MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Are the presidential candidates equipped to increase a sense of unity and civility in the country? That question was top of mind for Michael Logan and Jacque Stahl, two undecided voters NPR brought to the table with South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg this week. They met in a restaurant with Weekend Edition host Scott Simon.
SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: Thanks for being with us, Mr. Mayor.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. Welcome to South Bend.
KELLY: Voter Michael Logan shared a story about something he witnessed recently at a restaurant in Michigan.
MICHAEL LOGAN: An elderly gentleman came in, and he had on a Make America Great hat. You know, a couple of 20-some-year-olds came in after him, and they told him to take his hat off and, you know - you shouldn't be here with that hat on.
KELLY: Logan pressed Buttigieg on how he'd go about healing the growing political divisions in this country.
LOGAN: If you can't wear a hat, regardless of what your political affiliation is, without someone confronting you about that - I don't think that that atmosphere existed before Donald Trump became president, and I think he's just fueled the fire. How do we get back to the civility?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I think a lot of Americans right now are getting ready for Thanksgiving, wondering how the meal's conversation is going to go because, you know, these fences have gone up even within families. So much depends on how the president acts and how the president talks. It's not just about running the government; it's about setting a tone.
LOGAN: I see.
BUTTIGIEG: And that part of the job - it's not written down anywhere. It's not in the law. It's not in the job description. But it might be where you earn your paycheck the most when you're in charge.
I found in the military that I was interacting with people who were so different from me, but we learned to trust each other. One of the reasons I'm a big fan of voluntary national service, creating a lot of civilian national service opportunities - I think that a lot of people would have a common experience that they could carry with them for the rest of their lives in the same way that diverse groups of veterans can always kind of talk to each other, joke with each other, bust each other's chops in a way that just kind of brings them together.
LOGAN: Another thing in common.
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I want more Americans to have that. So some of the, I think, programs and policies will help, but a lot of it, honestly, is just the message you send.
SIMON: If you became the Democratic presidential nominee, there will be debates, we assume. President Trump, who has said some things we have noted about people at the border, said some things about people who live in African countries, made other remarks that have disparaged other people - you walk out on that stage. Do you shake hands with him?
BUTTIGIEG: I'll shake hands with him. He's the president of the United States. But it doesn't mean I agree with him. It doesn't mean I endorse his - any of the things that he has said, and I will confront him.
SIMON: Jacque, I know you have some concerns about this, too.
JACQUE STAHL: Yeah. You know, we really have seen the shift over these past four years of the hostility people - the anger. How do we turn that around? How can you, you know, gain the trust and respect back from people and, you know - I don't want to be naive, but, you know, have just a more, you know, peaceful United States?
BUTTIGIEG: Yeah. I mean, look - there's always going to be challenges and disagreements, but it doesn't have to be like this. Part of it, I think, is the need for us to have a common purpose. I'm thinking about things that we're going to have to fight together, like climate change. It's just one example of an area where we can find something bigger than ourselves, be part of it and get to work.
LOGAN: Do you think that there's something that all Americans today can rally around and agree on? Do you think that that exists right now?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think to put it simply, we all want to be OK. I don't think everybody feels a burning need to become wealthy, but everybody needs to know that they're going to be OK, that they're going to be able to provide for their kids. If we can at least agree that that's our common purpose - to be physically safe and to make sure that we economically are able to live lives of our choosing - that would be something everybody can get behind, even as we're hashing out over what it's going to take to get there.
KELLY: That is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaking to NPR's Scott Simon and two undecided voters. You can watch their whole conversation and more discussions between voters and presidential candidates at npr.org/offscript.
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