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This must be the place: NPR’s Ari Shapiro visits WNC

This must be the place: NPR’s Ari Shapiro visits WNC

It was weird hearing him speak.

As host of “All Things Considered,” the flagship program on National Public Radio (NPR), Ari Shapiro is a distinct voice — in sound and in his observations.

At 38, Shapiro has crisscrossed the globe, covering presidential campaigns, political conflict and resolution, and seemingly everything in between. And yet, his greatest pleasure as a journalist is simply sitting down and talking to John and Jane Q. Public. 

Thus, it was surreal to hear his voice as I spoke face-to-face with him — away from the radio dial — last week at the Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub in Franklin. Roaming through Western North Carolina in search of voter sentiment, all while capturing the local cultural flavors, Shapiro is a man on a mission, one who has set out to find the essence of not only the American voter, but also the country as a whole as it finds itself at a significant ideological crossroads. 

Smoky Mountain News: How did it come about with you being here in Western North Carolina?

Ari Shapiro: We’ve been doing a lot of political coverage in various part of the country, and we’ve done a lot of reporting in North Carolina, but a lot of that reporting focuses on North Carolina as a swing state, which inevitably looks at Charlotte, the Research Triangle, parts of the state that might be a little urban and eastern. And there hasn’t been a lot of stories from this part of the state. Even in a swing state, it doesn’t have to be 50-50 wherever you go to decide the vote. I also just think this is part of the country with a very distinct culture — it’s worth spending time in, it’s worth talking to people and hearing their stories, getting a sense of what life is like here. 

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SMN: What are you seeing out here in Western North Carolina?

AS: The thing that has struck me the most so far is that in other parts of the country, I talk to other Republicans who feel very alienated by Donald Trump. And the Republicans I talk to so far here really support Donald Trump. At least judging from what I’ve heard so far, there’s a real disillusionment with the Republican Party, and they like the fact that he’s breaking eggs and shaking things up. They want that bull in the china shop that makes people nervous, who is unpredictable — and that’s Donald Trump.

SMN: What have you taken away from this current election cycle?

AS: I think this is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. Just the fact the last two Republican nominees — Mitt Romney and John McCain — don’t support the current nominee. You look at the last two Republican presidents — George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush — that have not come out in support of the nominee. And the fact the leader of the House Republicans — Speaker of the House Paul Ryan — won’t defend or campaign for the nominee. All of this points to a real divide in the Republican party that is going to force a reevaluation no matter who wins on Election Day. The key question — one that I don’t have an answer for — is whether Donald Trump is a singular event in the Republican Party? Or does he signal a wholesale change in this party that will reshape things for years to come? I think there’s a real sense that there’s this part of the electorate that didn’t have a voice speaking for them, and now they do. There’s a lot of anger coming out, which can be productive or destructive, and it all depends on who is channeling it. 

SMN: And yet, party affiliation aside, I really feel like most people want the same things — affordable health care, quality education, border safety and jobs. 

AS: The truth is our country is less divided than our politics. If you take three of the most controversial issues in America — abortion, immigration, guns — you can create policy positions on those issues that more than 50 percent of Americans will agree with. But, our political leaders don’t have incentives to reach those positions — partly to gerrymandering, partly to other issues that encourage people to appeal to the base elements in their own party, rather than the consensus building in the middle of the American people. And that’s also because more members of Congress than ever are elected from solid red or solid blue districts. There are fewer swing districts than ever before. And that means, if you reach a compromise with the other party, you’re less at risk of being defeated by someone from the other party, and more at risk of being defeated by someone more extreme than you in your own party — there is this disincentive rather than an incentive to compromise if you want to keep your job. 

SMN: What do you think about the morning after Election Day?

AS: This democracy has lasted through really trying times, and I think when you keep perspective on American history, and the history of other countries right now, we’re pretty lucky. Our government is pretty strong, stable and resilient. And ultimately, we’re more reflective of the will of the people compared to a lot of other countries. Inevitably, political campaigns are divisive, but it’s the job of the successful and unsuccessful campaigns, and of the voters, to come together in the end. 

 

Hot picks

1 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will host Humps & The Blackouts (psychobilly) Saturday, Oct. 29 and The Hooten Hallers (blues/hard rock) Sunday, Oct. 30. All shows begin at 9:30 p.m.

2 The Classic Wineseller (Waynesville) will host a Duke Ellington tribute show with Wendy Jones and her jazz band at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29.

3 Nantahala Brewing Company (Bryson City) will host Jamie Kent (rock/country) at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29.

4 BearWaters Brewing Company (Waynesville) will host an Octoberfest on Thursday, Oct. 27.

5 Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro (Sylva) will host a “Halloween Bash” on Friday, Oct. 28, with performances by The Travers Brothers (rock, 7 p.m.) and Darren & The Buttered Toast (funk, 9 p.m.).

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