Jim Carpenter and Natalie Abbas are on different sides of the political aisle —Carpenter, a Democrat from Frederick, and Abbas, a Republican from Myersville.

But that hasn’t stopped the two Frederick County residents from talking politics in a respectful way. And now, they aim to spread civil discourse through a national nonprofit tasked with teaching Democrats and Republicans how to discuss the issues without inflaming the rhetoric.

Carpenter and Abbas are part of Better Angels, an organization established in December 2016 to combat polarization in today’s political landscape through specially-designed workshops and debates.

The name stems from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, when he said, “The better angels of our nature” would bring Americans together.

Those workshops are meant to determine any core values Republicans and Democrats may share, Carpenter and Abbas said.

Carpenter said there are multiple parts of the workshops, which first involve Republicans and Democrats talking about their own stereotypes and then reconvening with the other side and completing a “fishbowl” exercise.

That exercise shows both sides that the core values of both Democrats and Republicans are closer in common than people may think, Carpenter said.

“There’s quite a variety of opinion and then some kernel of truth in the stereotypes they’re known by,” Carpenter said. “When they get together and share that with the other side, they find out, we’re really more similar... it kind of breaks down the initial barriers no matter what they started out with, and opens them up.”

Abbas, a former vice president of the Greater Frederick Republican Women, said she knew Carpenter previously from local political circles, adding he approached her about joining Better Angels roughly three months ago.

The nonprofit seeks to keep membership balanced between Democrats and Republicans.

“I like to keep my thumb on the pulse of Frederick,” Abbas said. “One of the things I’ve done is keep engaged with the Republican Party, and when I had the opportunity to jump in as the Republican counterpart, I was eager to do it.”

They said a workshop is planned for December at Trinity United Methodist Church in Frederick. They both aim to recruit seven to nine members from both parties and — given their social networks — they said that shouldn’t be an issue.

Since its inception nationwide, Better Angels has held hundreds of workshops. One in Oregon was examined in May 2019 in The Rotarian, a monthly publication of Rotary International.

Both Republicans and Democrats were surprised by how effective the workshop was, according to the article.

“By the last exercise, when people from the two sides come together in small groups to ask each other questions, certainty on both sides seems a lot wobblier than it was in the morning,” author David Sarasohn wrote.

Abbas said she’s most looking forward to that aspect of the workshop.

“I think the part about the workshops that is going to be really amazing to me is to see the transformation, the synergy and the a-ha moments,” Abbas said. “I’m looking for the paradigm shift, and I’m looking for people to pull up their sleeves and get involved.”

Tom Sterling serves as Maryland’s state coordinator for Better Angels. He said members who join first can do a skills workshop and then a Red-Blue workshop, the one scheduled in Frederick in December. After that, interested members can form an alliance group whose goal is to eventually look at policy issues and attempt to create bipartisan solutions.

Currently, there is an alliance group in Montgomery County, and Sterling hopes some can be formed in Frederick and Carroll counties.

The key, Stering added, is making sure there is a 50-50 Democrat and Republican split among those alliances and workshops.

Sterling added he also serves as a moderator during the workshops.

“We have to be so neutral that people come up at the end of the workshop and ask what color are you anyway,” Sterling said, referring to the red and blue associated with the two political parties.

He added Frederick County is a “microcosm of the country” given the Democrat-Republican split, and is interested in seeing how Better Angels develops here.

Sterling was optimistic about the organization’s future, given its rapid growth — and said the exercises teach people to listen closely and try to see each other’s values.

“Once you begin to really listen empathetically to the other side, and really try to take in their views and understand, it cannot help but change you,” Sterling said.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter:


Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(40) comments


Sorry but complete idiots on here - everyone has "their" opinion and this article is just about this very thing. STOP spewing your hate and move on - the Elections will tell the tale at the end.


Welcome to the FNP Opinion Forum fellow “complete idiot”. I assume your comment reflects “ your” opinion. I assume that’s why it’s called an “Opinion Forum” because every comment reflects an opinion. It’s a fairly harmless place to vent and unfortunately many here embrace hate. As far as the Elections being the end all? Not so far. Visit often slsmithmd, but beware, it can become an addiction. Peace.


Congressional Democrats are wasting time negotiating with Congressional republicans they’d get more accomplished negotiating with them Russian Federal Assembly


I guess it's inevitable that here we are reading an article about acknowledging our differences and finding common ground, and yet we have people commenting whose only thought is to say "but those awful Republicans!" and but those awful Democrats!" You folks are exactly the kind of people who ought to be attending these workshops. There's so much more to life than getting lost in the level of anger and acrimony that the political scene tries to make us think is the reality. It is simply a formula for getting nothing done except breed divisiveness and hate. Our political leaders and political parties are not going to solve this. It is up to us to figure out, at the one-to-one level, how to co-exist without being stuck in this trap of polarization. Then we can return to politics if we so desire, with a different outlook and actually work together to improve our community. Better Angels is just trying to help us understand that and move forward. That takes brains, innovation and courage. They may be the only politically oriented group that makes sense around here.


Those that are on opposite sides but share an "End Goal" makes it easier. The problems arise when debates on how to get there seem unfair to the other party. Hilarity ensues at that point. We are at the point where it is no longer funny.


I think for many issues everyone has the same end goal; a prosperous, healthy, safe, vibrant society. Most of the differences are around how one gets there. Your rhetoric in most posts do not help.


I missed part. Here's the whole thing---https://quoteinvestigator.com/2018/04/09/ballot/


[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] bsherm!


Thought they taught civics in public schools.


"Civics"? You mean "Social Studies," unless you are over 80.


Nope, it would still be Social Studies.


