Bridging Divides

A look at the relationship between populism and polarization. Could reaching out and hearing each other be the key to our survival?

I wanted to tell a story but I’m going to condense it into something more succinct instead:

  1. I had a lifelong friend whose views became very contrary to my own over the last several years (as they relate to politics, religion, and social issues). We stayed friends despite these differences and our geographic divide (about 3000 miles) but mostly kept in contact through texts and FB.
  2. A couple years ago she unfriended me on FB because of an argument we were having about a meme she posted. She told me we could continue to be friends but not on FB and only if we agreed to never talk about politics, religion, or other socially important topics. I reluctantly went along with this.
  3. We continued our (in my opinion) extremely shallow friendship for another couple years. There was little depth to it and our conversations were very superficial.
  4. 2016 came in like a hurricane and the election was fast approaching. I was distraught over the possibility of a Trump win. I was having a crisis because more and more I felt I couldn’t be friends with someone who supported Trump. The differences in people who could or couldn’t back him seemed a complete roadblock to real connection.
  5. I finally just had to know if my friend was a Trump supporter. I decided to confront her about it and wrote up a text basically asking if she was supporting Trump and laying out a few reasons why that wouldn’t be something I’d be able to accept in a friend. It was pointed and probably sounded pretty adversarial, even though my intention was to express my deep dismay about it all. I resolved myself to this despite the pain it was causing me. I sent it.
  6. Our friendship ended in a fiery disaster. I mailed her a letter about a week later to apologize for the way I handled it, letting her know that I stood by my decision, but not the tone of my text. She returned it unopened.
  7. My uncle died in December and she and my mother are still in contact so she reached out to me so that we might support my mom together. I agreed, I told her about the letter I sent, and we had a few days of civility while we got my uncle’s stuff straightened out. We didn’t continue any contact after that.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I think it sets up the issue at hand pretty well. How do we talk to people we disagree with? How can we ever expect to find middle ground, shared views, or compromises if we literally will not speak or listen to those whose views differ from ours? And is it even important or necessary to do so?

These are questions that have come up for me a lot lately. The divisiveness and discord in our country today are disturbing and I’ve been thinking about how that has affected election outcomes, friendships, and the general tone of life in the US (and elsewhere as it is not an exclusively American problem).

There’s been a lot of talk after the election about identity politics and the democrats apparent disregard for middle white America. I’ve done some soul searching of my own around this issue and have had to admit to myself that I may have been part of the problem. I’ve done little to bridge divides, but have instead clung to my own righteousness about my views, not allowing for differences of opinions. I won’t say I haven’t tried at some points to talk to people about their different views or their concerns but in most instances I probably didn’t help things with the tone I’ve taken or the words I’ve chosen. And more importantly, if I’m being completely honest, I haven’t wanted to reach out to “those people”. I’ve clung to my very negative views of them and concluded that they had nothing important, intelligent, or worthwhile to say.

How much has divisiveness and polarization contributed to our current situation? Based on a lot of the reading I’ve been doing and my own synthesis of circumstances: yugely. Trump can be accurately categorized as a populist, at least by my understanding. What exactly makes for a populist you might ask (as did I – since I didn’t know exactly what the term meant)? Well, this quote from  Andrés Miguel Rondón who has lived through a destructive populist regime in Venezuela put it plainly:

The recipe is universal. Find a wound common to many, someone to blame for it and a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Cartoon them. As vermin, evil masterminds, flavourless hipsters, you name it. Then paint yourself as the saviour. Capture their imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a good story. One that starts in anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

In essence be the common man who will fight for the little guy against elites. It matters not that Trump himself is an elite billionaire because he was able to galvanize those who felt left behind and identify with them on some base level. They were angry, he was angry, he told them he could fix it. His almost childish communication style and branding worked wonders as well.

