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Reds, blues & others working to put ‘civil’ back into civil discourse
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

For more than a year, four women have been playing tennis together in Stockton at a city park.

They got along fine until this week. One of the four revealed the fact she had attended a Trump rally in Nevada over the weekend. That got her booted from the group.

While that is hardly on the level of the screaming matches you sometimes see at public gatherings where there are protestors and counter protesters or the dripping hatred and sarcasm that is oozing out of social media key stroke after key stroke, it does underscore what really ails America.

We’ve not lost our senses as much as we have lost our bearings.

Political discourse, in too many cases, has turned into hating your neighbor, jettisoning longtime friends, and judging strangers based on personal biases.

The verbal and printed vile we unload on each other prompted 21 frustrated people – 10 Donald Trump supporters and 11 Hillary Clinton supporters – to gather in South Lebanon, Ohio in December of 2016 to try to turn the tide.

They were Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, Muslims and Christians. Their goal was to see each other not as stereotypes but as neighbors that shared the same community and country.

What came out of that first meeting is a growing nationwide movement known as “Braver Angels.” Through debates, workshops, Zoom meetings and more they work to try and understand each other’s point of view even if they don’t agree with it. They look for common ground and ways to work together by engaging those they disagree with. They support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.

Jason Thornton, pastor of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Manteca, is working with others to bring a Braver Angels chapter to San Joaquin County.

The Braver Angels website cites polling data and research that busts the myth that the animosity ripping at this nation’s social fabric came out of nowhere by the arrival of Donald Trump on the political stage and the ascension of Hillary Clinton. Instead it’s been a growing trend for the past 25 years that likely would have reached its current level of vile if Mickey Mouse had been the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 and Goofy the Republican nominee.

People have allowed labels and caricatures to blind them more and more with each passing year.

The goal of Braver Angels is not to meet in the political middle but to rediscover common ground.

Get beyond the blue and red labels and you’ll find there is no such thing as one absolute shade of either much like paint chip cards for either color you’ll find at Home Depot.

People judge others all the time – often without even knowing us or meeting us face to face – based on personal biases that everyone has whether it involves favorite colors, favorite pastimes or views on everything from apples to zoos and everything in between including politics.

The funny thing is even the most strident people when it comes to politics aren’t in lockstep with others on absolutely everything although they may share the same view on the issue du jour. While there is the pack mentality roaming through America’s political landscape these days at times would even scare a school of piranhas, rarely will you find people that are absolute clones on every view and thought.

I’ve had people that assume because I was one of the first people to buy a hybrid before the government offered tax credits, have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since I was 30, and subscribe to Mother Jones that I embraced all causes defined as liberal.

Others have painted me as a hardcore conservative based on views I have on government overreach, government spending, and the slippery slope of an activist judiciary as the courts have been used often to fill the vacuum when the other two branches of government that are supposed to legislate and administer have failed to step up.

By the same token I’ve had others that assumed I couldn’t possibly be a registered Republican because of my views on the environment and the fact I spend every chance I get hiking in remote areas of Death Valley or in the Eastern Sierra.

It is difficult to do but we need to admit to ourselves that we have personal biases and remember to keep them in check when engaging others.

That is difficult to do if you don’t question your own assumptions and aren’t open to possibly learning if you are off the mark a bit or if there is a better way to approach something. That doesn’t mean abandoning your core values and principles. It means engaging in public discourse with an open mind and the basic understanding that all of us share common ground of varying degrees. It might not be on Donald Trump, Joe Biden, the pro-life movement versus abortion, or even whether the 49ers or Raiders are the better football team but there are common threads that we seem hell-bent to tear apart in our pursuit of being “true blue” or “passionate red.”

When you see others that don’t think like you or don’t hold carbon copy views as being not just wrong but unworthy of being heard, you slip into a pit of intolerance that blinds you to seeing common ground.

Way too often we end up reaffirming not much more than our own pumped up self-righteousness. That can be attributed to being unwilling to accept the fact we are all driven by different life experiences and therefore will come to have different politics.

Those that think they are free of biases can only be so if they were raised in the wilderness until reaching adulthood – or graduating college –  by a pack of wolves.

After that initial start in 2016, Braver Angels today consists of not just Democrats and Republicans but independents as well as those of other political persuasions such as the Green Party and Libertarians.

The organization’s effort that some equate to marriage or family counseling isn’t to get people to think alike as it is to listen to the other side without elevating spirited debate into a shouting match.

They organize debates, discussions, workshops, forums and podcast in a wide array of hot topics from police reform to institutional racism using moderates that are both red and blue.

Their goal is to bring America back from the brink of the abyss by listening and exchanging views and not yelling and dehumanizing those that think differently.

It is why it is apropos for an organization born in today’s national divisiveness that they would embrace the name “Braver Angels” by adopting words of unity uttered during America’s darkest days.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be emeries. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet swell the chords of the Union, when again  touched, as surely that will be, by the better angels of nature .  .  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion.” — Abraham Lincoln from his first inaugural address as Civil War loomed on the horizon.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.