Where Conservatives and Liberals Agree
Polarization of American society stymies problem-solving. Unless rooted in a consensus across the political divide, a policy implemented by one party is liable to be reversed when the other comes to power.
Take an issue like poverty. The stereotypical bleeding-heart liberal throws money at the problem, while their conservative counterpart sternly lectures about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.
On a Saturday afternoon in April, a group of Chicagoland conservatives and liberals defied the conventional narrative to find a lot of common ground on addressing poverty.
Braver Angels is a national citizens organization working on depolarizing America. The Braver Angels-Illinois Statewide Zoom Alliance, consisting of an equal number of conservatives and liberals participated in a structured exploration of values and personal experiences that underlie our opinions on and preferred solutions to poverty. By the end of the three-hour online event, we came up with 37 jointly and unanimously held Points of Agreement on values, concerns, and solutions.
Here are several examples of unanimously endorsed values: human dignity; equality of opportunity; responsibility towards fellow community members; respect for individual agency and choice; the importance of having one’s basic needs met; and the ability to develop one’s gifts.
Our shared concerns included imposition of one-size-fits-all solutions; failing to empower the right voices in the community; and not measuring whether particular policies are actually ameliorating poverty. We agreed that inequitable education, certain aspects of the criminal justice system, and lack of affordable childcare exacerbate poverty.
We developed a consensus around the importance of education in overcoming poverty. Our proposed solutions revolved around improving primary education in poor communities; increasing access to training for high skilled jobs; and facilitating pathways to careers, via community colleges and otherwise.
We all recognized that the issue of how America would pay for these solutions might be contentious. The workshop lasted only three hours, and none of us is a subject-matter expert, but we’ve now completed an essential first step. We saw that we share American values and a desire to address poverty. Rather than focusing solely on our differences, we identified broad areas of common ground that might lead to cooperative action in our communities. We listened to each other and developed a greater level of trust that we can work together to solve our shared problems. Those of us who participated in the Braver Angels Common Ground workshop rekindled the belief that what divides Americans may not be as great as what unites us.
For more information or to participate in a Braver Angels program, go to https://braverangels.org/.
— Svetlana Bekman