So how can polarization give rise to or aide populist leaders? Jan-Werner Mueller may have said it best in this interview : “The most important factor explaining the outcome of the election is partisanship — around 90 percent of self-identified Republicans voted for Trump. As a third-party populist candidate, Trump may have at most received 20 percent to 25 percent of the vote.” So essentially because the republicans are so loyal to the GOP they will vote for any candidate on the ticket that belongs to their party, even if it means voting for someone who they are repulsed by. In today’s vote-party-lines culture (which is apparently more pronounced on the right than the left) someone like Trump can swoop in with their populist message and make it to the top so long as they run on a major party ticket. If he wasn’t able to get on the party ticket, he would not have had enough support to win the general election.

Ok, you may say, but what now?? Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. And I’ve found some helpful answers, but more than anything only vague suggestions or warnings. And worse yet, some of what I’ve read is scary because it sounds as if much of the Resistance movement has been playing into the populists’ hands. Let’s think about what the rallying cries have generally been. Resist, persist, picket, protest, march, write, call, show-up. Sounds great right? Seems effective, influential, and energizing! And maybe it is or can be those things. But they could also have a damaging effect in the long run. And where are the cries of “vote!”, “learn about the political process”, “get informed about topics”, “recruit voters”, or “reach out and connect with those who felt left behind by you?” There may be a few quiet voices calling for those things, but the loudest voices seem much more bent on catchy slogans and calls for immediate, physical, and group responses.

“It is possible to worry so much about Trump’s America that you forget about Trump’s Americans.”

But what is wrong with those strategies? How could protests and marches backfire? Again from someone who has personally lived through the shitshow: “we failed. Because we lost sight that a hissy-fit is not a strategy. The people on the other side, and crucially Independents, will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind.” He also says “Your organizing principle is simple: don’t feed polarization, disarm it.” We have essentially been having our own hissy-fit, all the while bolstering disparity. There is some validity to these tactics for the problems of the moment or very immediate future but they could be somewhat detrimental if they encourage continued polarization. In the long run this has to be about Americans from all areas coming together, not just the big cities or coastal states. There is danger in turning inward, staying in our bubbles, and only reaching out to those who already feel like we do. There is talk of coming together, joining causes and forces, but they only include progressive or liberal causes. There’s little talk about Trump voters and how to reach them. “It is possible to worry so much about Trump’s America that you forget about Trump’s Americans,” so says Carlos Lozada writing for The Washington Post. To put it more crudely (which is my natural inclination) – it becomes one big circle jerk.

By mal3k, CC2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’m now thinking of the immortal words of the great Ice Cube “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self.” I think we all need to take stock of our own prejudices, reluctance to speak to the opposition, and motivations. And really look at what will and won’t be effective and compassionate in the long run. If we are all gathering together, making common cause and showing force, will that lead us down a better road than we’ve been on in this country lately? In some ways, it may and has already had some positive effects. But if we continue to ignore those that have been feeling left behind, will they ever want to join our causes or even care about our views? I highlight the word feeling because we may believe, and it may even be factually true, that those people have not been left behind by us or by the democratic party as a whole, but if they feel that is true then we must first acknowledge and validate the feelings before trying to influence them in any way. And we may find that if we were in their shoes we may have some of the same beliefs.

Right now, we are the enemy to them. Our continued discounting of their feelings just drives more of a wedge between us and them. They will not be able to hear us because of the delivery of our message. We need them to feel that we are the same as they are or at least have the same fears, dreams, hopes, and needs. And that for most of us the accomplishments we’ve had (or that they perceive we’ve had) were not just handed to us (in most cases). They need to understand that we have a common enemy, and it’s not us. Policies that keep them down, also hold us back. Businesses that take advantage of them also take advantage of us. A shitty educational system is something we all want to fix. Just because we care about and fight for people who are less fortunate because of their skin color, gender, or nationality, does not mean we don’t fight for them too. Yes, they have white privilege even if they don’t realize it, but that doesn’t make their very real struggles somehow fictional.

