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How One Orchard Owner Took On the Nation’s Divisive Politics

Greg Clement saved the Brunswick, Ohio apple orchard and restaurant he now owns from foreclosure last year. He grew up there and decided to use his experience launching a successful software firm to save a piece of his childhood.

So when Mitt Romney’s campaign advance team came to town scouting out a place for a rally, Clement was thrilled to offer up picturesque Mapleside Farms, with its acres of apple trees and sweeping views of the Appalachian foothills.

But when Clement sent a mass e-mail invitation to the Romney rally out to his contact list, he was surprised at the hostile responses that popped up on his Facebook page. One woman threatened never to buy applesauce from his farm store again.

When I met Clement on a reporting trip to Ohio last weekend, he told me he was a bit shocked by his first exposure to what I describe as our nation’s silo politics. That’s where people on the left and the right read only what they already believe, and speak only with those who agree with them.

Greg Clement

Clement’s family is different. His sister Cathy is a liberal Democrat; his dad Ron a conservative Republican and card-carrying member of the NRA. Greg is a business-minded Republican. He decided to share the story of his family’s interactions in a follow-up email to his first invitation.

“I agree more often than not with my dad, and even sometimes with Cathy,” he wrote. “But it is great when the three of us get together and have deep political discussions.”

They’ve had these kinds of discussions in his family for decades, he said. “I have NEVER told either one of them that ‘I hated them’ or called them names because of what they believe,'” he wrote in what turned into a passionate call for reason.

“Both presidential candidates are polarizing figures because of the very nature of what politics has become in our country, and I think it’s horribly wrong.

“We may vote differently, we may like different things on our pizza, and we may even look at life differently, but that does NOT mean we ‘d have to be enemies.”

“God bless America and, oh what the heck, God bless Mitt Romney too.”

The moment Clement hit “send,” he began receiving hundreds of replies from around the country and the world.

“God bless America and, oh what the heck, God bless Mitt Romney too.”

“Good luck this weekend. I’m not sure who I’ll vote for in November, but it’s nice to know that there are others out there that want the discussion to be civil, constructive and productive.”

Another writer confided that she has relatives who “have not spoken to each other in months as a result of this election season.” And she forwarded Clement’s email to them.

“You have eloquently reminded me of my own beliefs,” another said. “I admire you for standing up for yours.”

“Nicely put,” another responded. “The haters need to grow up. Integrity versus ignorance and immaturity. Wish I lived near your town. I would love to go to Mapleside Farms. Can I buy some applesauce?”

Clement had no idea the hornets’ nest he was about to step into when he sent out his first e-mail. Polls show Americans are painfully divided when it comes to our politics, but bearing witness to the divisiveness can be bracing and depressing.

By the time Mitt Romney arrived at Mapleside, thousands of people were waiting in the pouring rain to greet him. Clement, his wife Kelly and their three young sons stepped up to the microphone and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

When I asked Clement before the speech if he considered himself a Romney supporter, he admitted he wasn’t sure yet. But afterward, when the sun came out, everyone ate pancakes. Romney poured the syrup.

And for at least one morning, the walls of the silo came down.

Mitt Romney; photo by Gwen Ifill/PBS NewsHour
Mitt Romney in Brunswick, Ohio June 17. Photo by: Gwen Ifill

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