July 11, 2018

“Better Angels” Offers An Alternative At a Time of “Deep Political Division”

To the Editor:

I’m sure that most people would agree that our recent civil and political discourse in America has degraded to the point where some folks are actually advocating for violence. The too-often unasked question is: What to do about it?

Not long after the 2016 presidential election, ten Trump supporters and ten Clinton supporters came together, red and blue, to form a unique bipartisan citizen’s movement dedicated to no lesser goal than the depolarization of America. They chose to name the group “Better Angels” after the hope that Abraham Lincoln expressed in the last line of his first inaugural address, regarding the “better angels of our nature.”

Today, Better Angels has more than 3,100 members in all 50 states. Marcia Willsie and I were member delegates to our first national convention in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in early June. At that convention, 147 red and blue delegates participated in the drafting of two founding documents – “An American Declaration” and the “Better Angels Principles and Program,” which lay out our approach. These can be seen on our website, www.better-angels.org/features/articles.

At a time of deep political division, extreme rancor, and lack of civility in our interactions, Better Angels advocates doing things very differently. In our support of depolarization, we engage communities by holding moderated “red/blue workshops” where people from very different orientations may come together to listen to each other, better understand diverse points of view and also discover common thinking and values, not to mention our shared humanity. The point of the workshops is not to ask people to change their minds or temper their passions, but rather to support principles that bring us together, rather than divide us, and to conduct discourse in a civil and respectful manner.

On Saturday, June 30, the first such workshop was held in Princeton, involving about 14 remarkable participants and several observers. With the guidance of trained moderators, we succeeded in civilly sharing viewpoints and practicing respectful discourse. Several of us were left with the strong sense that the people who should be interacting the most are those with the most divergent views. This may seem counterintuitive to those who tend to pursue political tribalism instead, but we believe that it is wholly appropriate to the world in which we live today.

Please take a moment to consider joining this movement at www.better-angels.org.

Jeff Clarke, Marcia Willsie

Balcourt Drive