Friendships With People You Disagree With

One of the trends that I’ve found most alarming is the decline in friendships with people you disagree with. I’ve noticed on Facebook and in some social interactions a tendency of people to want to interact only with people whom they agree with and to demonize anyone who disagrees. I have to admit that at times, I’ve fallen into that trap. But I’ve also had many conservative friends over the years, and realize that there are just as many different varieties of conservatives as there are different varieties of progressives. I don’t have as many conservative friends as I used to. But the conservative friends who remain remind me that they are far more complex human beings than conservative stereotypes would give them credit for.

During the past 4 years, my biggest area of contention with conservatives has been over Donald Trump. I tend to get along better with my anti-Trump conservative friends and relatives than with my conservative friends who support Trump. Even with my friends and relatives who support Donald Trump, however, I still try to see their complexity as human beings. Though I disdain Donald Trump, I do not disdain Trump’s supporters. In fact, I deeply love and care about those Trump supporters who happen to be my friends and relatives. These same people have been there for me during my down moments and were friends to me when I needed a friend. My affection for them does not diminish just because I disagree with their politics.

It’s important for this country to get back to that point where people of differing views can debate the issues and find common ground when the debate reaches an impasse. At the beginning of our nation’s founding, there have been debates between Federalists and Republicans over the role of government, the industrial North and the agricultural South, the needs of the community and the rights of the individual, majority rule tempered by minority rights. In more authoritarian countries, one side of the political spectrum tries to eliminate the other: left wing dictatorships try to jail or kill conservatives; right wing regimes try to silence or kill leftists. One of the things that our country has benefited from has been the debate on diverse ideas. Progressives, moderates and conservatives are all right some of the time, and we are all wrong some of the time. Our country has benefited from the ideas of the Abolitionists, Women Suffragists, Wobblies, Progressive Republicans, labor organizers, democratic Socialists, New Deal Democrats, civil rights activists, feminists, LGBTQ activists, and others.

Republican Thomas Jefferson and Federalist John Adams were close friends even though they had great political disagreements. Liberal George McGovern and conservative Barry Goldwater were close friends in spite of their differing views on the Vietnam War. Liberal Ted Kennedy and conservative Orrin Hatch were close friends who collaborated on many bipartisan bills, including the American With Disabilities Act, the Ryan White AIDs Act, the Serve America Act, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

At this moment, I think the conservative movement has gone off the deep end. I’m hoping that saner conservatives can fight to regain control of the right wing from the extremists in the conservative movement. At times in the past, the Left has also gone off the deep end at times. I’m hoping that we can all get to the point that conservative Republican Jeff Flake hopes the Republican Party can return to: where Republicans can see Democrats as competing friends and not as intractable foes.

Here is an article by Peter Wehner for the Atlantic about Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”:

“Haidt’s writing and interviews, and our conversations, have clarified for me why we are so tempted to surround ourselves with only like-minded people and caricature those with whom we disagree…

…Around 2008, Haidt became increasingly concerned by how politically polarized America was becoming, and polarization has only worsened over the past dozen years. ‘I’ve gotten more and more alarmed every year since then,’ he told me, ‘and there are several trends that are very disturbing,’ including the rise of ‘affective polarization,’ or the mutual dislike and hate each political side feels for the other. ‘When there’s so much hatred, a democracy can’t work right,’ he said. ‘You can’t get compromise. You get exactly the situation that the Founders feared, that [James] Madison wrote about in ‘Federalist 10,’ which is faction, which is people care more about defeating the other side than they do about the common good’…

…I asked Haidt to explain to me precisely why it’s important that our prejudices and biases be challenged. ‘If you actually want to find the truth—if you’re a scientist or if you’re working at, say, the Defense Intelligence Agency, where your job is really to find the truth—you have to overcome each person’s preferred way of thinking, which is, find evidence for why I am right,’ he replied… ‘The only way to do it is to have someone who doesn’t share your confirmation bias engage with you. That’s why the Catholic Church created the devil’s advocate. They literally said, ‘Your job is to find reasons why we’re wrong.’’

I mentioned to Haidt that in my experience it makes a huge difference if you can establish a respectful and even warm relationship with people with whom you disagree, which allows both individuals to critique the other without feeling that either of you is under attack. When we feel we’re under attack, the armor goes up; the willingness to listen to the perspective of others goes down. If you don’t have a personal relationship with someone, I said, and you try to engage in rigorous debate, particularly in this hyper-polarized political moment, it’s often like shooting BBs against a brick wall. The arguments just bounce off.”

