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Words mattered in Kenosha, but your vote on Nov. 3 will matter so much more

The people of Kenosha — and the rest of us — hold real power, for better or worse.  

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Thursday.
Carolyn Kaster/AP Photos

For one week in this fleeting summer, Kenosha, Wisconsin, was ground zero in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Last week, the newly minted Republican and Democratic presidential nominees swooped down on Kenosha in the aftermath of the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Blake, an African American, was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer. Kenosha, a city of 100,000 north of Chicago, found itself in the national spotlight as it exploded in protests, looting, burning and physical violence. Blake, 29, remains hospitalized and is paralyzed.

The dueling road shows of President Donald J. Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden displayed a stark, intractable divide.

On Tuesday, Trump flew into town to double down on his “law- and-order, I-am-your-protector-in-chief” mantra.

With Attorney General William Barr in tow, Trump presided over a mostly white group of sycophants from the law enforcement community. Trump is desperate to dodge his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and the crippled economy. He is fear-mongering to rally the troops.

On Thursday, Biden met with a diverse group of Kenosha community leaders, clergy and residents. Unlike Trump, Biden met and spoke with Blake and his family.

Trump won’t even utter Blake’s name.

For more than an hour, Biden listened as Kenosha residents called for more initiatives to address institutional racism.

Trump won’t even acknowledge it exists.

Biden rightly thumped his opponent for his compulsion to lie, pander and incite racial division and hate.

“The words of a president matter. No matter whether they’re good, bad or indifferent, they matter,” Biden told the small gathering at Grace Lutheran Church.

“No matter how competent or incompetent the president is, they can send a nation to war, they can make peace, they can make markets rise and fall, and they can do things that I’ve observed and make a difference by what they say.”

The politicians offered Kenosha a motherlode of words dripping with promises.

Of course. Wisconsin is a must-win swing state in the Nov. 3 election.

Trump pledged his undying support for law enforcement, along with $1 million in federal funds to the Kenosha police department; $4 million to help rebuild the city; and $42 million in additional public safety funds for the state of Wisconsin.

(I would not start spending that money just yet).

Biden teed up a long list of support to cure the ills of racism, including a hike in the national minimum wage, mental health counseling, an array of services for the formerly incarcerated and a White House commission on policing.

Here’s the thing. Words may matter, but for politicians, something else matters more. Power.

The people of Kenosha — and the rest of us — hold that power, for better or worse.

In Kenosha, Biden recalled the words of a civil rights torch bearer, the late U.S. Rep. John Robert Lewis.

“As John said, ‘the only answer is to vote.’ ”

Those words matter most.

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