By Mike Kelly | Related Press
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — They sat in a circle, Republicans subsequent to Democrats, Trump supporters alongside Trump critics.
Nobody pointed fingers.
Nobody yelled at anybody.
When it was over, everybody shook palms.
On a current wet night, 10 individuals gathered inside a Gettysburg church — not removed from the rolling hills the place Union and Accomplice troopers fought a climactic battle that turned the tide of the Civil Struggle — and tried to discover methods to heal the deep political divisions which have engulfed America in one other type of civil struggle.
First, nevertheless, the group, which calls itself Politics, Details and Civility, had to agree on a number of guidelines.
“We’re here to be nice to each other,” stated Currie Kerr Thompson, a retired Gettysburg School professor and the group’s chief.
A number of individuals smiled. A couple of positioned arms over their mouths to stifle laughs.
“It’s natural to interrupt, but we’re going to suppress that inclination,” Thompson continued, peering over his glasses as if he have been lecturing one in every of his school courses. “And we’re also going to refrain from rolling our eyes and making inappropriate noises.”
What adopted was greater than 90 minutes of completely peaceable discourse. First, the group targeted on America’s drug insurance policies. However then the dialogue turned to a broader concern: the roiling political polarization that appears to be worsening because the Nov. 6 midterm elections draw close to.
Polls inform us that voters aren’t simply sad with their elected leaders — and with the media who cowl them. A overwhelming majority of People harbor profound worries that the nation’s fractured politics — amplified by social media and 24-hour cable information — have turned once-sober coverage debates into verbal wrestling matches. The result’s a rising perception that solely probably the most excessive voices drive the nationwide dialogue. Strange people really feel misplaced. And elected leaders — even on the native degree — are left hamstrung, fearing that even a touch at compromise with their political opponents will end in political dying.
All of those elements have been behind the efforts to type Gettysburg’s Politics, Information and Civility group — one of many few of its sort within the nation.
Thompson, 75, a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Hower, 71, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and the chief of the Adams County Republican Celebration, joined forces in early 2017 when it turned clear to each that the discordant nationwide political dialogue had deteriorated much more, in tiny Gettysburg and throughout the nation.
Elizabeth “Betsy” Hower, head of the Adams County Republican Committee exhibits off her Trump indicators that she had gotten on the 2016 Republican conference. (Chris Pedota/The Document by way of Related Press)
Every felt their city’s position in serving to to protect a fractured union within the 1860s made it a uniquely symbolic place to discover widespread floor between the disparate, indignant fringes that now threaten to tear America aside.
However Thompson says he instantly confronted a vexing problem. Certainly one of his most “troubling experiences,” he stated, was convincing individuals to come to the group’s conferences.
“A number of people,” he stated, “don’t want to talk to those people they disagree with.”
However the few who initially joined say they have been motivated by a way of obligation to their nation that transcends politics.
“I’m the eternal optimist, but I’m a little worried about the country,” stated Cindy Daley, 63, who works for a authorized providers program that helps individuals discover reasonably priced housing. “Our country survives as long as we have faith in it, as long as we have faith in the institutions. And I see that faith just peeling apart.”
No interrupting and no eye rolling — these are among the many floor guidelines for Politics, Details and Civility, a bipartisan dialogue group that meets at Prince of Peace Episcopal Church in Gettysburg, Pa.
A promise to hold speaking
On the finish of 1 current assembly, there was no consensus, no plan of motion — only a promise to meet once more and hold speaking. It was a small victory nonetheless — although far much less consequential than the Union military’s pivotal triumph at Gettysburg, it was noteworthy that such a various group might meet with out buying and selling insults or punches.
For a lot of within the group, because it does for many People, the mere point out of Gettysburg conjures photographs of the type of carnage that may happen when a nation is so deeply divided that it goes to conflict with itself. Even immediately, some Gettysburg buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes from the three-day battle in July 1863 that left almost 51,000 troopers lifeless, wounded or lacking.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Tackle, delivered at a battlefield cemetery simply 4 months after the capturing ended — particularly his name to protect a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” — stays a touchstone of America’s civic beliefs.
Within the waning days of the 2016 marketing campaign, Trump got here to Gettysburg to define his objectives for his first 100 days in workplace, together with a pledge to “drain the swamp in Washington, D.C., and replace it with a new government of, by and for the people.” In that very same speech, Trump additionally urged People to “rise above the noise and the clutter of our broken politics.”