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Barry Goldwater’s Fight Against Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority

One of the telling examples how the Republican Party has moved to the extreme Right is to see how Barry Goldwater’s status within the Republican Party changed from the 1960s to the 1990s. During the 1960s, Barry Goldwater was viewed as the extreme Right of the Republican Party. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Christian Right began to assert its influence within both the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

Goldwater found himself increasingly at odds with the Christian Right. Goldwater criticized Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority after they had campaigned against the Supreme Court nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor. Goldwater increasingly saw Falwell and the Moral Majority as a threat to the separation of Church and State. He criticized fellow Republican Senators Jesse Helms, John East, and Jeremiah Denton for kowtowing to the Religious Right.

Here is a 1981 New York Times article on Goldwater’s fight against the Christian Right.

By the late 1980s, many Republicans began to see Barry Goldwater as one of the more moderate members of the Republican Party as Goldwater continued to clash with the Christian Right and voice his support of gay rights.

I don’t agree with Barry Goldwater’s politics. But I like him for his respect of differing views. Goldwater became close friends with liberal Democrat George McGovern during their time in the Senate.

In a Senate speech on September 16, 1981, Goldwater said:

“The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.'”

In a November 1994 interview, Goldwater said:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

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The Lincoln Project and the Fight for a Sane Conservative Movement

Here are 2020 videos of Lincoln Project co-founders Ron Steslow, Rick Wilson, and Jennifer Horn at the historic Cooper Union in NYC. The Lincoln Project is a group of conservative Republicans who oppose Donald Trump and are fighting for a conservative movement without the racism, anti-immigrant prejudice and religious intolerance of the Alt Right and the extreme Right.

Many people ask me why a liberal like myself keeps posting Facebook posts about anti-Trump conservatives. I think part of the reason is that I think progressives tend to preach to the choir.

The second reason is that I am a liberal who has had conservative friends over the course of 4 decades. Just as there are different kinds of progressives, there are also different varieties of conservatives. I personally know conservatives who are not racist or homophobic or antisemitic or Islamophobic. Those conservatives are just as horrified of Trump as I am.

Our democratic republic can only function when people of differing views can have a healthy debate of ideas and be willing to find common ground when a debate reaches an impasse. Progressives, moderates and conservatives are all right some of the time and we’re all wrong some of the time. The great danger of Donald Trump and the Cult of Personality that is now the Republican Party is that they have become so extreme that they have almost no common ground with moderates or progressives.

It’s in the interests of both moderates and progressives that sane conservatives like those in the Lincoln Project fight to regain control of the conservative movement. I don’t know how successful they will be in the short term, but at least they are speaking out. I disagree with their conservative politics, but I admire the Lincoln Project for taking a lonely stand for their principles.

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Thinking About Joe Biden, Tara Reade and Sexual Assault Allegations

Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading on Facebook of various opinions of the Tara Reade allegations against Joe Biden. My first response upon hearing of the allegations was “Oh, no!”

I think because of my politics and because of the stakes of the 2020 elections, it’s very difficult for me to look at the allegations with unbiased eyes. I despise Trump and I do not want him re-elected in 2020. And on a personal level, I like Joe Biden. My preferred Democratic candidate was Elizabeth Warren, but I have no animosity against Biden. Unlike some progressives, I see moderates like Biden as competing friends and not as implacable foes. Because of those built in biases, I can’t help but see Tara Reade’s allegations through a political lens.

The problem of these hyper-partisan times is that we often view the sexual harassment allegations against powerful political leaders through a very biased political lens. Whether it’s Joe Biden, Brett Kavanaugh, Al Franken, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton or some other political leader, we too often are tempted to judge sexual harassment allegations based on whether it helps our political cause or not. We’re biased to assume a political leader is innocent if we agree with this person’s politics or see this person as vital to our cause. Or we’re biased to assume a leader is guilty if we disagree with their politics.

This is inherently unfair to both the accuser and the accused. It makes having a fair hearing impossible. They become the targets of death threats and harassing emails and phone calls. Their personal lives become political fodder for Fox News, MSNBC, or some other political group.

After seeing how Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and others got away with sexual harassment until recently, it’s important for women and men who have been sexually harassed by powerful individuals to see that Tara Reade’s allegations get a fair hearing.

But Joe Biden should be given a fair chance to defend himself too. The case of the Central Park 5 and many cases of the Innocent Project have shown that innocent people have been accused of sexual assault. And in this poisonous political atmosphere where people are not to content to winning an argument, they try to destroy a person as well, it’s important to give the accused a chance to defend themselves.

I think that’s the only thing one can ask for, a fair hearing of both the accuser and the accused. But I don’t know if that is possible in this time. especially with Donald Trump’s history of exploiting partisan divisions and making everything about partisan politics.

