Can We Talk?

If there is one thing about which Americans of all political persuasions agree, it is that the electorate is dramatically polarized. Our differences are so profound that a one recent poll found parents more accepting of  a child’s inter-racial or inter-religious marriage than a marriage to a member of the opposing political party.

A commenter recently made me aware of an effort to bridge our political abyss. The organization is called “Braver Angels,” and its website explains its purpose:

The days after the election could begin a dark time of polarization in the land—unless we act together to make it otherwise.  That’s where the With Malice Toward None initiative comes in. The goal is to create a space for people to deal with their emotions (positive and negative), to build our capacities for working together to address our common challenges, and to commit ourselves to a renewed citizenship.  

The organization has mounted what appears to be a sincere and well-meaning effort at understanding and rapprochement. I have not been privy to any of the discussion sessions, and if they have managed to moderate some of the animus that definitely exists between right and left wing voters, more power to them, but I don’t hold out much hope for a kumbaya outcome, for reasons I have previously explained.

The problem is the nature, rather than the extent, of America’s current divisions. 

Discussions of policy differences can be very productive–not only generating increased understanding of where the “other guy” is coming from, but enabling reasonable compromises. I am a big proponent of mass transit, but I have engaged in informative discussions with people who are leery of its appeal to sufficient numbers of riders. I am firmly opposed to gerrymandering, but I understand those who argue that the problem is really the country’s “big sort” into urban Democratic areas and rural Republican precincts. I’m pro-choice, and I’ve had civil conversations with at least some people adamantly opposed to abortion. 

When our political discussions address these and numerous other policy differences, I absolutely agree that they should be encouraged, and that deepened understandings of  others’ positions can result.

The problem today–at least as I see it–is that Americans are not arguing about policy. We aren’t quibbling about what the evidence says about job losses when the minimum wage is raised, or about the specifics of needed immigration reforms. Instead, our truly profound differences are about values.

It is simply not possible–at least for me–to “understand and appreciate” the worldview of someone who is just fine with caging brown children. I cannot overlook the hypocrisy of “family values” voters who are ardent Trump supporters despite his sexual and marital behaviors, or of the “good Christians” who enthusiastically endorse White Nationalism and Trump’s belief that there are “good people” among self-identified Nazis. I cannot imagine  an amicable conversation with QAnon folks who believe that Democrats are sexually abusing and then eating small children. 

Interestingly, in 2012, The Atlantic reported on a team of academic researchers who have collaborated at a website — “” — designed to ferret out value differences, rather than focusing on policy disputes.

Their findings show how profound the chasm is on values questions between liberals and conservatives. Generally speaking, not only do liberals place high importance on peace, mutual understanding, and empathy for those who have difficulty prevailing in competition, they demonstrate concern for equality of outcome, while conservatives place pointedly low or negative importance on such values.  On the other side, conservatives believe that the use of force is a legitimate method of conflict resolution across a range of domains, from war to law enforcement to the discipline of children. Conservatives are more likely to believe in an “eye for an eye,” are more likely to respect received tradition, and are overwhelmingly committed to the proposition that individuals are responsible for their own economic condition — all views rejected by liberals. 

The article was titled “Conservatives are from Mars, Liberals are from Venus.”

Liberals who want to reach out and pursue understanding with today’s Republicans undoubtedly believe that not everyone in the GOP endorses the Trump administration’s racism, lack of integrity and contempt for the common good. What they fail to recognize is the significant exodus of reasonable, genuinely conservative voters from the GOP over the past four years. It isn’t simply the “Never Trumpers”–although they symbolize that exodus.

As my youngest son says, the people who are left in today’s Republican Party either share Trump’s racism, or don’t consider it disqualifying. I think the likelihood of finding common ground with such people–the likelihood of singing kumbaya with them–is vanishingly small.


  1. “Our differences are so profound that one recent poll found parents more accepting of a child’s inter-racial or inter-religious marriage than a marriage to a member of the opposing political party.”
    From my perspective, inter-racial marriage has become so common, and thus accepted, that prohibitions against it have lost their punch. And with the decline of organized religion, primarily main stream religions, the majority no longer care because such beliefs no longer define us. Affiliation to a political party or a set of political beliefs however, do define us and the values we accept and practice in our everyday lives.

