Beyond the circuitous and cacophonous realm within the Beltway, Denver Riggleman, representative of the 5th District of the U.S. House, engaged in a quaint political ritual: the photo op. An image of him appeared on the Oct. 16 front page of The Franklin News-Post with small children clustered about him as he read aloud from Dr. Seuss’ “Mr. Brown Cow Can Moo! Can You?”

Partisan herds are stirring in Washington, where Democrats are braying about impeaching the large elephant in the room, President Donald Trump. While surrounded by 3- to 5-year-olds in the Head Start class of STEP, Inc. in Rocky Mount, Riggleman, a Republican, cut a striking contrast between what politics was once and what it has become in the era of the White House as a set for reality television. Indeed, Riggleman is a symbol of both.

Following a career as an Air Force officer and National Security Agency contractor, Riggleman in 2014 opened a craft distillery in Afton. After this, he helped form a distillers guild. This background provided the foundation for his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2017 followed by his successful House campaign a year later.

Desperation reigned for Democrats in that race, as party nominee Leslie Cockburn attempted to make political hay over Riggleman’s Instagram promotion of a book titled “The Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Hate Him.” Silly Riggleman. He thought the title “was funny.” Cockburn’s attacks on her opponent burned her. She lost going away.

Of course, it is painfully easy to run afoul of conservatives, even for a Republican with the support of right-wing royalty such as Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. He has endorsed Riggleman’s re-election. Riggleman officiated a same-sex wedding of two friends and has been censured by the party over his fiscal and immigration policy positions.

Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good announced last month plans to oppose Riggleman for the GOP nomination in the 5th. Good works for Falwell, carrying a title almost long enough to consume a resume page – senior associate athletic director for development. Good accused Riggleman of “betraying” voters’ trust.

This is a reference to Riggleman’s conservative bona fides, which these days are not simply a test of political positions but of one’s soul. Failure to hew to prescribed ideologies is tantamount to betrayal rather than mere dissent. Conservatives are not alone in this razor-thin view of the world. Liberals similarly apply it.

Those who despair Trump would do well to recognize the hazards of an approach that transforms ideology into a cult religion separating adherents from the damned. Those who hail Trump would do well to consider what might happen when political fortunes inevitably swing to the opposing side.

Modern politics could do with far less reality TV drama. Neither a god nor a demon but a man sat reading to children in the Head Start program. Stand with or against the representative of the 5th District, but make no more or less of him or any other politician than what they are.

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