Braver Angels seeks to bridge political divide
Published 11:39 am Friday, January 29, 2021
The Jessamine Journal
It’s been months since the 2020 election and weeks since a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, yet America remains deeply divided.
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But there are those who want to bridge the divide and open a dialogue between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, red and blue America.
In Jessamine County, some community leaders are coming together to form a local affiliate that is part of a national effort started four years ago, called Braver Angels.
Carolyn Dupont of Nicholasville, a history professor, is Kentucky’s state coordinator, and she is working with local leaders to start a Jessamine County chapter or “alliance.”
“We’re retreating to information silos that confirm our biases, and we’re not talking with one another. We’re going beyond disagreeing with one another; we are hating, blaming, demonizing and characterituring one another,” and that is “dangerous for our social fabric” and “our political future,” she said.
It has never been necessary that we agree on everything, Dupont said, but it is important that we listen to and respect one another and try to understand other points of view, show some humility and maybe find some common ground.
“This is not a magic answer to anything because we’ve got real problems,” Dupont said. But, she believes such an ongoing discussion can, over time, one step at a time, “help us turn down the temperature and tamp down the rhetoric.”
Dupont, a moderate Democrat, said that establishing a local chapter of Braver Angels was something she started working on two years ago but had to put aside to concentrate on her 2020 campaign for state representative, which she lost to Jessamine County’s Republican Party chair, Matt Lockett.
That election confirmed her belief that there is a need for something like what she wants to do.
“When I was campaigning, I found a real hunger for this. I talked to a lot of people of both parties who really expressed frustration over what they regarded as polarization driven from the top. Political leaders have an interest in putting these wedges between people” because it serves their interests, but it doesn’t serve the people, Dupont said.
Braver Angels encourages people to start local groups,and those groups have a great deal of autonomy. But one thing the national organization insists on is that there is a balance between red and blue (Republican and Democratic) members so that “no one feels ganged up on or squelched,” she said. And the alliance must have a red and a blue leader.
In Jessamine County, the red leader is Steve Clements, a political science professor and dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the blue leader is Beth Garrett-Logsdon, pastor of Wilmore Presbyterian Church.
Other members are Tara Hall of the Family Center in Wilmore, Pastor Max Vanderpool of Generations Community Church in Nicholasville and David Burt, a retired Nicholasville banker.
Dupont said that because of COVID-19, the group will probably start small, with about 15 members, and its monthly meetings will be online for a while.
Garrett-Logsdon and Clements were planning to get together for lunch Tuesday to talk and plan.
Clements said in an email that he has been studying, and been concerned about, political polarization for a decade. It didn’t begin with Donald Trump.
“I’m old enough to remember when political discussion was mostly boring,” he said.
Sunday morning news talk shows were how many people followed politics, but then with the coming of 24-hour cable news and talk radio, it became a “24/7” thing with people getting attention “not necessarily because of the quality of their ideas but by yelling at one another and becoming more and more outlandish.” And then the internet and social media made it even worse with algorithms driving people into “information silos” where they are only exposed to information and views that reflect their own.
“This is bad for us as a country, which is a collection of communities,” Clements said. “Our political system is premised on the idea of discussion and debate and compromise. In our current political moment, however, we seem less and less able to have civil and constructive conversations about politics, and are more apt to demonize the other side and seek to vanquish it. Politics hence becomes a winner-take-all enterprise, rather than a mechanism for solving problems together.”
As a professor, Clements said, he wants to help college students understand the challenges of politics, so helping to lead a Braver Angels group, he said, is a way to help others with similar concerns to “rediscover the value of respectful dialogue about our politics and our social order.”
“I know that sounds idealistic. But my sense is that we need some idealism and optimism now more than ever in our politics,” he said.
Like Clements and Dupont, Garrett-Logsdon said she is troubled by the political divide and attempts by people of both sides to “silence those who are not like them.”
“As a pastor my calling includes a commitment to ministries of reconciliation and peace as set forth in the Gospels. I see my participation in Braver Angels as a way to facilitate reconciliation and peace through the building of relationships, respect, and understanding among people of diverse political, socio-economic, faith, and educational backgrounds,” she said.
Garrett-Logsdon said that recent events play a part in her wanting to participate, but like Clements and Dupont, she said, she has for years “witnessed the slow demise of the ability to have honest and truthful conversations about hard topics,” and that bothers her.
“Through Braver Angels, I hope we can rebuild community and forge friendships built on mutual understanding rather than total agreement,” she said.
More information about Braver Angels is available at braverangels.org.