“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”
1861. These were the words newly elected President Lincoln spoke, desperate to avoid a civil war. It was too late; Americans had given up on words and friendships and descended into violence.
We are two Americans each from opposing political parties and ideologies, and we are friends. It is 2019, 158 years after Lincoln’s speech, and we are both currently worried about the low-level civil war that has become the norm in America.
In addition to the well-known instances of violence taking place accompanied by radicalized political messages, it has become the stuff of everyday life to hear our friends and peers use dehumanizing language to describe the other side. People seem resigned to thinking that we must be at war with each other figuratively and literally to resolve our differences. We hear many casually say out loud, “They just need to die.”
Leadership today means fighting the other side with hatred. And we are inclined to choose our candidates based on how effective they are at humiliating the other side. With these tactics practiced on both sides of the aisle, we are escalating our conflict and the inevitable outcome is more domestic violence and greater susceptibility to the divide-and-conquer tactics from foreign actors.
We met at a gathering of democracy activists called the Civic Collaboratory organized by Eric Liu in Seattle in 2016. Over the last three years, we would meet regularly and discuss the turmoil roiling our country. The friendship that has developed between us allowed for deep conversations exploring our differences and affinities while maintaining mutual respect.
While the two of us don’t agree on the policy solutions for our nation, we both believe democracy requires that people feel heard. We want to see a democratic process in which all sides are presented and people get a chance to think, learn, and vote. We believe that the best solutions exist after we have had a chance to deliberate together.
Americans on both sides of the aisle may agree with us in theory, but they have given up on finding a way to achieve these goals of democracy. To us, giving up on talking to each other, persuading each other, understanding each other, is to give up on civil society and democracy altogether. That is a position that we cannot accept.
So, what is a way forward? We believe:
- Americans must recommit to an open, democratic society that entails treating each other as equals and allows for robust debates.
- Americans must commit their time and money to get together, face to face, for meaningful civic engagement at the local level.
- Americans must tap into the power of new technologies using healthy online platform that respects our right to privacy, does not monetize our data, and verifies the identities of participants.
The two of us have committed to working together starting with the first task. This past year, we held public events where we spoke about the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination process and the debate over Virginia Governor Ralph Northam blackface photo and now we are creating a new podcast — Democracy In America — where we wrestle with difficult topics and invite Americans to listen to and understand the other side.
Join us by sharing your strategies for remaining connected with those you disagree with politically and together we can create a movement that defies ideologies and political parties to save our country.
Rich Tafel is the director of the American Project: On the Future of Conservatism at Pepperdine University and the founder of the Log Cabin Republicans. Annabel Park is a documentary filmmaker and the founder of the Coffee Party.