  2. I volunteer with and participate in Braver Angels. It is both “very successful” and “not successful at all” – depending upon your criteria. Obviously, it reaches a self-selected portion of the “Reds” – who want to be heard by others and are open to listening. Far more “Blues” join than “Reds” – but there are significant numbers of both – and growth is rapid. More and more – are interested. Anyone interested in the idea – both – see the website – and look on YouTube at past – debates and other presentations. My wife, a Queer Identified, Black Woman – hardly sympathetic to Republicans and “Conservatives” in general – agreed to be a debate participant in a debate on “Voter Fraud and the 2020 Election” – She actually found reasonableness in one opposition debater and saw the value in Braver Angels – after being very doubtful – before the Debate. You can watch this debate at: – Thanks!

  3. I long ago gave up trying to understand them. All I want to do is out vote them, make them a true minority party with limited political power. Send them the way of the Whigs. To be sure, the Democrats do not have all the answers, but they are the only party now that is truly interested in the political process and on a rational discussion of the country’s problems. It is of extreme importance that HR 1 passes and enters into law.

  4. Happy Easter!

    Today is about loving thy neighbor, not convincing them about which political party they should vote for. As for values, they are lofty goals, but most humans do what they want despite them. That’s when that nasty conscience kicks in. Now, what do we do?

    Since I’m currently censored from Facebook for pointing out the lying being done by the intelligence community, I’ve spent more time on Twitter. I saw an interesting article from a retired General in Time magazine advocating “national service” to young people. Apparently, part of Biden’s Rescue package entails an investment in “national service” since there are many unemployed youths in our country, and service to our country provides valuable experience.

    The General also spoke about rallying behind the flag and that our democracy is being challenged by outsiders and refers to a “Freedom House report.” Since I’ve been reading about our elevated drum beating on war against Russia with NATO in Ukraine and the Quad against China in the South Pacific, I had to check out the FH link. It was nothing but war propaganda against China and Russia.

    So, our democracy and all the American “values” we hold so dear are the rallying cries to launch a nuclear assault against two nuclear-armed countries?

    If you have children or grandchildren, make sure they read the fine print for “national service” before signing up. According to the Defence Minister in Australia, a war with China is imminent.

    I guess “Love Thy Neighbor” doesn’t mean anything for Empire building Oligarchs. Nothing solidifies a country more behind the flag than a war against a common enemy.

  5. Enough already! The right-wing has mistaken kindness for weakness and they have generally assumed the mantle of Klingon and have no desire to cooperate with anyone. Therefore, bipartisanship is impossible. As much as some traditional liberals don’t like the idea, and the neoliberals won’t make money off of it, but if we are to survive as a free nation, we’re going to have to smack down the right wing with everything we’ve got. Bipartisanship is impossible until we do.

  6. “Reasonable compromises” are not probable in dealing with the current iteration of the GOP, especially in Congress. Most of the reasonable Republicans have left or have been pushed out of office to be replaced with an increasingly unreasonable assortment of fanatics and lunatics who view any degree of compromise with disdain and contempt.

    The few reasonable Republicans who actually care about their constituents and about sustaining democracy are shouted down by the loonies and called RINOS. It is disheartening, and to hope for bipartisan compromises is a dim proposition unless and until a critical mass of Republican voters vote for reasonable GOP legislators (or Democrats).

    I am hopeful that the fruits of the recent legislation led by Joe Biden will lead to beneficial outcomes, which will then get more and more Americans to migrate toward voting for public servants that want to improve conditions for all.

    Voting rights and also equal rights bills must be passed to preserve democracy in America. And yes, the “unreasonables” must definitely be out-voted by reasonable people in every level of government.

  7. The problem is that money has corrupted politics, science, information, health care, drug prices, religion, everything.

  8. “As my youngest son says, the people who are left in today’s Republican Party either share Trump’s racism, or don’t consider it disqualifying. ”

    With all due respect, I don’t agree with that at all. There are plenty of Republicans who don’t like Trump, have never supported him, and believe his racism and other qualities (or lack thereof) are disqualifying. We are fighting to get our party back. We have a choice to fight for to get our Republican Party or join the Democratic Party which doesn’t reflect our conservative values. Trumpism isn’t about issues. It’s a personality cult that has taken over the Republican Party. Democrats should know they are not immune to the same thing happening to their party.

  9. Paul,

    Bill Clinton sold out the people, especially the people of color, to Wall Street in the 90s. The remaining unions are capitalist minions with few exceptions. Neither political party in this country represents the best interests of the people.