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Jill Ruckelshaus, Phyllis Schlafly and the Fight for the Soul of the Republican Party

I’ve been avidly watching Hulu’s “Mrs. America” that highlights the fight between Phyllis Schlafly and the second wave feminists over passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Next week’s episode highlights Jill Ruckelshaus, the pro-choice feminist Republican who fought for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The battle between the moderate Republican Jill Ruckelshaus and the conservative Republican Phyllis Schlafly was a part of the larger fight within the GOP in the 1970s and 1980s that transformed the party.

During the 1970s, both the Republican and Democratic Parties were more ideologically diverse than they are now. The Republican Party still had a sizable number of liberal and moderate Republicans and the Democratic Party still had many conservative Democrats. The Republican Party in the early 1970s was still close to a time when the GOP was progressive on racial issues and women’s issues. The Equal Rights Amendment had the support of both Republicans and Democrats, passing the House of Representatives by a vote of 354–24 and the Senate by a vote of 84–8. It needed the support of 38 state legislatures by March 1979 to be included in the Constitution.

Jill Ruckelshaus was the White House assistant and head of the White House Office of Women’s Programs for the Nixon administration until her husband, Bill Ruckelshaus, resigned as Deputy Attorney General rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was looking into the Watergate Scandal. In 1971 she was one of the founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus, which was dedicated to recruiting, training, and supporting women who sought elected office. Jill Ruckelshaus was appointed by President Gerald Ford as presiding officer of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year in 1975. From 1980 to 1983 she served as a commissioner for the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Phyllis Schlafly was a strong conservative Christian voice that led the fight against feminism and abortion, and successfully campaigned against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She was a strong opponent of LGBTQ rights and same sex marriage. Schlafly was one of the prominent figures that influence the rise of the Christian Right within the Republican Party.

Moderate Republicans like Jill Ruckelshaus and conservative Republicans like Barry Goldwater fought the growing conservative Christian influence within the Republican Party during the 1970s and 1980s. Jill Ruckelhaus saw that Republicans who were pro-choice, supported gay rights and supported black civil rights were increasingly marginalized as the Christian Right slowly took over the Republican Party. Goldwater saw the Christian Right as a threat to the separation of Church and State.

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Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan Debate the Equal Rights Amendment

On January 28, 1976, Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan debated the Equal Rights Amendment and the women’s liberation movement on Good Morning America. Schlafly and Friedan were not friends, but they frequently debated the Equal Rights Amendment and the feminist movement during the 1970s. Right now, Hulu has a series called “Mrs. America” that highlights the fight between Phyllis Schlafly and the second wave feminists over passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It sought to end the legal distinctions between men and women in matters of divorce, property, employment, and other matters. After Representative Martha Griffiths introduced the ERA in 1971, it passed both houses of Congress in 1972, then 38 state legislatures needed to ratify the amendment before March 1979 for it to be included in the Constitution.

Betty Friedan was a feminist writer whose 1963 book ‘The Feminine Mystique’ is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century. In 1966, Friedan co-founded and was elected the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to fight for women’s equality. In 1971, Friedan joined other leading feminists to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus. Friedan was also a strong supporter of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Phyllis Schlafly was a strong conservative Christian voice that led the fight against feminism and abortion, and successfully campaigned against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She was a strong opponent of LGBTQ rights and same sex marriage. Along with Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell, Schlafly led the rise of the Christian Right in the 1970s and its eventually dominance in the Republican Party.

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William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut about the importance of PEN

In this December 2, 1985 episode of Firing Line, William F. Buckley talked with authors Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut about the importance of PEN in speaking out for writers imperiled in authoritarian governments in the Soviet Union, the Philippines, Turkey, South Africa, the Middle East and around the world. Though William F. Buckley was a prominent conservative spokesman, he founded Firing Line because he believed that it was important for individuals with diverse views to engage in a civil debate on ideas. In this episode, Buckley invited the left wing writers Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut to talk about their shared commitment to the freedom of expression.

Mailer pointed out that dictators understand the threat that writers are to authoritarian governments, so many prominent writers are jailed to silence their voices. Mailer mentioned Mila Aquilar, a Filipina poet who was arrested for speaking out against Ferdinand Marcos’ regime, as an example of a writer who PEN spoke out for. Both Mailer and Vonnegut spoke out for the necessity of fighting for freedom of expression.

Though Buckley and Mailer were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they developed a friendship. They often sailed off the coast of Connecticut, would occasionally correspond, and would share drinks and conversation. Both Buckley and Mailer had an intense dislike of fellow writer Gore Vidal. Mailer would periodically go on Firing Line to have a friendly debate Buckley on the issues.

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