AP NEWS

Pursuing Dialogue To Bridge Partisan Divides

March 31, 2019

What it means to be an American always has been hotly contested. We often forget that the Founders — the Federalists — forged the American republic in part through argument with a significant opposition group known as the Anti-Federalists. While the members of the latter group lost — they opposed a federal system, favoring localized governance with smaller like-minded communities — they remained part of the deliberations. Anti-Federalists authored the Bill of Rights, which remains a lodestar for navigating some of the most important issues of our day. If America was birthed in dispute, it is only fitting that we continue that critical conversation. But we live in a moment where interaction among people of different political beliefs happens less and less. According to the Pew Research Center, divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values have grown significantly wider over the past several years and the share of very unfavorable opinions of the other party has more than doubled in recent decades. University of Southern California academics have concluded that political polarization is at its worst since the Civil War. Other research shows that most Americans now “discriminate against members of the other political side explicitly and implicitly” from decisions about hiring to judgments of patriotism. Yet, a major Atlantic magazine story this month, “The Geography of Partisan Prejudice,” mapped political intolerance. It concluded with some hope: “By cultivating meaningful relationships across divides, by rewarding humility and curiosity over indignation and righteousness, people can live wiser, fuller lives.” Here in Scranton, a series of events offers chances to engage with political “others” in an atmosphere of learning, respect and honesty. Local communities have a special role to play. On April 15 participants can attend a political dialogue shaped around the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” The University of Scranton has hosted sessions like this since 2017 out of the belief that dialogue is a vital part of the work of Jesuit universities to promote justice and reconciliation. Using a national nonprofit Essential Partners’ reflective, structured dialogue method, fused with the teachings of St. Ignatius Loyola, the initiative has helped participants share their beliefs, experiences and values about contentious political topics. Initial research shows that after this type of experience, students reported a greater commitment to engaging in political dialogue. In the seminal Federalist 51, James Madison feared what might come if citizens were to divide into different parties, “inflamed with mutual animosity,” and become much more disposed to “vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.” Scranton residents now have unique opportunities to pursue the common good together in the midst of our differences and play their part in preserving our democratic spirit and principles.