By Mike Kelly | Associated Press
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — They sat in a circle, Republicans aing to Democrats, Trump supporters alongside Trump critics.
No one acicular fingers.
No one yelled at anyone.
When it was over, anybody befuddled hands.
On a contempo backing evening, 10 bodies aggregate central a Gettysburg abbey — not far from the rolling hills area Abutment and Confederate soldiers fought a acute activity that affronted the course of the Civilian War — and approved to acquisition means to alleviate the abysmal political capacity that accept engulfed America in addition array of civilian war.
First, however, the group, which calls itself Politics, Facts and Civility, had to accede on a few rules.
“We’re actuality to be nice to anniversary other,” said Currie Kerr Thompson, a retired Gettysburg Academy assistant and the group’s leader.
Several participants smiled. A few placed easily over their mouths to asphyxiate laughs.
“It’s accustomed to interrupt, but we’re activity to aish that inclination,” Thompson continued, analytical over his glasses as if he were lecturing one of his academy classes. “And we’re additionally activity to burden from rolling our eyes and authoritative inappropriate noises.”
What followed was added than 90 account of absolutely peaceful discourse. First, the accumulation focused on America’s biologic policies. But afresh the altercation affronted to a broader issue: the roiling political animosity that seems to be deepening as the Nov. 6 midterm elections draw near.
Polls acquaint us that voters are not aloof black with their adopted leaders — and with the media who awning them. A all-inclusive majority of Americans anchorage abstruse worries that the country’s burst backroom — amplified by amusing media and 24-hour cable account — accept affronted once-sober activity debates into exact affronted matches. The aftereffect is a growing acceptance that alone the best acute choir drive the borough discussion. Ordinary association feel lost. And adopted leaders — alike at the bounded akin — are larboard hamstrung, fearing that alike a adumbration at accommodation with their political opponents will aftereffect in political death.
All of these factors were abaft the efforts to anatomy Gettysburg’s Politics, Facts and Amenity accumulation — one of the few of its affectionate in the country.
Thompson, 75, a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Hower, 71, a allegiant adherent of Admiral Donald Trump and the baton of the Adams Canton Republican Party, aing armament in aboriginal 2017 back it became bright to both that the afraid borough political chat had attenuated alike more, in tiny Gettysburg and above the nation.
Each acquainted their town’s role in allowance to bottle a burst abutment in the 1860s fabricated it a abnormally allegorical abode to acquisition accepted arena amid the disparate, affronted bound that now abuse to breach America apart.
But Thompson says he anon faced a afflictive challenge. One of his best “troubling experiences,” he said, was acceptable bodies to appear to the group’s meetings.
“A cardinal of people,” he said, “don’t appetite to allocution to those bodies they disagree with.”
But the few who initially aing say they were motivated by a faculty of assignment to their nation that transcends politics.
“I’m the abiding optimist, but I’m a little afraid about the country,” said Cindy Daley, 63, who works for a acknowledged casework diplomacy that helps bodies acquisition affordable housing. “Our country survives as continued as we accept acceptance in it, as continued as we accept acceptance in the institutions. And I see that acceptance aloof case apart.”
No arresting and no eye rolling — those are amid the arena rules for Politics, Facts and Civility, a bipartisan altercation accumulation that meets at Prince of Accord Episcopal Abbey in Gettysburg, Pa.
At the end of one contempo meeting, there was no consensus, no plan of activity — aloof a affiance to accommodated afresh and accumulate talking. It was a baby achievement nonetheless — admitting far beneath consequential than the Abutment army’s cardinal celebration at Gettysburg, it was noteworthy that such a assorted accumulation could accommodated afterwards trading blame or punches.
For abounding in the group, as it does for best Americans, the bald acknowledgment of Gettysburg conjures images of the array of annihilation that can action back a nation is so acutely disconnected that it goes to war with itself. Alike today, some Gettysburg barrio are pockmarked with ammo holes from the three-day activity in July 1863 that larboard about 51,000 soldiers dead, blood-soaked or missing.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered at a battlefield cemetery aloof four months afterwards the cutting concluded — in accurate his alarm to bottle a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” — charcoal a criterion of America’s borough ideals.
In the crumbling canicule of the 2016 campaign, Trump came to Gettysburg to outline his goals for his aboriginal 100 canicule in office, including a acceding to “drain the swamp in Washington, D.C., and alter it with a new government of, by and for the people.” In that aforementioned speech, Trump additionally apprenticed Americans to “rise aloft the babble and the ataxia of our burst politics.”
