On inauguration eve, local panel discusses bridging the divide in America

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LIBERTY, Mo. — As we prepare for a transition of power on Inauguration Day, the question remains just how divided is America right now? That was the focus of the conversation of a panel hosted virtually by American Public Square at William Jewelll College Tuesday. 

Whether it was police clashing with protesters pleading for social justice reform this summer, or a mob storming the Capitol under the guise the election had been stolen from them, recent events have reinforced deep divisions within our country for many people. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal in the Obama Administration, Allan Katz, now a faculty member at William Jewell College founded American Public Square to create a forum where non-like minded people could come together and have civil and fact based conversations.

“There are truly important things that both sides can bring to the table unfortunately all we have now is trying to scare the hell out of your side that the other side is going to do terrible things,” Ambassador Katz said.

John Gable, a former Republican National Committee Member who has created the website allsides.com took part in the conversation on the nature of the divisions and what can be done.

“It’s amazing how different the headlines are different even on a factual event that happened two hours ago,” Gable said.

Another panelist was the founder of livingroomconversations.org, which encourages people to talk about issues with friends, neighbors and colleagues.  

“When we sit down together whether it be in person or by video we tend to find that we aren’t as divided as we thought we were and that we agree on a lot of things that we might even be able to do something about tomorrow,” Joan Blades said.

American Public Square has fact checkers during its events, even a civility bell that sounds if anyone gets too heated.

As for answering the event’s title question. “Coming Together Can We Bridge Our Country’s Division?” Blades said it is a difficult proposition. It took a long time for the divide to form and will probably take an equal time to come together. Events carried out by extremists have led a lot of people to stop talking politics for fear of ruining relationships. 

“Can we do enough of it and counteract the forces that are pushing us toward separation? I hope so,” she said.

But changing the tone and the culture  might be all in how you approach the conversation. 

“The one thing you need to recognize is this if you are going into that conversation to convince them that you are right and they are wrong that is what I would describe as a fool’s error,” Katz said. “I think you want to understand why the other person feels the way they do.”

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