S. House of Representatives, he said a daunting task looms ahead.
“We have a huge project in coming back together and getting away from a world where we are asked to be angry at each other,” Himes said at a Thursday night meeting at Eastern Middle School hosted by the Greenwich and Stamford chapters of Indivisible. “Give a little bit of thought into stitching ourselves back together as a country.”
In an hourlong question-and-answer session that covered everything from Russian interference and constitutional protections to border wall funding, Himes said winning elections isn’t enough. Democrats also need to persuade citizens.
“I don’t know exactly how we do that,” he said. “We need to form relationships people (with different views). Let’s invite people into our way of thinking and listen to their way of thinking.”
Himes told the crowd in the middle school auditorium about an experience he said will stay with him for a long time.
“I went to Sikorsky in Bridgeport this morning,” he said. “Two-thirds of the workers were wearing Trump T-shirts. I’ll be chewing on that for a couple of weeks.”
The congressman admitted he didn’t know what to make of the experience.
“I suspect in part what caused them to put on those T-shirts is their concern that a guy like me doesn’t hear their economic pain,” said Himes. “I spend a lot of time talking about things that may be a little abstract to those guys.”
But issues such as gun safety and family separation at the border are among the abstract issues Himes said he will never stop talking about.
“I’m not sure those guys will be too happy if I talk about those issues when they think about the fact that they can’t afford to send their kids to college,” he said. “ I hope the guys I saw today will realize the president handed their kids a huge amount debt to pay off wealthy people and corporations.”
Those workers, Himes said, represent the thinking of many blue-collar workers across the U.S. And for Democrats to win the presidency in 2020, the party needs to show economically disadvantaged citizens what it has done to make their lives better, he said.
While rebuilding the common ground among liberals and conservatives, Himes said it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that nothing about Donald Trump’s presidency is “normal.”
“We can’t get comfortable with bigotry, with racism, with people who muse about white supremacy,” he said. “That’s hard to do when the president tweets five times before lunch. We get desensitized to it. But we can’t let our energy dissipate when we have constitutional crises.”
Himes urged the crowd to continue to mobilize politically and stand up for their values.
“There are lots of ways to reassert the decency that’s at the core of who we are,” said Himes.