The Power of Conflict

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[Note: The following is a reprint of the weekend edition of the Braver Angels Newsletter, originally published May 16, 2021. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.]

One of the (many) things I love about Braver Angels is that we don’t shy away from conflict.

We don’t simply bring people together to talk about what we have in common. We acknowledge and explore our deepest differences, even when they touch upon the most divisive issues in American life.

And nowhere is this approach more powerful than at Braver Angels Debates.

On Thursday, we hosted a passionate debate on religious liberty and non-discrimination laws. We brought together conservative, religious Americans — many of whom are afraid they’re losing their freedom to worship — with progressive, secular Americans who fear that religious protections let businesses discriminate against marginalized communities. If you missed the debate, you can now watch the video on YouTube: Braver Angels Debate on Religious Liberty and Non-Discrimination Laws.

On May 25, we’ll be hosting a debate on an issue that cuts to the heart of democracy itself: voting.

At a time when Democrats and Republicans are each accusing the other of intentionally undermining our democracy, our debate will center on whether or not America should pass H.R. 1, a sweeping set of federal election reforms around vote by mail, early voting, and voter registration.

The debate will bring together an all-star panel of politicians, journalists, and academics to get beyond the partisan talking points, including U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Kaylee McGhee White, political commentator at The Washington ExaminerCheck out the full lineup and register here: National Debate: Voting in America.

All of our debates are built on the belief that we can use conflict to clarify disagreements and build trust, rather than as a means to dominate and dehumanize. At a time when the number of Americans willing to excuse or tolerate political violence is growing, it’s critical that we rethink our relationship to conflict, and to one another.

For more on our approach — as well as some practical tips for constructive political conversations — check out my op-ed in yesterday’s Deseret News: Your Trump-loving uncle is not evil (and neither is your Biden-loving aunt).

Meanwhile, my colleague John Wood, Jr. hosted author, commentator, and linguistics professor John McWhorter for a powerful conversation on the traditional narratives that shape our racial conversation, the post-Civil Rights era Black experience, and the ways in which the varied experiences in the Black community impact the dialogue on race in the United States. Listen here on the latest edition of the Braver Angels Podcast: Balance & Perspective on Race.

We’re always thrilled when our approach to honest conflict and productive disagreement inspires and informs conversations across the country. Here are just a few more ways we’re showing up in new spaces this week:

  • I joined the Media Roundtable Podcast for a conversation on how we can use conflict to bring people together rather than drive them apart.
  • Our brand new Braver Angels digital director Mónica Guzmán talked with conservative columnists Ross Douthat of The New York Times and Henry Olsen of The Washington Post about the future of our parties in Republican Reckoning.
  • Mia Quagliarello of MTTR shared her experience participating in a Braver Angels 1:1 conversation with the one and only Braver Angel Steve Saltwick in A Red American and a Blue American Walk Into a Zoom…

And finally, we want to shout out the dozens of Braver Angels in our community who engaged each other on the tension between religious freedom and non-discrimination laws on our Facebook page this week — 200+ comments and counting!

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