2020 is going to be uncomfortable. That’s a good thing.
The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses mark the real beginning of this election year. For avid followers of politics, it is the end of a long, barren primary season with too much speculation and too few elections. But for most of us, it is the moment when we start paying attention — and dread the coming ugliness.
We are already seeing hints of what it could look like. In recent days, Bernie Sanders’ campaign came under fire for touting the endorsement of podcaster Joe Rogan, who has made plenty of ugly comments in the past about women, transgender people, and Black Americans. The Trump White House, meanwhile, refused to invite Democrats to the signing of a new trade deal even though it passed with overwhelming Democratic support despite rhetoric and attacks from the president that horrify most Democrats.
The big dilemma of 2020 is what to do with people with whom we disagree. Do we talk to them? Cancel them? Ignore them? Abuse them? Acknowledge them, at arm’s length? Work with them? What if we disagree over big, important concerns where human life, freedom, and dignity is at stake? What if our disagreements are rooted in fundamentally different ways of seeing the word or different sets of values?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. But every answer will require being uncomfortable.
It is way too easy to retreat into the comfort of political tribes that lob insults and attacks from relative safety. It is too tempting to slur and demean people who challenge us on our beliefs, rather than stop, truly listen, and reevaluate our own convictions. But if we do this, nothing will get accomplished. Suffering people will continue to suffer. And we will only grow more alienated from each other.
So let’s get uncomfortable.
We have some experience with this. The #LoveArmy project of The Dream Corps sat down with everyone from radical leftists to diehard Trump supporters and put together a surprising list of principles that everyone could get behind. They include:
- Turn to each other, not on each other — listen with empathy, speak authentically, expect to be surprised, and respect diversity and difference
- Amplify the unheard — start with the voices of the mistreated and the stories that do not get told, even if the main characters are not the people you expect
- Promote a more perfect union — reject a cheap patriotism that celebrates America’s beautiful founding dream while ignoring our ugly founding reality, and embrace a deep patriotism that works to make America’s future better than our past
At this point you may feel the urge to dismiss all of this as wishy-washy nonsense or an excuse for the kind of “bipartisan” solutions that always seem to help people are already doing great. But we are not talking about polite conversation about how we all like springtime and puppies. We are proposing to find common ground with the most unlikely of people — places where it is hard, where it hurts, where you will be judged and ridiculed, but also where human freedom is on the line.
It is possible. It can work. It has worked. Right now, the Dream Corps Green For All program is uniting left and right to make sure black and brown communities do not suffer the brunt of climate change. Dream Corps Tech is putting formerly incarcerated people in the corporate cohorts of Silicon Valley tech giants. And thanks to our #cut50 program, bipartisan criminal justice reform known as the First Step Act is law — and thousands of people are out of prison and home with their families today.
Not only does it work, it is the only way. You cannot tackle big problems with small movements. You cannot change a nation of 250 million people without some uncomfortable partnerships and strange bedfellows. You cannot say “I want to make this country a better place, but not for everyone. Not for the people I hate.”
In other words: Do you want America in 2021 to be better than it is in 2020? A little bit closer to the founding dream of liberty and justice for all, and a little bit further from the founding reality of slavery and sexism? Then we all need to embrace being a bit uncomfortable.
The 2020 election season starts in earnest today. Are you ready?
By Nisha Anand, CEO of Dream Corps