Julie McDonald Commentary: Braver Angels Seeks to Bridge the Gap Between Red and Blue

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The potential overturning of Roe v Wade. Calls for gun control. Disclosures from investigations by the House Jan. 6 Committee.

The last few months — especially the last week — show the wide separation between conservatives and liberals in the United States.

Conservatives herald the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked memo in early May, indicating it may overturn the legalization of abortion and shift the decision to the states, as an answer to decades of prayers. Liberals see it as a draconian effort to sabotage women’s rights and hurt the poor.

The May 24 slaughter of two teachers and 19 children in a fourth-grade classroom at a school in Uvalde, Texas, has reignited the debate over gun control. Liberals want laws banning AR-15s and other high-velocity weapons and imposition of red flag laws to keep mentally unstable people from buying guns. Conservatives see it as yet another attack on Americans’ ever-eroding constitutional right to bear arms.

Liberals see Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, co-chair of the Jan. 6 Committee, as a brave woman who stands by her convictions at great political costs. Conservatives consider her — and 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler — as traitors to the Republican Party and its icon, former President Donald Trump.

Of course we have crossover.

I’m a conservative who admires Cheney and Herrera Beutler for speaking the truth and refusing to buy into the sore-loser-stolen-election fantasy. If people can’t buy a pack of cigarettes until they’re 21 under federal law, why can they purchase an AR-15 at the age of 18? All life is precious. Period. But I can’t help wondering about already traumatized victims of rape and incest and the unfathomable choice of saving a baby or a mother.

How can we ever communicate with one another and bridge the gaps to create common-sense solutions to life-and-death problems? Will our passionate beliefs continue to fracture friendships and family ties? Can we ever quit demonizing those who hold opposing viewpoints and engage in rational discussions aimed at finding solutions?

That’s the goal of Braver Angels, a group founded after the 2016 presidential election to bring together people with opposing viewpoints in hopes they can find common ground.

The organization was initially called Better Angels, inspired by this quote from President Abraham Lincoln: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. 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.”

Just as the divisiveness seen during the Civil War, Braver Angels acknowledges the past quarter of a century has seen an increase in political polarization and demonization of people holding contrary viewpoints.

But we aren’t enemies. We are all Americans.

Braver Angels wants to rebuild civic trust, heal wounds between left and right, and help Americans work together to build better communities.

How?

By communicating. By trying to understand each other. By bridging partisan divides. By building a united house. By working together to find common ground.

A writer friend first told me about Braver Angels and an upcoming discussion on Roe v Wade. I’ve been a staunch pro-life advocate my entire life, but I’ve seen glimpses of gray at times — the 11-year-old girl molested by a perverted relative who impregnates her. An innocent life was created when he robbed the young girl of her childhood. But does forcing a child to carry a pregnancy to term violate her even more? It’s not the baby’s fault, but it wasn’t the girl’s either.

Decades ago, after staffing the Right to Life booth at the Clark County Fairgrounds, I sat in a Women’s Studies class at the University of Washington in Seattle and listened to two women debate abortion. I agreed wholeheartedly with the pro-life stance, but as I listened, I realized the futility of the argument. Could the pro-life woman ever convince the pro-choice advocate that the fetus is actually a life? Could the pro-choice woman ever persuade the staunch pro-life believer that the baby is just a mass of cells?

I didn’t think so. I still don’t know.

But my interest prompted me to tune in May 19 to a two-hour discussion on the topic featuring people throughout the nation who held opposing viewpoints. Surprisingly, each speaker maintained respect for others, even those with different viewpoints. They posed contemplative questions. They didn’t agree, but listening helped me understand both sides without anger, nastiness or demonization.

The Braver Angels Rule states that red and blue leaders are represented equally. After the divisive 2016 election, the group’s founders — David Blankenhorn, Bill Doherty and David Lapp — brought together in Ohio a racially diverse group of 10 Donald Trump supporters and 11 Hillary Clinton voters for its first Red/Blue Workshop to see if they could disagree respectfully and perhaps find common ground.

The depolarizing nonprofit ran a bus tour, organized workshops, trained moderators and launched the Better Angels Podcast in 2018. Two years later, it changed the name from Better Angels to Braver Angels “to reflect the courage needed to bridge the divide,” according to its website.

Too many people today seem to thrive on stirring up hate and animosity that can trigger violence.

Not me.

I may not agree with people who espouse beliefs opposed to mine, but our Christian faith calls us to love everyone — not just those who agree with us.

For more information on Braver Angels, go to https://braverangels.org/.

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Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.