It’s apparent that we live in a time of political polarization that appears to be increasing rather than decreasing. Republicans and Democrats are at each other’s throat like two feral cats in a dark alley. We’re a deeply divided nation and seemingly nothing can break the gigantic log-jam between the two main political parties.

The daily bouts between members of Congress simply mirror the profound division between many family members who cannot speak together, rationally and peacefully, on the matter of politics. A case in point is this: look at the recent poll undertaken by the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia, http://www.centerforpolitics.org

According to this poll, about 75 percent of voters for Biden and 78 percent of voters for Trump look upon the other side as having become “a clear and present danger to the American way of life.” This poll also suggests that the majority of voters for Biden and Trump “distrust voters, elected officials, and media sources they associate with the others side.”  

Is there anything that can overcome this conundrum? Enter Dr. Mark Wilson who teaches a three-credit course at Auburn University titled, “Leadership for a Global Society.” This course is required for International Studies students and as an option for a minor in Leadership Studies through the College of Liberal Arts.

On November 8th, 2021, I attended a dinner and meeting at Pebble Hill moderated by Dr.  Wilson dealing with the question: “What should we do about political polarization?” There were about 25 people at the meeting made up of about twelve students and twelve adults (most of whom were over 55) who took Dr. Wilson’s course on leadership. 

To prepare for this discussion each student had to ask friends or families to name three items that concerned them about polarization. Three students volunteered to lead the group each of whom had a question or problem they would use to start a discussion on polarization.

The first problem was this: “Our system of government is at stake, and the future is not bright if we can’t find common ground. We must work through political differences to ensure our security and future success. How do we do this?

The second topis noted that the “tribalism we are experiencing has negative effects on all of our relationships. We need to preserve our professional and personal relationships despite our political differences. 

The final topic began with the statement “We have countless sources of information at our fingertips, but we often feel like we are given only one side when we deserve all sides of an issue. We have to work harder than ever to be informed and make our judgments.” 

Those present at this dialogue had divergent political views, yet every one remained calm and respectful of others who may have disagreed with them. Surprisingly, no one there brought up the events of January 6th, 2021. The three students who acted as our leaders found out how challenging it was be a facilitator.  

Some of the older adults told the students that they were our future and it was their responsibility to take care of our planet in the face of global climate change. Personally, I felt that we’re all in this together, though I did not bring this up in the actual discussion. I felt it was more important for me to listen to others rather than voice my own opinion too often. 

I wonder if a dialogue like the one I had attended could work to bring about unity in our country. My wife, Nancy, attended a “Third Thursday Poetry Series,” given by two well-known poets in Alabama, Tina Mozelle Brazziel and Ashley W. Jones. 

As part of their presentation the two poets asked the audience to break into two and share ideas on their favorite cities. My wife wrote this: “Washington D.C. is a special place, The architect planned all the roads, radiating out from the center, reminding us that things that divide, can be united by a CenterPoint.”  I think Nancy “hit the nail on its head,” in terms of our dialogue on political polarization.  

 

Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus-Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.

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