Don't judge a person by their party

It's time to put Oregon in a Room.

Kevin Frazier edits The Oregon Way (forgive him for typos…he is in the middle of finals). He runs No One Left Offline (NOLO) in his spare time. He welcomes your feedback.

I know I wasn’t the only one raised “not to judge a book by its cover.” Yet, it seems as though we’ve all come quite comfortable with judging a person by their party.

Imagine walking into a room of one hundred Democrats and someone told the crowd you voted for Trump…here’s what they’d think of you:

  • Eighty-nine would say you're closed-minded.

  • Eighty-six would label you as intolerant.

  • Eighty-three would presume you’re racist.

Now, turn the tables — the room is full of Republicans and they’ve been told you voted for Biden.

  • Seventy-two see you as misguided and misinformed.

  • Seventy-one call you closed-minded.

  • Sixty-three perceive you as arrogant and pretentious.

It’s no surprise that nearly all voters agree that political polarization and divisiveness is a “very serious threat to America’s future.”

Democracy in Dark Times

Those stats and facts are from the most recent IASC Survey of American Political Culture, aptly titled “Democracy in Dark Times.” The conclusion rightfully points out that against a “backdrop of fragmentation and polarization . . . many ordinary citizens lament the loss of a common life based upon trust and good will and speak longingly and perhaps nostalgically for its return.”

How, then, do we get back to a life based on trust and good will?

The answer is back in the book metaphor — start reading. The phrase, taken at the literal level, points out that you have to go beyond the cover to get to the good stuff — the twists and turns that reveal that the cover is really just a necessary evil, a means to grab people’s attention. Our political labels and assumptions are similarly evils…however, they’re entirely unnecessary.

Stop asking about party affiliation and preferred politicians—designed to (1) distract you and (2) to create “Us” and “Them”—and start asking about values and goals.

Sounds like a simple approach to a problem that’s dragged us to the depths of distrust and disrespect. But it’s an approach that’s already worked.

America in a Room

A year ago, 523 registered voters from across the political spectrum and across the country got together in one hotel over a long weekend. The project was called "America in One Room." It had a short agenda: have a robust discussion on the biggest issues facing the country—the economy, health care, the environment, immigration, and foreign policy.

After a weekend of moderated small group discussions, the number of participants that said American democracy was "working well" doubled. The participants listened to one another, swayed one another to see issues differently, and, in general, collectively moved to the center.

A year later, when compared to a control group, participants were more engaged in politics, more united around a more robust response to COVID, and still more likely to support solutions based on compromise, rather than principle. Perhaps most importantly, the participants fondly recalled sitting together—not in a debate, but in conversation.

Oregon in a Room

It’s not possible now, but when it is…let’s put Oregon in a room. Let’s gather 360 Oregonians and have them talk. Freed of their “covers,” I think all 360 would leave the weekend a little less of an D, R, Libertarian, Progressive, etc. and a little more Oregonian…that’s something our state could use.

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kfraz@berkeley.edu

@kevintfrazier

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