    So yes, we already know what happens when the principles of a party are abandoned. However, the role of the DNC is to prevent social movements from the left. It has been even before Clinton sold out. I am seeing more and more kids proudly calling themselves socialists and communists. I don’t blame them because capitalism has destroyed their future, and with the wars inevitably coming, it’s going to get much worse.

  10. The gulf between liberal and conservative people is wide and deep. They fundamentally understand themselves and society much differently and incompatibly. Like everything that we were born with and into it is an accident to us but largely determines how we live our lives. We will never see things the same way but we are stuck with each other in our communities, states, nations and the entire human race.

    Democracy address that by empowering the majority of us to pick those who will manage society through laws. The mixture changes over time depending on the conditions of the world and so the worldview of the majority is reflected in what conditions primarily affected what we were born into.

    Such is the burden of all life forever.

  11. Well, happy Easter to each and every one of you. Easter is a day that engenders hope and joy, not malice, not vengeance. An eye for an eye would create lots of blind people. It sounds to me like Better Angels and With Malice toward None are truly embracing the idea of being the Easter people.

    “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” What a radical teaching that is!!

    And who is it that said “I have found the enemy and it is within.” ?

    Those of us who are progressives need to find a way to confront social injustice, bad policies ( like those bills in 28 states that will harm transgender youth and pediatricians) that embraces a non violent path and moves the moral arc of the universe forward. We need to remember how Gandhi and yes, Martin Luther King moved that arc forward.

    We need more people like Clara Barton who nursed both union and confederate soldiers who had been wounded.

    I can tell you that as a nurse, I would be required to give the same competent care fo each person regardless of their political views. And as a lesbian woman, I have treated homophobic patients and followed that ethical mandate to treat each person with competent nursing practice. I’ve been spat at, hit etc. Even so, I had to restrain myself from retaliating.

    So now I will go check out Better Angels and With Malice Toward Young to help me continue with my own desire to be true to the ethics I was taught in nursing school.
    We won’t heal this divide by hurling insults at each other on this blog or in any public forum.

  12. I and the organization I founded, CommonGoodGoverning, believe that solid research suggests that there are common concerns across partisan lines. There is significant data that when you take the far-Right and far-Left out of the equation, nearly all Americans have high concerns about and could have rational conversations about such things as: opioid addiction, lack of jobs for those without 4 year college degrees, etc.

  13. One of the main reasons we don’t talk policy is because Republicans don’t have any policies that work for those of us willing to converse. That policy thingy stopped in 1981 and has been fueled ever since by the billionaire class who now controls the Republican party.

    Add to that, the Republicans, beginning with Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Roger Ailes, have created a narrative that is oppositional, not cooperative. Why? Because the big money donors don’t want to hear anything except more tax cuts. They think civilization is for free. Who can converse with that?

    Republicans have nothing to offer except a brand and narrative of conflict that pits us against one another. The Russians see this and are fueling that divisiveness. If anyone has been paying attention, the shrieking from the right wing is parallel to the disinformation coming from Russian propaganda. This has been going on since Putin took control of the Russian narrative.

    So, what are we to do? Tell our right wing brethren that they are tools of Moscow? That should heal all the wounds.

    Yeah. Happy Easter. Let all those good Christian Republicans read the book of Matthew. They’ll come away wondering what the hell he was talking about.

  14. Todd, if history is to be our guide, then thoughtful citizens should not be either Democrats or Republicans since Democrats have had their day as the bad guys just as Republicans are having theirs today. Thus the Democrats at the time of the birth of the Republican Party from the ashes of the Whig Party (1854) was a right wing slave holding plantation party as opposed to the new and liberal anti-slave and energetic Republican Party, a party which elected a president only six years after its birth, a guy named Lincoln. Had I been around at that time I would have been a Republican. The parties have since exchanged positions, so, ipso facto, I am a Democrat.

    Given inexorable change in every institution we can pretend to prove most nearly anything in the social sciences at some point in our history, but not if measured by what were available proofs for contrast were at the time. Thus I can prove that an automobile is superior to a horse and buggy for one’s transportation needs, but cars were not available in the horse and buggy era for comparisonby my predecessors. Timelines are important.

