With Malice Toward None

“With malice toward none, with charity for all…” – Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

The Challenge 

The days following the 2020 presidential election may become the most divisive period in modern U.S. history—no matter who wins. 

People on the losing side will have a wide range of emotions ranging from intense disappointment to grief, rage, and despair. The temptation will be to avoid, ostracize, or attack people on the winning side. 

People on the winning side will feel vindicated. The temptation will be to act triumphantly towards those on the other side. 

Both sides will worry about how people on the other side will treat them. 

In other words, the days after the election could begin a dark time of polarization in the land—unless we act together to make it otherwise. 

The Opportunity 

That’s where the With Malice Toward None initiative comes in. 

We the People will have both the opportunity and the responsibility to seize the post-election moment by bringing many Americans together in our religious communities, colleges, and civic groups. 

The goal is to create a space for people to deal with their emotions (positive and negative), to build our capacities for working together to address our common challenges, and to commit ourselves to a renewed citizenship. 

This is  not  about covering over strong political differences or encouraging people to support whoever wins the election. 

It  is  about a commitment to respecting the humanity of those who differ from us. It is about recognizing our foundational role as citizens to be the architects and agents of a more perfect union.  

What Happens in the Days Before and After the Election?

Religious congregations

Weave the With Malice Toward None message into a regular service just before the election. For congregations that want to go deeper, follow up with two post-election gatherings: the first with separate gatherings of "the delighted" and "the distressed," and the second with a joint gathering of the two.

Braver Angels provides a 3-step plan for your congregation to participate in. Congregations have the flexibility to take only the first step, or to do all three steps.

The 3-Step Plan for Congregations:

1) Congregations engage members in the fall around the With Malice Toward None message and weave the message into a regular service just before the election. 

After you register your congregation for the WMTN initiative, we will provide a list of ideas, talking points, and themes to consider.

2Separate gatherings for your congregation in the days after the election is decided: one for those delighted with the election’s outcome, and one for those who are distressed. 

The goals are to acknowledge and transform congregants’ core experience of the election, to commit to regarding and treating fellow citizens who voted differently with respect for their human worth and dignity, and to commit to action steps in their personal lives and community. 

We provide a template for how to structure and facilitate this service, with room for each congregation to adapt to their specific congregation and religious tradition.

3) A joint gathering a week or two after the initial one–but this time bringing both groups  together (the delighted and distressed). 

The goals are to better understand each other and commit to moving forward as religious people and citizens working together on our country’s problems. 

Note: if your congregation is mostly the same politically, your congregation could partner for this joint gathering with a participating congregation that leans the other way politically.

We provide a template for how to structure and facilitate this gathering, with room for each congregation to adapt to their specific congregation and religious tradition. We also provide training to the facilitators of this gathering. 

All resources are provided free of charge.

Click here to register your congregation and receive access to resources and assistance.

Colleges and universities

Engage students as active co-creators and carry out bridging divides activities in the fall before the election. After the election, hold two With Malice Toward None gatherings on your campus: the first with separate gatherings of "the delighted" and "the distressed," and the second with a joint gathering of the two.

The 3-Step Plan for Colleges and Universities:

1) Colleges engage students as active co-creators right away and build interest before the election, including carrying out bridging activities. 

Braver Angels provides a menu of bridging activity options, including Braver Angels Debates, Red/Blue Fishbowl Conversations, 1 to 1 Red/Blue Conversations, and 1 to 1 Black/White Conversations.

2) After the election, separate gatherings for your campus in the days after the election is decided: one for those delighted with the election’s outcome, and one for those who are distressed. 

The goals are to acknowledge and transform students’ core experience of the election, to commit to regarding and treating fellow campus members and citizens who voted differently with respect for their human worth and dignity, and to commit to action steps in their personal lives and community. 

We provide a template for how to structure and facilitate this gathering, with room for each college to adapt to their specific college and traditions.

3) A joint gathering a week or two after the initial one–but this time bringing both groups  together (the delighted and distressed). 