Now, virtually two years later, members of Thompson and Hower’s group agree that the nation seems woefully dysfunctional, partially due to Trump’s behavior of verbally bashing his critics. A authorities “of, for and by the people” looks like a distant dream.
“When two elephants fight, the grass suffers,” stated Chad Collie, citing an African proverb to name consideration to the divisions between Republicans and Democrats, shortly amending it by including references to the mascots for America’s fundamental political events — donkeys for Democrats and elephants for Republicans.
Collie, 42, a contractor who voted for Trump “despite opposing his bad behavior,” says Trump’s Gettysburg speech helped persuade him that the actual property developer and actuality TV star was prepared for the presidency. On the similar time, Collie believes Trump has contributed mightily to the acrimony that continues to colour American politics.
“When you reduce things to short sound bites,” Collie stated, “there’s no wonder that everything turns into polarization.”
Dale Williams, 68, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain, agreed. Like Collie and others within the group, Williams felt that the nation’s polarized local weather is hindering dialogue between disparate teams.
“That’s the frustrating thing for me,” stated Williams, a pastor at a Presbyterian church in Gettysburg who now volunteers as a counselor to inmates on the Adams County Jail. “How do we get people to talk to each other?”
“Let’s find things we can agree on,” Collie instructed.
Williams nodded. “When I think about trying to solve the nation’s problems, it becomes frustrating,” he stated. “Maybe we should try to find some local issues we can agree on.”
Williams, who forged a write-in vote for a candidate he declined to identify as a result of he couldn’t convey himself to vote for Clinton or Trump, stated in an interview that he’s hopeful that America can come collectively.
“Even during the Civil War, the citizens of Gettysburg took care of the Confederate wounded soldiers,” he stated.
Bringing others to the desk
The Rev. Herb Sprouse, the rector of Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, which has hosted the group for greater than a yr, stated he yearns for some signal that probably the most excessive voices on both sides will discover a means to reconcile, or on the very least promise to converse respectfully to one another.
“How do we cultivate people beyond our circles of conversation?” Sprouse requested at one level. “How can we plant the will for reconciliation?
Discovering solutions to such questions, Sprouse stated, is hardly straightforward.
“Even maintaining civil conversation under certain circumstances can be very hard work,” he stated, taking a look at every member. “From time to time, we’ve had conversations that have had their provocative moments. But a group like this is only in the room because we value the attempt, and maybe we think that if we do it we’ll get better at it, and maybe it has some impact around us.”
Sprouse paused and appeared across the circle.
“It’s not that we have to agree. It’s not that we have to believe the same things,” Sprouse stated. “But we have to be in a relationship that allows society to function.”
Darcy Maier, 59, a social employee who focuses on look after seniors, described herself as a “dyed-in-the-wool Democrat” who has “never voted for a Republican president.” She joined the group as a result of she feared that the nation’s political fissures have been widening to some extent the place they may not ever be repaired.
“I certainly would never have envisioned myself on this quest of trying to heal the political divide,” Maier stated. “After the last election, though, it seemed like the possibility of actual revolution or civil war might be real if we don’t take active steps to prevent it.”
On the similar time, others are much less hopeful that the group will succeed.
Zach Brillhart, 21, the chief of Gettysburg’s Younger Conservatives Membership, predicts that the nation’s political divide will probably widen.
“I don’t see groups of people suddenly getting together, coming together and operating as one,” Brillhart, who voted for Trump and isn’t a member of the civility group, stated as he handed out marketing campaign literature at a retirement residence on the outskirts of Gettysburg. “I think you’re always going to have a division.”
Again to the battlefield
Gettysburg, a 2-square-mile school city of roughly 7,800 residents, has lengthy been the cultural, social, financial and political nexus of Adams County, a rolling, 522-square-mile panorama of apple farms, horse pastures and truck warehouses in south-central Pennsylvania that’s house to almost 103,000 individuals.
However Gettysburg is staunchly progressive and Democratic, whereas the remainder of Adams County is one thing of a Republican bastion. Hillary Clinton captured almost 65 % of the almost 2,800 votes forged in Gettysburg within the 2016 presidential election. However Trump took almost 69 % of the greater than 45,000 votes that have been forged all through the county.
