Remembering a true Braver Angel

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On April 3, Braver Angels and the world lost one of our best leaders. When we lost David Iwinski — a thinker, a bridge builder, and a believer in America — I and many members of our community also lost a beloved friend. David passed away, aged, from complications of cancer and an injury-induced infection. He will be long remembered and deeply missed.

I remember the first time I encountered “D-Wink” (as he was affectionately known within the Debate Team) at a debate on the topic, “Resolved: Re-elect Trump.” He was big, forceful, articulate, and totally unafraid of giving offense. “I’m tired of people saying they like Trump’s policies, but not the man; I like Trump’s style,” he declared. “Who is this guy?” I thought to myself. But I had to admit, he also seemed somehow a lot like me. And I am grateful to Braver Angels and the Debate Program for giving me the chance to see that.
Our differences went deep. I am mixed race, from an immigrant family, and grew up in multi-ethnic, urban Houston; he was white, 20 years my senior, and from rural southwest Pennsylvania. I protested in the street against gun violence; he was a Second Amendment enthusiast who loved to show off the two pistols he kept on his desk. He believed, genuinely and persistently, that the 2020 election was literally stolen, while I argued that even debating that question gave credence to a dangerous lie.

Yet we worked together — and well — on the Braver Angels Debate Team. We weren’t the kind to just “listen and empathize.” We wanted to have it out, to make the case, to really argue for what we believed. Thanks to “Madame Chair,” (Managing Director of Debate & Public Discourse April Kornfield) and the culture of debate she created, our arguments led not to antagonism or alienation, but to deeper understanding and friendship.

David’s speeches got me fired up and made me want to debate him. He helped us all go beyond civility to genuine engagement with disagreement. Like a rival boxer, he pushed me to be my best, to defend my positions as passionately and intelligently as he defended his. A happy gladiator, David put himself on the line and invited you to do the same. “Ten Blues vs. me? I like them odds,” he would say. Dueling publicly with “D-Wink” was easily the most fun I ever had at Braver Angels.

David was also an outstanding leader of the Debate Executive Team, a workhorse and a thinker. Politically we disagreed, but in building the program he was my ally. We both liked efficient meetings and controversial debate topics. We worked our butts off together to recruit great speakers. We agreed that we had to recruit more Trump Reds and more people of color Blues to fulfill our mission.

Our commonalities didn’t end there. We both valued honor, tradition, and heritage. We both came from large “clans” of families and treated friends like family. Like mine, David’s family straddled two worlds. His father was a long-haul trucker while his mother became one of the first female nuclear scientists in the country. If you knew David, you could see both these sides of him. He was a lawyer and an intellectual. He also knew how to operate a backhoe and lived on a farm.

Curious, generous, and funny, David defied so many stereotypes we Blues have about Reds. I once mentioned to him my love of C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man; a week later David had read the entire book and written me a long and thoughtful email about it. In our first conversation, he invited me to come stay at his family farm with him and his nearly 100 cousins, aunts, and uncles. Deeply compassionate, he rescued and raised seven standard poodles.

Ask him his favorite place in the world and he would say Udi, India. He lived in China and married a woman of a different race. He built businesses abroad that provided opportunity and empowerment for women and the disabled, arguing, self-effacingly, that it was just smart business to do so. You simply could not put David in the mainstream media’s “Trump supporter” box. He was a good man, a smart man, and just a terrible lot of fun.

David and I had a famous friendship within the organization, the kind that Braver Angels so often produces. He was a passionate Red, a vocal, unapologetic Trump supporter. I am a Blue, a Democrat, and a Trump protester. We were political antagonists. But of all the relationships that I formed through Braver Angels, my friendship with David was uniquely meaningful. He embodied the best of BA for me. It was an honor to have known him.

I’ll miss you, David. It won’t be the same without you.
— Silas Kulkarni, Former Chief of Staff of the Braver Angels Debate and Public Discourse Team

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