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Sunday, March 7, 2021

A Foolish Fantasy?

by John Wood, Jr., National Ambassador, Braver Angels

We have stepped into the first days of a new presidential administration. Americans across the landscape of our national life are reflecting on the time behind us. So too are we all looking forward, making our individual and group decisions on how we will proceed through the mists of uncertainty as we embark upon this new day.

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Some of us look forward with great hope. Others look forward with great apprehension. Perhaps most of us are somewhere in between.

For myself at least, I was fairly heartened by the substance of President Biden’s inaugural address and the general spirit of the gathering.

Shadows loomed of course. Due to COVID-19 and a heavy security presence amid fears of violence, this event would not be attended by the mighty crowds of citizens and patriots who have made pilgrimage to the swearing in of presidents a long tradition in American life. But the grand tradition of our Republic prevailed and endured, in altered form, amidst our perils.

But there was another shadow sweeping over the day, which President Biden named in an effort an effort to dispel it. “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real.”

He is right about this. To many conservatives the president’s calls for unity ring hollow at a moment where supporters of former-president Trump feel themselves targeted on social media, a moment where efforts are under way to impeach the former president and a moment in which many on the right feel that all Republicans are being lumped in with the extremists who stormed the Capitol.

On that subject, I highly recommend our most recent episode of the Braver Angels Podcast, featuring Braver Angels members Chrissy Koach and Tom Cook. Chrissy and Tom voted for Donald Trump and attended the protest. The stories of what they saw, their own reactions to it, and their reasons for being there took courage to share. They are well worth listening to.

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Hosted by my friend and Braver Angels co-founder, David Lapp:

“What I Saw at the Capitol on January 6th:” Perspectives from Two Protestors

[To a fellow protestor outside the Capitol] “We have a permit to be here but we do not have a permit to hurt anyone, we do not have a permit to do anything illegal.” -Chrissy Koach

“Stop listening to people who yell at you…listen to people who talk calmly, and talk to people on the other side.” -Tom Cook

Across much of the right leaning landscape, conservatives and others are sounding forth calls to retreat from spaces perceived as run by the left. Major media personalities and activist leaders are looking to build new institutions, new online and in-person communities, in an effort to be free from social persecution and to continue the work of movement building. 

On the left meanwhile there is a fear that talk of unity will lead to the forgoing of accountability for those whom many democrats feel have corrupted our politics and our government. There is also the fear that “unity” implies the return to a status-quo wherein the struggles of marginalized communities is a marginal issue in the eyes of those in power. 

Braver Angels members Karen Ward and Karen Cotter are setting a different example. Red and blue respectively, a powerful article and short video appeared in Yes! Magazine and in Resolve Magazine recently about the friendship of Ward and Cotter and the work of Braver Angels. While it is possible that the differences between them have only grown in recent months the power of their bond has grown as well.

“I think it’s a mistake to think that we have to agree. That is not gonna happen and it shouldn’t have to happen.” -Cotter

“We do a pretty good job of separating our private and social life from political life.” -Ward

“We have developed this relationship and it’s something worth keeping.” -Cotter

(From An Unlikely Alliance, Resolve Magazine)

Braver Angels members do find common ground with each other and do often find cause to change their thinking in one direction or another, of course. But the power of our work together starts with the relationships we build.

This is worth keeping in mind in a moment where Americans are looking for ways to cut ties with each other, excommunicating each other or retreating themselves from shared public squares in media, politics, and even social life. 

Why? It is, in part, due to the sorting of the American people into their respective echo chambers, where we do not engage the same sets of facts, where we uncritically absorb dehumanizing narratives about the other side, and where we fortify ourselves against views that challenge our biases, that we have found ourselves in this perilous moment of division in the first place. Now we risk doubling down on that problem.

Cotter and Ward may disagree with each other’s politics. But they trust one another’s characters. When people trust each other they do not lie to each other. They will not cheat one another if they work together in a neighborhood block club, a PTA, a city council or in congress. People who trust one another do not wield insults and propaganda against each other because there are deeper values that we choose to honor in each other.

The politics of retreat and exclusion will not purchase us an America where we trust one another. They themselves are a product of our distrust. At Braver Angels we choose to do the painstaking work of rebuilding trust within society.

To be a part of Braver Angels is to be a part of this coming together. We do it because there is joy in relationship. But even more importantly, we do it because we have a responsibility to prevent the unraveling of American society.

It takes courage to do this work. It takes bravery. Our friends do not always approve or understand, to say nothing of those who oppose our points of view. But the community we are building at Braver Angels is one that is rich enough to allow us to support each other through any trials. It is one that is already inspiring people across the nation to walk the path towards a better tomorrow. And that is no foolish fantasy.

Amanda Gorman, America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, gave a stirring recital at the inauguration this week. She opened her poem by asking “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” In the concluding verses of The Hill We Climb she answers:

-The new dawn blooms as we free it
-For there is always light,
-if only we are brave enough to see it
-if only we’re brave enough to be it

Let us be brave enough to free the light of tomorrow.

-John Wood, Jr., National Ambassador

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