Across the Divide

2 min

Political bubbles exist everywhere in America and they spawn disdainful stereotypes of The Other. When Erica Etelson decided to reach across the divide something surprising happened.

On my way to my first left-right political dialogue, I was dubious. Was there any point in talking to Republicans? Was I consorting with the enemy?

I live in a liberal Berkeley bubble and, like three out of four Americans, I don’t talk to people on the other team. I scarcely thought of them at all until November 8, 2016, and then, suddenly, I despised them.

I binged on social media vilifying Trump supporters as Archie Bunkers out of central casting. My contempt was registering in the 90th percentile, and I literally felt poisoned by it.

Eventually, my curiosity was aroused. I started going to left-right dialogues to understand how anyone could have thought it was a good idea to vote for Donald Trump. And the smugly self-righteous part of me thought that, just maybe, I could convince them to see the error of their ways. That didn’t happen.

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What did happen was that I stopped hating them. Sitting face-to-face, eating muffins and sharing stories, my contempt dissolved, and I’m pretty sure theirs did, too. They were no longer cardboard cutouts of bigots. Their views were diverse. Most of them were critical of Trump. Some even said things I agreed with and vice versa.

I still get outraged every single day, and I’m still doing everything in my power to create a safe and healthy future, but I’m doing it without stewing in my own venom and without antagonizing the other side.

This kind of dialogue is happening all over the country, because hating political adversaries is a dangerous business. Hate erodes social bonds. It makes us seek vengeance instead of common ground. It destroys friendships, sometimes even marriages, sometimes nations.

The purpose of these exchanges is simply to re-humanize each other, to see each other in our totality, to reflect on our virtues and weaknesses, and to recognize that nothing is gained from treating political adversaries like enemies.

With a Perspective, I’m Erica Etelson.

Erica Etelson is a former human rights attorney and author of a book about talking across the political divide.

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