CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Prosperous, tranquil and sometimes a little bland, this steadily growing Southern city has long been known more as buttoned-down than cutting edge.
But now it unexpectedly finds itself at the crossroads of two debates driving the 2016 election: inclusion and equity. Far more explicitly than most communities, Charlotte is now grappling with each question. The answers it is formulating preview the strains the nation will face in confronting both challenges.
From the start, the 2016 election has unfolded as a referendum on national identity—how Americans live together, or not, in an inexorably diversifying country. Donald Trump has built his campaign on a message of European-style racial nationalism rooted in fears that demographic and cultural changes are undermining traditional American values and threatening the nation’s prosperity and security (an argument he’s amplified since the Orlando shooting). Hillary Clinton has responded by insisting that diversity and tolerance make the U.S. stronger.
On this broad divide, there’s no question where Charlotte falls. Like virtually every major city, it has forged a strong consensus behind inclusion as central not only to its social values, but also its economic strategy. Reflecting the “creative class” arguments of the urban theorist Richard Florida, local leaders here view a tolerant climate as indispensable to attracting the well-educated young people filling the new apartments and craft breweries sprouting across its Uptown neighborhood. “We know talent comes in all shapes and sizes,” Jennifer Roberts, who was elected as mayor last November, told me at an Atlantic forum here this week. “We've got to show that we are welcoming, that we are inclusive, and that we are going to treat people equally.”