True confession: I conducted a mad experiment a week before November’s presidential election, and I’ve been worried that it was a major fail.
I brought 19 supporters of different candidates together to see if they could find common ground during the contentious campaign season by listening deeply to each other.
Astoundingly, they got along like besties, discovering shared values and even – in a true “We Are the World” moment – hugging goodbye afterward.
They asked to be reunited during the first 100 days of the new administration, no matter who was to become our 45th president. So we held the reunion five weeks ago.
Only eight of them showed – and just one was a Trump supporter. I was bigly disappointed: I’d been eager to see how those in the diverse group would comport themselves once they knew who was in the White House. Now I’d never find out.
I’d like to think they’d have come through with civility, given how graciously they’d interacted during our maiden confab.
But who knows? Maybe insults would’ve been thrown, proving naive my belief that people of strong, conflicting viewpoints are able to be bigger than their differences once they actually meet the (usually) decent people behind the opinions.
All of which is to say, I was excited to be at the Reading Country Club on Wednesday, where 11 voters took part in a political focus group to be aired this Sunday on Face the Nation. I was invited to be a fly on the wall as the show’s host, CBS News political director John Dickerson, asked participants how they had been feeling since the president took office.
(Dickerson graciously declined to comment on how he was feeling since President Trump abruptly walked out of Dickerson's interview with him last week. The man's a class act.)
Retiree Jerry Policoff, a Bernie Sanders fan who voted for Jill Stein, was heartened that Sanders rose from relative obscurity to a major campaign player. “The public is far more progressive than politicians are,” he said.
Millennial Fred Lingenfelser, a strong Republican, thought it was too soon to say whether the president is doing a good job because “100 days isn’t enough to make any judgments.” But Susie Folks, a diehard Dem, believes America veered off the tracks the day that Trump took an ax to Obamacare. She has family members who live in countries where single-payer health care is standard, and they’ve done fine. "Why can't we have it here?" she asked.
Keith Mierman, a Trump voter, was concerned that North Korea will bomb Japan, our ally, and that our military would have no choice but to come to Japan’s defense. “The tensions are really accelerating,” he said. Connie Lewis was upset that women’s health has taken a step backward in the new administration, and that our bombings of Syria and Afghanistan are escalating world tension.
That prompted Trump voter Tom Parsely to express frustration that the president, who campaigned on a promise of staying out of overseas skirmishes, has been militarily aggressive. “He’s dabbling with potential wars with Syria, Russia and China," he said. "Why is he pushing limits that are absolutely in contrast with what he promised?”
Some of the group believed in less government – others in stronger safety nets. Some believed in more personal responsibility – and others in more shared burdens. Some believed in more activism – others in more deference to elected leaders. Some were in support of the country’s new president – others have little patience with the changes the White House is pushing.
What they shared – be still, my idealistic heart – was an unfailing courtesy toward each other.
Maybe it came from the fact that their conflicting opinions were being expressed in person, not from behind a Twitter handle, Facebook post, or anonymous online comment.
Or maybe it sprung from their agreement that Americans have become too self-centered for our collective good and that it’s tearing us apart.
No matter the reason, their civility toward each other never faltered. It was a tonic to be with them, and it gave me hope for the little group I convened last fall.
Maybe it’s time to give a reunion a second chance.