I took Civics in 8th grade and I’m only 79. You might want to revise that to “over 78”. You’re welcome. 😇


I always had Social Studies, never Civics. Of course this was not in Maryland.


The state of Maryland requires high school students pass a course in National, State and Local Government. to graduate and it is simply called Government. Kids in schools on a block schedule (4 classes a day) take it for one semester and kids in schools with a 7 period day take it for 2 semesters. Government is also embedded in the elementary and middle school social studies curriculum.


My stepfather is a rush Limbaugh listening republican. I am not. Yet when we get together for thanksgivings, Xmas, & birthdays we get along just fine. Our secret? We don’t talk about politics.


I used to listen to Rush, because I felt he was joking. It was hard for me to believe anyone would believe the trash he was saying.


Rush is the king of division. His job is literally to divide the country - the liberal tribe on this side and the conservative tribe on that side. If there is a devil, he looks like Rush.


Exactly - another idiot trying to incite!


Trump is a moronic idiot. His supporters think he's the best thing since sliced bread. When faced with professed Christian values (that he plainly doesn't have), draining the swamp of corruption (just to fill it up with his own, far worse, corruption) and all the financial and global winning promised (billions spent on propping up farmers that he screwed, defeating ISIS by simply withdrawing our troops and abandoning our allies in various ways just to cozy up to dictators, etc), his supporters still think he's the best thing since sliced bread. His supporters have abandoned all logic and rationality just so they can avoid a Democrat as president. That's the bottom line: they cannot even dream of voting for a Democrat. EVER. There's no reason to politely discuss the issues with people who are plainly incapable of understanding much of anything or choosing another position. The few sane Republicans who existed in 2016 mostly chose to not cast a vote for president because they couldn't even think of connecting an arrow to a Democrat. Let *that* sink in. They have been trained to never ever ever ever vote for a Democrat, at all possible costs. We are not dealing with people who hold different positions, we are dealing with people who are so entrenched into one-way thinking that their souls are forever lost. Period.


You are right, at one time I always tried to vote for the best person. Now, because of the way Republicans are behaving I will no longer vote Republican.


"the way Republicans are behaving"??? hahahahahahahaha Funny guy. I feel just the opposite. I changed my affiliation from dem to Republican because of the way THEY were behaving.


You need to attend a meeting WTT.


Best wishes to the Better Angel's. While it is always the fringes of both parties that makes the news, there is a significant amount of common ground shared by the moderate that could be developed. [thumbup]


Could, yes, will, no, Gabe.


Why not Dick? Are you unwilling to work with those with different political opinions? How do you know that others won't? There are groups at all levels, local, state, and Federal who have been working together in such caucuses for a long time. It's time for those in the middle to take the reins and get things done. Keep the outside fringes on the outside looking in. As it stands, the political goal of both sides is to stop the other side from getting a win.


You and I will disagree, Gabe, but I do, at least in my opinion, try to listen and agree where it is reasonable. As I see it, the Republicans will not. Look at all that surround Trump, including Barr, who is representing Trump, not the country. Barr is a good example of a bad example.


The present administration is not "all Republicans", no more than "the squad" is all Democrats, Dick. You pointed out that your spouse is a Republican. Is she a congenital liar like our current President? I surely hope not. You see, that is the problem with trying to tar everyone in a group with the same broad brush. It simply isn't true. There are many outside the fringes that actually talk and get along, and try to work out their differences (although you'd never know that based on the discourse found in this space, with certain exceptions). I belong to neither party. Libertarians share the best of both worlds.


Yeah, they are not all of the Republicans, but a majority of Republicans still support Trump. The reason for Democrats supporting the representativeswas because of the namesTrump and some Republicans were calling them. Still, it is not what the majority of Democrats support.


To show appreciation to Putin putting him in the WH Trump is now allowing Turkish Muslims to bomb US troops in Syria.


I'm unaffiliated so I vote how I want without either party barraging me with literature or visits. I respect the office of the Presidency. Trump won. Ok then. It's so not-ok now, I won't vote for any Rs.


My wife is Republican, so we get literature from both. She hates Trump, because of his lies and nasty mouth.


That's all very sweet and everything and I wish these 2 luck. But they should know, however, that as long as members like AOC, Omar, Tliab, etc., are there, there never will be any bipartisan dialog because that's not what those 3 want, including others like them. They want to overthrow the government, albeit, by political means and dialog is not on the list. This also filters down to the local levels since everything in politics is a link and chain.


That's all very sweet and everything and I wish these 2 luck. But they should know, however, that as long as members like Moscow Mitch, Pope Clueless, Scalice, McCarthy, anti-semite King, etc., are there, there never will be any bipartisan dialog because that's not what those 4 want, including others like them. They want to overthrow our democracy and let Putin rule us, albeit, by political means and dialog is not on the list. This also filters down to the local levels since everything in politics is a link and chain.

Boyce Rensberger

Overthrowing the government by political means can be a fine thing to do. It's even enshrined in the Constitution. Also, if you have any historical perspective, you will know that the most serious attacks on bipartisanship have come from Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell.


Yes, Boyce, that statement confused me too! Political overthrow means winning at the ballot box, which is perfectly acceptable and normal!


riccicc, AOC, Oar, Tliab, etc. have zero, nada, no influence on the ideals of the Democratic Party. The Far Right faction of the Republican Party, I.e. “The Freedom Caucus” has far, far, more influence on the warped agenda of the “Trump Party” than the “squad” does on the direction of the Democratic Party. Time to decide riccicc. America or Trump? Vote for one only.








You know, ric, you are right on this, but in my opinion they are isolated examples and the Republicans are the same.

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