But how do we go about that and is everybody even reachable? I’m not sure I have an answer to those questions. I have some feelings about them though. I personally believe some people are definitely not reachable. There are some people living on this planet that I will NEVER be able to, nor want to, make common cause with. There are some people who due to upbringing, education, or some other circumstance are never going to be able or willing to dig deep and find common ground. They are never going to want to hear what you have to say, trust you,  or share any of their own feelings or thoughts with you. Those people exist and we will probably never enlighten them. But I think those are a minority. In the right conditions, under the right circumstances I think people generally want to connect with one another, not create enemies. But sometimes that’s buried deep. Even for me it’s been hard to get to this place. I’m fairly oppositional and argumentative in nature and that can make connection difficult. And this election certainly brought out a fair amount of my own tribalism and disgust for people. It’s been a struggle to acknowledge the part I play in this and try to shift tactics. But that’s what I’m trying to do.

As for the “how”, I’m a bit more stymied. Not much of what I’ve read has been very helpful in the real nuts and bolts of such an idea. Reach out and connect sounds great and so simple, yet what does it really mean in practicality? How do you become a member of someones tribe if you have nowhere to start?

This now brings me all the way back to the beginning of my post. Remember my old friend who is no longer a friend? I got an idea in my head a bit ago about reaching out to her to try and bridge the divide. The purpose wasn’t to become friends again (I have no desire for that and it’s not strictly due to politics) but to try and understand each others positions and views. My hope was to grasp how she has formed her ideas and why, while providing the same to her. I was nervous about approaching her but wanted to try anyway. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the process and typing up a detailed email, trying to be careful about my wording and the system I was developing. I was hoping for it to be an ongoing exchange with a few simple rules and structures in place to keep it civil and informational.

Oh, how I wish I could tell you it has been a smashing success! But it was no success at all. She did at least send a reply and we had another exchange after that but she declined my invitation. I consider it a failure even though I did learn a few things. I learned that she really doesn’t trust me, my motivations, or even my ability to write (since she accused me of plagiarizing my email from “some website”, which of course I did not do at all). I also learned that she is completely closed to the idea of ever changing her mind, apparently about everything since she just made a grand declaration that she would “never change her mind.” I don’t know if there could have been a way this would have worked or if it was simply doomed no matter what. Maybe it was that I didn’t make it personal enough, instead deciding to use a more professional and aloof tone. Maybe she simply feels like her side won so why would she want to spend any time connecting with someone like me. Maybe she simply does not have the capacity for such dialogue, intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise. I don’t know the answers to these questions. If anyone cares to read the full text of the email exchanges, here is a link to them (with all identifying information erased of course).

So that was my first try at this whole tactic and unfortunately it didn’t turn out great. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile pursuit. I’m sure there are plenty of ways to reach out and try to hear the other side and maybe someday I’ll be able to write a post that talks about some of those more specifically. But for now at least I’m going to simply concentrate my efforts on being willing to listen and trying to clear the preconceived notions from my head and open my heart a bit wider. As for my efforts in the resistance, I’m going to continue being a “reluctant revolutionary” but a toned down version. I’m focusing my time and energy into learning how to influence government policy, increase voter turn-out, and talk about issues effectively. I’m going to become more involved at the party level and hope I can affect change in future elections. I hope everyone will find their own way to contribute and I encourage you to think about more than just protests and outrage. They are worthy endevours in their own right, but if we want to make long-term sweeping changes it may take a more nuanced approach.

If you have any stories you’d like to share about how you’ve been able to, or been unsuccessful at, bridging divides I’d love to hear them 🙂

I’ll leave you with a quote I heard on NPR the other day that really resonated with me. It comes from the Rev. Adam Hamilton talking on All Things Considered:

It’s easy to irritate people. It’s harder to influence people.

Wow….So Much Happening

It’s been a hell of a week. Here are a couple wins and an opportunity.

I haven’t had time to post lately and have felt so overwhelmed by recent news that I’m not sure where to even take this right now. But, I did want to make a quick post to encourage all of us “reluctant” activists out there to keep at it. And if you’re not already doing something, provide some additional encouragement to start.