    If in fact our current polarizations are rooted in values and not mere passing political disagreements, we are in a heap of trouble – but we are where we are whatever the diagnoses of our learned political scientists, so I agree with others that while it is difficult to discuss the issues of the day with right wing radicals I see no alternative, including a reference to history for solutions. I have a sense that today resembles the Reconstruction Days of the 19th century, but to be consistent with my thesis in this effort I can’t know how my ancestors felt then since history provides a framework but little day to day detail and that history depends upon whether written by southern or northern historians.

    So what to do? Talk to those with whom you disagree and stay calm – if possible.

  15. Why would I waste a second on a Republican? These days, I find they fall into two categories: 1) the “holy crap we elected a negro to the presidency” tea partier turned Trumper who has regular nightmares about Stacey Abrams, his daughter marrying one of “those people,” and whatever Fox News tells him to be afraid of this week, and 2) former frat boy date rapists who think all that progressive stuff is just (wink, wink) to keep the stupid women and minorities happy, and by the way, if this is a party where are the strippers?

    Basically old racist farts and young entitled psychopaths, or, if you need a visual image, the white population of Florida.

  16. It matters little that there are a handful of surviving Republicans who adhere to old time values and wish to restore their party to what it once represented. They are either not in leadership positions or are too fearful to speak out against the party’s prevailing absurdities. And if they do, Trump can kneecap them and their families before you can say “mob boss.” The Republican party is far worse than the mafia because the mafia has not attacked the Capitol and has not expressed an interest in ending democracy as we know it.

  17. Sadly, I have to agree with you, Sheila.
    Since my college days, a million years ago, I have engaged in discussions with others who didn’t share my views. I would dig deeper until I reached one of two conclusions

    Either they held different values, like a friend of mine who believes that executing a hundred innocent people is preferable to having legal protections that might let a guilt person go free;
    or they firmly believe different “facts”, like my friend who believes that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and if we didn’t find them, the Syrians helped him hide them.
    Sometimes, it was both.

    At that point, there wasn’t much to discuss on those issues. Sometimes, I would find people with whom compromise in policy was possible, but those were rare occasions — and actually fun.

    Now is different. While there are some Republicans who stay for lack of another home, or hope that the old GOP will return, the vast majority live in an alternate reality centered around their cult leader. I don’t see much hope of dialogue with those cultists.

    Maybe some of those who seek these organizations have found the few rational Republicans left in the party, but I suspect that many fall into the false equivalents world.

    It must be the fault of both sides, and if only we could talk, everything would be fine.

    Their viewpoint is if some Republicans believe that Democrats eat babies, there must be an equal number of Democrats who believe that Republicans eat babies, or else believing that Republicans support putting brown babies in cages is the rhetorical equivalent, thus everything is in balance.

    If there is a “far right” that has captured the Republicans, there must be an equal and opposite “far left” that influences the Democrats.


    It drives me nuts when newscasters call Joe Manchin a “moderate” – he is a “conservative” Democrat; Biden is a “moderate” Democrat; AOC is a “liberal” Democrat.

    It used to be that you would find that spectrum in both parties, but the “liberal” and many “moderate” Republicans retired before Trump. Now many “conservative” Republicans are leaving the party believing that it no longer represents true “conservative” values.

    To the point, the Weathermen, SDS, etc. were the “far left”; White Supremacists and their ilk used to be excluded by the Republicans, and I don’t buy grading on a curve; Americans loved Reagan’s personality, but they prefer the policies of FDR – ask them about their Social Security.

  18. Ailes, Murdoch, McConnell, Koch, and others of their ilk, for profit and power, were so desperate that they unleashed the hordes of the antichrist to bamboozle the faithful, the incurious, the aggrieved, and the grifters while Dems were asleep at the switch and the country is going to pay for that for a long, long time.

  19. Paul, the point is that with your “conservative values” (and I confess I’m curious what those might be, considering you frequent this blog), you may still consider yourself a Republican, but you’re a “RINO” to virtually every other remaining Republican. In other words, the vast majority of today’s Republicans truly don’t consider you to be one.

    The Republican party–to which you consider yourself to belong–no longer exists.

    As a Canadian, I understand and empathise (even when I don’t always agree) with about 50% of you Americans. But, there are about 35-45% of you that are so alien to me that they might as well be a different species.

    The idea that we can meet aliens and expect to be able to communicate in any way except rudimentarily (probably based on mathematics and logic) is beyond unlikely. That 35-45% is incomprehensible to me in exactly this way. As far as can tell, they THINK differently from me– not just different thoughts, but different in the way that they think.

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