The goals are to better understand each other and commit to moving forward as citizens working together on our country’s problems. 

We provide a template for how to structure and facilitate this gathering, with room for each college to adapt to their specific campus. We also provide training to the facilitators of this gathering. 

All resources are provided free of charge.

Click here to register your college/university and receive access to resources and assistance

Civic groups

Hold a With Malice Toward None event for your group in the days just before or after the election.

Incorporate With Malice Toward None themes into your regular gathering before or after Election Day.

About With Malice Toward None Events 

  • Braver Angels will provide participating organizations meeting templates, talking points and themes to consider, trainings for facilitators,  and other resources. 
  • These gatherings will give people a collective opportunity to deal with strong emotions and move through them towards commitment to holding malice towards none. 
  • All of the gatherings can be carried out virtually or in-person. 
  • All resources are provided free of charge; there is no cost for participating in the initiative. 

What Happens After Gatherings Are Held?

 We envision participating groups connecting with other communities who may differ from them and convening With Malice Toward None events in 2021. 

From these red/blue gatherings will come plans to work with one another and with Braver Angels to build the capacity of We the People to depolarize our politics, meet our common challenges, and forge a new citizenship.

How Do I Sign Up? 

Register your organization for the With Malice Toward None initiative today.  

After you register, the following will happen: 

(1) You will receive a link to a Leader’s Resource page to support your planning, including templates of meetings and other resources.  

(2)  Participate in an Orientation Meeting on Zoom with Braver Angels leaders and other leaders across America participating in the initiative. 

(3)  Invitations to participate in periodic Zoom meetings with other leaders across the country who are participating in the initiative. 

What People Are Saying 

“Regardless of who wins the 2020 election, it will be up to us as citizens and civic leaders to renew our commitment to building goodwill and civic friendship. That’s why I’m supporting the With Malice Toward None initiative by Braver Angels. I encourage civic leaders everywhere to join and get involved.”  

  • John Hewko, General Secretary and CEO of Rotary International, Braver Angels member 

“Americans will always hold strong, passionate views on important issues in the public square. This is essential for a vibrant democracy. But we must also, as much as possible, treat our fellow citizens with honor and respect in this midst of our disagreements, assuming their best intentions. With Malice Toward None is an intelligent and strategic effort to help all citizens do this the best we can as our nation navigates the results of our nation’s coming election.” 

  • Glenn T. Stanton, director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family and Braver Angels board member.

“What we are facing in our country is increasing polarization, which leads to political, emotional and spiritual paralysis.  With Malice Towards None is daring to move from polarization to tension which, if identified and respectfully lifted up, can become a creative space for people to move forward into deeper relationships and greater understanding.   WMTN is inviting people to live into that hope.”

  • Mark Beckwith, retired Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Newark; co-chair, Braver Angels Partnerships

“I support With Malice Toward None because civility is a prerequisite for democracy. Tribalism cannot descend into tribal warfare if we’re going to have civil society, the cornerstone to make communities liveable.”

  • Bob Woodson, Founder and President, The Woodson Center

“The With Malice Toward None project provides young people with exactly what they have been yearning for in a world full of hatred, half-truths, and lack of humanity – a source of hope…. We hope that our society has the capacity to envision a democracy in which people are heard and valued as human beings with their own backgrounds, values, and beliefs.”

  • Ali Oosterhuis, Citizen Student Movement

“The digital ecosystem in which so much of our public debate takes place tends to reduce discourse to soundbites, hashtags, and memes and to exacerbate partisan divides. But the health of our civic life depends on substantive discussion in which we listen to and learn from those with whom we disagree. With Malice Toward None promises to make space for us to imagine civic and political life outside tired partisan stereotypes.”

  • Jeffrey Bilbro, Editor-in-Chief at Front Porch Republic

Learn More about the Initiative 

Click here for a one-page description about With Malice Toward None.   

Click here to learn more about the core values of and expectations for With Malice Toward None events.   

Click here for a Google Slides Presentation on With Malice Toward None

Got questions? Reach out to David Lapp at [email protected]