The big news from today was Andrew Puzder dropping out of his nomination as Labor Secretary. This is a big win, especially considering we haven’t been able to stop any of the appointments thus far. I know there was a lot of activism surrounding this nominee and I think it paid off. People protested, called, and wrote and perhaps that pressure was finally felt by some republican senators. Who knows what we’ll see next for this open position, but I’d assume it can’t be as bad as the last.

The other really big news this week of course was the “resignation” of Gen. Flynn as National Security Advisor. This is also good news and another opportunity for activism. Digging deeper into Flynn’s connections with Russia and possibly Trump or others in his circle will be a big issue going forward. Make some calls or send some letters to encourage your MOC (members of congress), various committees, or departments to start or continue and ramp up existing investigations. After Flynn’s departure there was additional reporting about other Trump team members having contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign (you know, while all that Russian hacking into our election stuff was happening). This is serious business and needs to be seriously investigated and reported to the American people.

The last thing I’d like to mention today is something seemingly small, but for which I think we can have an impact that might have bigger reverberations. Georgia Congressman Tom Price is giving up his seat for a cabinet appointment. As described here by Rachel Maddow, it’s been long held by the GOP and the democratic party seems to have almost no ambition to try and win the seat. But there is at least one qualified democratic candidate running and his name is Jon Ossoff. Today I emailed the DCCC to encourage them to back this guy in a big way and set the ball rolling for 2018! I also donated directly to his campaign and posted about it in a FB group. I’ve had several responses from people who followed my advice and also donated (and we all live in OR, not Georgia, haha)! I’m hoping others might do the same things and pass the word on as well! Let’s get this party started! And, yes that’s a call to action as well as a terrible play on words, as in “get the democratic party to start doing something” 😉


Giving My Girl A Voice

A short post with writings from my 10 year old about Trump and this new world we live in.

I want to spend most of today crafting and cooking. I need a break from the endless news cycle I’ve been sucked in to. But, I wanted to post these two pieces of writing my daughter drafted last month. She is 10 years old and in fifth grade. You may be able to ascertain from her writing that she has read several dystopian novels and seen their movies. Perhaps that will make her better prepared to take on the possible tumultuous future that awaits her? Here they are in her words (with some very minor spelling, grammar, structural corrections by me).

But first, let's thank Senator Mitch McConnell for providing our movement a new slogan and rallying cry last night on the Senate floor when he silenced the great Senator Elizabeth Warren: "Nevertheless, she persisted!"

Trump is president. Protests are starting, fires are burning, bombs are blowing, havoc is rising. Life is fading, depression is coming, friends are parting, tears are falling. What should we do? Help, run, save? Should we stand tall over Trump or cower below him? We can’t be his slaves, we can’t fear him! We need Hope!!!

(after the Portland Women’s March)

Today we walked 1.3 miles just to make our voices heard, just to make our point stand. We got soaked, our feet hurt, but we kept on going. Everyone should have equal rights, African American, men, women, children. No matter what color or what gender, we all talk, walk, see, hear, and feel like each other. Women can be stronger, faster, and smarter than men. We can’t let Donald make us feel weak. We can do it, Yes We Can!

Blogging is Hard!

My struggle to figure this all out. Including my fears, commitment issues, and lack of self-confidence.

Confession time. I…do…not…know…wth…I…am…doing! Just to lay it all out on the table. Up until I started this blog, there were almost no blogs that I read regularly or followed. Sure, I might read one because somebody linked to it on FB or I stumbled across it while searching Google. Especially big ones like Huff Po that are almost impossible not to read or my favorite online writer Jim Wright whose blog Stonekettle Station  is just fabulous (and whose FB posts are almost better!). But other than that, I really didn’t know much about blogging. Including logistics, structures, etiquette, the expected quid-pro-quo with other bloggers, etc. etc.

