Civility in politics? We’ve just about given up on that concept.
Loud, angry and arrogant is how we talk to each other. We don’t debate as much as we just scream. Heck, we can’t even agree on what the truth is anymore. Those willing to listen to opposing views and have reasoned, open dialogues are being drowned out in the din.
Every day, we see the political landscape getting a little more divided and a little more hostile. Families, and we see this first hand, are banning political talk at holiday meals and other celebrations just to get through the day without getting mad with each other.
So forgive us if we’re skeptical — and yet hopeful — of an idea being pushed locally by two Frederick County residents who are on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Jim Carpenter, a Democrat from Frederick, and Natalie Abbas, a Republican from Myersville, are behind a local chapter of Better Angels, a national nonprofit organization established nearly three years ago to bring people together to discuss the issues without the rhetoric that often goes along with it.
The name Better Angels comes from an 1861 speech made by President Abraham Lincoln during our country’s most divisive time, the Civil War.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies,” Lincoln said. “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. “
Better Angels helps bring people together by having members consider their own reasoning for their stances on political issues and then encourages dialogue with others who have opposing views. They do this mostly through workshops. Each Better Angels chapter strives to have an equal number of people from each political party so that no one view dominates.
The biggest surprise some might find, Carpenter told us, is that we have more in common than the current political climate would lead you to believe.
“When they get together and share that with the other side, they find out, we’re really more similar,” Carpenter said last week. “It kind of breaks down the initial barriers no matter what they started out with, and opens them up.”
We’re encouraged by their effort and we hope people from opposing viewpoints will have the courage to challenge their own beliefs enough to sit down for a conversation. But we know that’s probably going to be the toughest part.
We’ll have a better idea of how successful Carpenter and Abbas’ Better Angels project is going when they host a Red-Blue workshop in Frederick this December. We’d also hope that some of our elected officials from both sides of the political aisle will attend the workshop to show their commitment to a more civil dialogue moving forward.
Tom Sterling, the Maryland coordinator of Better Angels, called Frederick a “microcosm of the country” given the Democrat-Republican split. In our eyes, this could mean that Frederick could be the perfect place to try this out.
We’re hopeful that Frederick, a place where opinions on broad issues can run deep and firm, will support this attempt at a civil dialogue on tough topics and set the tone for other communities to follow.