Face it, We’re Divided

Face it, We're Divided

by Joe and Julie Mandarino

The midterm elections are past, and the common assessment is that the results are split, with exhilarating gains and disappointing losses for both parties.  Yet instead of relief and getting back to our everyday lives, many people are more agitated than ever. What seems immensely clear is that the split election results reflect a country whose electorate is indeed split into two powerful and antagonistic groups of roughly equal size.  Political segregation and inter-tribal animosity seem to be the future.

Where will this schism take us? The intensifying acrimony people have toward “the other side” is breaking out in overt acts of hostility and, in some cases, violence. This situation is exactly what Nelson Mandela, who faced an even more fractious society, observed:

When we dehumanize and demonize our opponents, we abandon the possibility of peacefully resolving our differences, and seek to justify violence against them.

Mandela’s ability to embrace the common humanity of all his citizens brilliantly steered his country away from the violence and chaos it was primed to descend into. Martin Luther King Jr expressed a similar sentiment when he said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Today, in our country, we lack these harmonizing voices—neither our political leaders nor the media seem inclined to unify our divided nation. Instead, while they may pay lip-service to the need for bridging our differences, they are perpetuating political antagonisms to feed their own agendas.

We have had great leaders, though. Abraham Lincoln, in 1861 addressing the nation on the brink of civil war appealed to our common humanity by calling on our “better angels”:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory…will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Today, concerned citizens have taken inspiration from Lincoln and formed a grassroots movement, called “Better Angels,” to restore the broken “bonds of affection” and to recognize the “other side” as friends, not enemies. In the words of one of its leaders, David Blankenhorn, Better Angels is

A movement to create understanding. A movement to reach within and summon our better selves. A movement to turn back hatred and stand up for our humanity.

Across the country, volunteers have joined the endeavor to summon our better selves and heal our country. They offer workshops that bring “Red” and “Blue” citizens together to understand each other and to engage in political conversations that don’t ask for agreement, but do demand respect and empathy. In small towns, they are creating alliances of liberals and conservatives who are willing to find new ways to talk to each other, to participate together in public life, and thereby influence the direction of our nation.   Their invitation to their fellow citizens is found in their American Declaration:

To those who may disagree with us, we say to you forthrightly that you are our friends, not our enemies….

To those interested in our cause, but who believe that one party is more responsible than the other for today’s crisis, we admit to you that many of us have felt as you feel now.  Yet we believe that endlessly arguing the question of who is more responsible only helps those who would continue to divide us. For this reason, we urge you to consider putting this controversy aside so that all of us, red and blue, can move forward together with equal sincerity to create a new American era.  

In Iowa, also, the Better Angels movement has taken root. The Fairfield Public Library generously sponsors its activities. Several “Red/Blue” workshops have already been held. A local alliance of Reds and Blues is forming to discuss key political issues and then formulate policy recommendations, which are fed into the national debate.

For everyone who seeks to reconnect with friends and family estranged over politics, who believes that “hating the hate” compounds hatred, who wants to promote understanding and cooperation, the Better Angels invites your participation. We have to start somewhere. And we take heart, knowing that there are other small groups in other small towns doing the same. One by one, we are coming together to depolarize America.


To contact Joe and Julie Mandarino email them at BetterAngelsIowa@gmail.com.  To find out more about Better Angels, visit www.JoeAndJulie.com.   All Better Angels activities are free.

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