I started this blog because I felt like I needed an outlet, I enjoy writing, and because several people had suggested to me that blogging might be perfect for me (my passion when talking about politics apparently sounded very bloggish?). All of that may be true, but it doesn’t make me actually any good at it. I’m terrified that I’m screwing this up and won’t get any better. I don’t understand most of the terminology, the tech keeps confusing me which makes everything take at least twice as long, and I still don’t feel like I even have a real “voice”. I am usually pretty witty but I don’t feel like that is coming across in my writing and I’m striving (in vain) to figure out my “niche” in the blogosphere.

I guess I’m putting this all out there as an apology and a confession. I am terribly self-conscious, critical, and battle mightily with confidence. I want this to work and I want to reach people, but the fear that prevented me from starting this for so long is creeping back: I’m not going to be good at this and nobody cares what I have to say. I hope that those things are not real or that they can be changed but it’s yet to be seen. I am going to keep at this, keep reading up on it, try to be smarter about researching it, and really work at it.

Most things in life that I’ve found to be difficult, quickly became things I no longer tried to do. Things that scared me or brought into question my abilities were summarily dismissed as “not in my wheel house” or “not worth my time”. Perfectionism has held me back from attempting or finishing more things in life than I can count. Unattainable self-imposed standards have prevented everything from a college degree to picking up a new hobby. I also struggle with finding balance, and can quickly become almost obsessed with something, finding it difficult to pull myself away to take care of other responsibilities, or even just relax. I want to change all that now. Being *almost* in my 40’s means a long history of self-defeating habits and pessimistic self-talk  (mingled with mental health issues) to overcome. But for now at least, I’m determined to keep trying!

This blog will never be perfection and perhaps I never really will reach an audience or connect with anyone, but for the moment at least I have the will to keep plugging away at it. I’ll keep learning, reading, and writing. My concern about this country and it’s politics is not something that will fade and hopefully neither will my resolve to reach people. I implore you, anyone who comes across this, to please keep checking back! It may be a bit chaotic for a while, but hopefully I’ll figure it out.

For anyone else who struggles with self-confidence or commitment, I hope you may garner something useful from my admission and pledge. I’m going to try and hang in there and I hope you can do the same with whatever scares you!


Did Trump’s apparent lack of both careful deliberation and a hierarchical system for approval lead to a terrible decision on Yemen?

So, ya’ll heard about the (arguably) disastrous raid in Yemen right? The one in which one commando and several civilians including children were killed, 3 other commandos were injured, and one of our multi million dollar aircrafts needed to be blown up. Right, so there’s more to this story and it’s making me insane.

Now, not every decision about combat ops are going to be great ones for any president and there’s always a chance of things going wrong and people getting injured or killed. It’s happened to even the best, most conscientious of leaders. But, that is not necessarily what happened here. And to top it off, the administration is lying about aspects in order to shift blame from them to Obama. Well, I’m calling bullshit and am super pissed that it’s not getting more coverage.

In this one action and their response to the outcome, the administration has demonstrated much to us, if only we are paying attention. The decision to go ahead with the raid was made by Trump at dinner, not in the Situation Room or any other room in the White House that is used for official business. There seems to be multiple conflicting stories about how much deliberation there was leading up to the decision, who may or may not have weighed in on the decision, and just generally if it was handled properly or with enough care.

While the military discussed various options for actions in Yemen, the 44th president felt such action “represented a significant escalation of US involvement in Yemen,” as one senior government official under Obama said. – By Dan Merica, Ryan Browne and Jeff Zeleny, CNN

One big thing to consider here is that although this plan obviously made it’s way through a long chain and was initiated by Central Command (because that’s what they do, come up with military plans and submit them for approval), it was not simply a “routine” mission. One of the issues here that should have been weighed heavily by Trump and his team was the fact that it meant an escalation of our presence in Yemen, from one more about air raids and support, to actual boots on the ground. That’s usually the kind of thing that deserves much consideration from the highest levels, beyond DOD. Continue reading “So…..Angry!”


Dealing with information overload and fear of missing something in today’s frenzied political news cycle.

