Family Social Science Professor Bill Doherty is spending part of his summer applying his research to help America heal.
The November 2016 election accelerated a trend that researchers have been watching grow over the past several decades: that Americans are coming to view people who differ from them politically not just as political adversaries but as enemies whose ways of living and thinking are alien and dangerous. The American society is polarizing – separating into mutually antagonistic groups that do not trust or even know one another.
The “Red” and Blue divide” has reached the point where far fewer Americans would approve of their son or daughter marrying across political party lines than across racial lines. Family and friendship bonds are being frayed and in some cases ripped apart over who voted for which presidential candidate.
“This degree of rancor and mistrust threatens the foundations of our democracy,” said Doherty. “We are experiencing levels of polarization not seen, in the opinion of some historians, since the Civil War.”
Doherty has been researching the “citizen professional” concept for more than a decade. He has examined the role of professions in society and how the role has evolved from a detached expert to a citizen professional – someone with special expertise working with – not over – members of a community to collaboratively solve problems.
Doherty is walking his talk. He has been collaborating with a small nonprofit in New York called Better Angels where he’s been the lead designer and facilitator of a series of depolarization workshops for Red and Blue Americans.
They began in Ohio after the election with two weekend dialogues for Trump and Clinton voters who came together for carefully structured weekends that led to a joint statement to the nation, a documentary (by an Emmy Award winning producer) that will come out in 2018, and the formation of a Southwest Ohio chapter of Better Angels where conservatives and liberals are working together on depolarizing work and a joint Red/Blue policy platform.
In early March, an hour-long interview did with National Public Radio’s “Indivisible” series generated interest from people in several dozen towns and cities around the country who offered to organize local red/blue dialogues. The response gave birth to the Better Angel’s One America Bus Tour, funded by the Einhorn Foundation that launched July 4 with a benefit concert featuring Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary). The tour is traveling from Ohio through New England and down to Virginia, doing Red/Blue dialogues and depolarization skills workshops in local communities and promoting the development of Better Angels chapters.
This September, Doherty will lead a dialogue as part of the Nobel Peace Prize Symposium in St. Paul, and in October the next bus tour will head to states in the south and end in Montgomery, Alabama. Rotary Club leaders in California have also expressed interest in Red/Blue dialogues for their members. Locally in the Twin Cities area, the Hennepin County library system has signed to promote these civic dialogues across its 41 branches.
Updates from the Better Angels One America Bus Tour.
Listen to WNYC’s Indivisible program podcast, “Can we reunite America,” and MPR’s program on “How to talk politics with someone who disagrees with you.”
Read the Southwest Ohio chapter of Better Angels joint statement.
Watch a six-minute excerpt from the documentary from the second dialogue.
Original material courtesy of Bill Doherty, edited by Julie Michener.