Currie Kerr Thompson, a retired Spanish professor at Gettysburg School, is the chief of the Politics, Details and Civility group. “We’re here to be nice to each other.” (Chris Pedota/The Document by way of Related Press)
Regardless of their political variations, Thompson and Hower realized that they had a lot in widespread. Each have been educators. Thompson taught Spanish at Gettysburg School for almost 30 years; Hower nonetheless works in its place instructor within the native public faculties.
That they had one thing else in widespread: Their ancestors fought on the Battle of Gettysburg.
Three of Thompson’s nice uncles served with North Carolina militia models that have been amongst Robert E. Lee’s Accomplice forces that stormed into southern Pennsylvania in the summertime of 1863. Two of these nice uncles have been killed later within the warfare.
In the meantime, a number of of Hower’s ancestors fought on the Union aspect at Gettysburg. One in every of them, she stated, was captured throughout a skirmish on the town’s outskirts and was held as a prisoner of warfare by the Confederates.
Thompson, who was raised on a tobacco farm in North Carolina and nonetheless speaks with traces of a Southern drawl, calls himself a “blue voter” — a Democrat. However he says he’s hardly a celebration loyalist.
“I think my party has been blind on many things, like not recognizing the legitimate frustration of people who are not just unemployed but underemployed,” he stated.
On the similar time, Thompson stated that far too many Democrats even have been “too prone to blow … off as racism” any try to curtail unlawful immigration.
“I think the blue voters have not paid attention to many of the needs of the red voters,” Thompson stated at his residence outdoors Gettysburg, not removed from a area the place his nice uncles’ models camped earlier than the battle. “This extreme politicization is hurting us emotionally, morally and intellectually.”
Interesting to the nation’s ‘Better Angels’
Thompson hopes the group he shaped with Hower will spark a nationwide effort to deliver a level of peace and civility to the nation’s political debates. Starting this fall, he plans to be a part of forces with a nationwide motion referred to as “Better Angels” — the identify comes from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural tackle — that gives seminars on how individuals can discuss their political variations.
“I have to recognize that it may not work when people are as divided as we are,” Thompson stated. “But I would rather spend what time I have left trying to help bridge the divide than to be saying antagonistic things to tear us apart.”
Hower agrees — although, like Thompson, she is hardly prepared to stray from her rock-solid help of Republicans usually and Trump particularly.
She is such a fan of Trump that she carries a cardboard field in her automotive full of Trump election indicators and different marketing campaign memorabilia. Ask her to identify Trump’s accomplishments and she or he shortly ticks off a litany — his tax cuts, his makes an attempt to curtail unlawful immigration, his scuttling of the Iran nuclear settlement, his negotiations with North Korea and China.
She pooh-poohs the continued investigation into whether or not Trump or anybody concerned together with his marketing campaign had involvement with Russia’s efforts to affect the 2016 presidential election. She additionally has no drawback with Trump paying a pornographic actress and a former Playboy mannequin to purchase their silence about affairs they are saying that they had with him earlier than he was president.
“It would be nice if we could come together to support the man, because it is our country,” Hower stated one night as she arrange marketing campaign indicators on the eve of Pennsylvania’s Might main. “He’s not perfect.”
A lot of the criticism of Trump, she added, appears to come from a disconnect between America’s heartland — Trump Nation — and the extra progressive East and West coasts.
Hower exhibits off her Trump indicators and memorabilia. She thinks that the majority criticism of Trump appears to come from a disconnect between America’s heartland — Trump Nation — and the extra progressive East and West coasts. (Chris Pedota/The Report by way of Related Press)
“There’s a definite divide,” Hower stated. “It’s a different way of looking at life. It goes deeper than the surface issues. In my opinion, it has to do with the individual spirit.”
Whether or not the group that Hower and Thompson began can clean out Gettysburg’s divisions — and supply a template for the nation — stays to be seen.
Hower says she is comfortable that the progressives within the group don’t see her as a conservative Republican “with horns.”
Thompson is extra hopeful.
Because the assembly ended, he learn a brief passage from an essay through which the French thinker Albert Camus noticed that “violence and hatred dry up the heart.”
The group fell silent.
“I don’t know which side is going to win, but I can tell you if the polarizers prevail, no one will win,” Thompson stated.
“Wouldn’t you rather fail trying to bring people together than succeed in tearing them apart?”
The group members nodded.
Moments later, Thompson smiled and added: “Today Gettysburg; Tomorrow the world.”