My therapist handed me an index card at the end of our session today with those letters written on it: FOMO. I couldn’t recalling seeing those letters together like that before but stared dumbly for a moment trying to figure it out and hoping I looked like I knew exactly what it meant. Alas, I didn’t and had to admit I was stumped.

Fear Of Missing Out. That’s what those letters mean. She was giving it to me to keep handy in plain sight to remind myself that I cannot possibly know everything. There is literally no way I can keep up on every single news story being pumped out each day, read every article I think will be helpful, comment on every single facebook post I have something to say about, take some (perceived contributing) action every day, keep current on this new blog, finish reading books I have, AND also be with my family, keep my house semi-clean, cook meals for said family, keep my home running smoothly, and have recreational time. All without going completely insane! It just cannot be done!

I need those kinds of reminders often but even with them I struggle mightily with feelings of inadequacy, thoughts that I’m not doing “enough”, and internal struggles to hold it all together. I don’t think that’s ever been more present than at this point in time. I am constantly in crisis mode lately even while trying my hardest to think of this fight as a “marathon” not a “sprint”. There’s apparently a real revolutionary living inside me that craves to be let loose on the world! But, I must try to “hold my feelings lightly” as my most awesome therapist is wont to say. It’s ok to have these feelings and to just let them be. I don’t have to act on or ruminate about them. I just have to accept that they are there and continue forward.

I’m assuming that I am not alone in this boat. I know many people right now are struggling with the desire to “do something”, “do more”, or affect change while also trying to juggle their “real” lives. I just wanted to share my experience and tell all you ladies, and hopefully gents too, that you are not alone. I think if we all keep thinking long-term, seeing this as a marathon, and get and stayed organized with other like-minded people, we can beat this and not lose our minds. We must think of this as a time of change, not simply a moment of action. Being too complacent or hands-off in our approach to government and civic issues is one thing that got us where we are right now. Whatever we are doing now will have to continue on in the future, albeit at a hopefully less fevered intensity. I look forward to meeting new people, discovering what skills I might be able to contribute to the cause, and showing the ignorant bullies of this nation that they cannot so easily take our democracy or our sanity!

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to step away from the computer and craft till my hearts content ❤

America: Home of the Rich, Land of Big Business

America tumbles into plutocracy. One cabinet member at a time.

Well folks it’s official: Exxon Mobil is our new Secretary of State. Yaaaay (I hope the sarcasm in my voice comes through). Of course there’s been almost no chance of nominees not making it through simply because the dems just don’t have the numbers to stop anything. But I sure had been hoping that a few might not make it simply on principle. That at least all the democrats and a few of the republicans would just have to say no way, this is crazy! But alas, not only did every republican vote for Tillerson, so did a few democrats, one independent, and one dem didn’t vote at all. So despite it being the most contentious vote on a Secretary of State in over 50 years he is still getting the position. I’m beyond disappointed in our government right now and it just keeps getting worse by the day.

Case in point: just hours after Tillerson was confirmed, House republicans rolled out a resolution to “repeal Securities and Exchange Commission’s extraction rule. This corporate giveaway to Exxon-Mobil makes it easier for oil companies to secretly funnel money to foreign governments.” – Elizabeth Warren. Check out Senator Warren’s blistering commentary from the senate floor.

It’s also yet to be seen if Mr. Tillerson will do anything to help dissidents from Russia who are being targeted. This story on the Rachel Maddow show (2/2/17) was about one such man who had already been poisoned in a (suspected) assassination attack in Russia several years ago and nearly died. He had been living in the US when this attack took place and our State Department stepped in to help bring him back to the states for medical care and to be with his family. Well, this poor guy has been poisoned again in Russia! Rachel is justifiably concerned about what our current State Department might do or not do. I tried to find info on the Secretary of State’s website about this and found nothing. There are no current press releases, or any other kind of communication that might contain anything about this story. I hope this poor guy who has been fighting against a corrupt and dictatorial regime in his home country makes it through.