Loudoun residents—and students—this week got a front-row seat to the root dysfunction that is hampering efforts to close the nation’s paralyzing political divide.
Hours after word circulated that newly approved U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue would make his first official public appearance at a Leesburg school, critics of President Trump and his 100-day-old administration got busy organizing a protest to the visit.
And when the subject matter of the event was learned—the federal restrictions on the ingredients used in school lunches—nutrition experts across the county popped up on TV to decry the gutting of critical health protections.
The stage was set to broadcast another misstep for the Trump administration by an under-informed government novice. That’s not what they got.
Instead, the man who sat with students to dine on chicken nuggets Monday morning displayed an articulate understanding of the issue with the experience built on 20 years of elective service in Georgia’s statehouse, both as a Democrat and a Republican, as senator and governor. And his message was not a dramatic rolling back of First Lady Michelle Obama’s landmark health initiative; rather it was to hold off on imposing more stringent federal mandates.
And the bigger surprise? Some of those on the front line of the cafeteria nutrition battleground welcomed the news. The dedication and creativity of the food services staff in Loudoun’s public schools have been heralded as exemplary. The division has bucked national trends, with more students lining up for breakfast and less food ending up in waste cans. But even the leaders of those programs harbored concerns that the impending rules could set back their progress.
It wasn’t the polarizing moment that many had expected—perhaps hoped for.
Instead of spurring another battle, the visit brought a reminder that there are still areas of government policy where agreement can be reached—even in this hyper-charged political climate—if both sides spend less time shouting and more time listening. Perhaps we can do that over a couple of cartons of newly reauthorized chocolate-flavored 1 percent milk.