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Carter and I had a good time, a great crowd and a rousing discussion last night at Quail Ridge Books’ “Bridging the Divide” program. If I was Trump, I’d say there were about a thousand people there. And that the bookstore manager called and said it was the biggest crowd they’d ever had. More than for Jimmy Carter, John Grisham and David Sedaris combined.

We talked about Trump, J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy (our ostensible topic, but we wandered), economics versus culture, gerrymandering, Trump, income inequality and envy, education, taxes, Trump, Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms, race, third parties, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Trump and Russia, the Electoral College, 2016 election turnout, social media, the lack of civility and manners, and Trump. A lot of Trump.

Some highlights:

Stumped by Trump
One person asked the money question about the book: Why did poor hillbillies vote for a billionaire who inherited a fortune and went to Wharton?

Inspired by this recent article in The New Yorker, I asked for a show of hands: How many people had ever watched Trump in “The Apprentice” or “Celebrity Apprentice” TV shows? Maybe four hands went up. (This was an educated, well-read audience, more likely to watch PBS than reality TV.)

Therein lies the problem. Because this audience hadn’t seen the Trump many Americans saw on TV: successful entrepreneur, decisive executive and inspiring mentor. (I’m told. I never saw it. But I have people.)

The Death of Civility
One person asked why politics has become so mean – and what can be done about the tone.

I suggested that if Carter and I can get along, anybody can. Carter attributed the ugly climate to a basic lack of manners today. (Ironically, somebody interrupted his answer to ask another question.) Both of us and several audience members blamed social media.

Economics Versus Culture
Rob Christensen of The N&O, who occasionally hosts the series, asked a good question. What causes the family and social dysfunction and deterioration portrayed in the book: economics or culture?

Carter said culture – or, more precisely, the decline of religion and churches. I said economics – the decline of manufacturing, mining and blue-collar jobs.

But therein lies a lesson about “Bridging the Divide.” Carter’s answer and mine sound directly opposite. But there is common ground there.

When I said economics, I was talking about what people lose when they don’t have a good job. Not just a steady income, but the pride of having a job, the identity that comes from having work and the values and virtues that grow out of the routine, respect and responsibility of a good job.

When Carter said church and culture, he was talking about the decline of those same values, virtues and structure in people, families and society.

So, you see, bridging the divide isn’t all that hard. You just have to talk it out, listen and respect each other.

All of which is foreign to Trump.

It was a fun event, a great group of people and an interesting discussion. Best of all, the store gave us gift cards. I used mine to buy a new copy of Look Homeward Angel. Forget Trump. Read Thomas Wolfe.


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