Now, about two years later, associates of Thompson and Hower’s accumulation accede that the nation appears woefully dysfunctional, in allotment because of Trump’s addiction of verbally bashing his critics. A government “of, for and by the people” seems like a abroad dream.
“When two elephants fight, the grass suffers,” said Chad Collie, citation an African adage to alarm absorption to the capacity amid Republicans and Democrats, bound alteration it by abacus references to the mascots for America’s capital political parties — donkeys for Democrats and elephants for Republicans.
Collie, 42, a architect who voted for Trump “despite opposing his bad behavior,” says Trump’s Gettysburg accent helped argue him that the absolute acreage developer and absoluteness TV brilliant was accessible for the presidency. At the aforementioned time, Collie believes Trump has contributed mightily to the acerbity that continues to blush American politics.
“When you abate things to abbreviate complete bites,” Collie said, “there’s no admiration that aggregate turns into polarization.”
Dale Williams, 68, a retired U.S. Navy chaplain, agreed. Like Collie and others in the group, Williams acquainted that the nation’s polarized altitude is adverse chat amid disparate groups.
“That’s the arresting affair for me,” said Williams, a pastor at a Presbyterian abbey in Gettysburg who now volunteers as a advisor to inmates at the Adams Canton Jail. “How do we get bodies to allocution to anniversary other?”
“Let’s acquisition things we can accede on,” Collie suggested.
Williams nodded. “When I anticipate about aggravating to break the nation’s problems, it becomes frustrating,” he said. “Maybe we should try to acquisition some bounded issues we can accede on.”
Williams, who casting a applicant vote for a applicant he beneath to name because he could not accompany himself to vote for Clinton or Trump, said in an account that he is hopeful that America can appear together.
“Even during the Civilian War, the citizens of Gettysburg took affliction of the Confederate blood-soaked soldiers,” he said.
The Rev. Herb Sprouse, the abbey of Prince of Accord Episcopal Church, which has hosted the accumulation for added than a year, said he yearns for some assurance that the best acute choir on anniversary ancillary will acquisition a way to reconcile, or at the absolute atomic affiance to allege respectfully to anniversary other.
“How do we breed bodies above our circles of conversation?” Sprouse asked at one point. “How do we bulb the admiration for reconciliation?
Finding answers to such questions, Sprouse said, is hardly easy.
“Even advancement civilian chat beneath assertive diplomacy can be absolute adamantine work,” he said, attractive at anniversary member. “From time to time, we’ve had conversations that accept had their annoying moments. But a accumulation like this is alone in the allowance because we amount the attempt, and maybe we anticipate that if we do it we’ll get bigger at it, and maybe it has some appulse about us.”
Sprouse paused and looked about the circle.
“It’s not that we accept to agree. It’s not that we accept to accept the aforementioned things,” Sprouse said. “But we accept to be in a accord that allows association to function.”
Darcy Maier, 59, a amusing artisan who specializes in affliction for seniors, declared herself as a “dyed-in-the-wool Democrat” who has “never voted for a Republican president.” She aing the accumulation because she feared that the nation’s political fissures were addition to a point area they ability not anytime be repaired.
“I absolutely would never accept envisioned myself on this adventure of aggravating to alleviate the political divide,” Maier said. “After the aftermost election, though, it seemed like the achievability of absolute anarchy or civilian war ability be absolute if we don’t booty alive accomplish to anticipate it.”
At the aforementioned time, others are beneath hopeful that the accumulation will succeed.
Zach Brillhart, 21, the baton of Gettysburg’s Young Conservatives Club, predicts that the nation’s political bisect will acceptable widen.
“I don’t see groups of bodies aback accepting together, advancing calm and operating as one,” Brillhart, who voted for Trump and is not a affiliate of the amenity group, said as he handed out attack abstract at a retirement home on the outskirts of Gettysburg. “I anticipate you’re consistently activity to accept a division.”
Gettysburg, a 2-square-mile academy boondocks of almost 7,800 residents, has continued been the cultural, social, bread-and-er and political antecedent of Adams County, a rolling, 522-square-mile mural of angel farms, horse pastures and barter warehouses in south-central Pennsylvania that is home to about 103,000 people.
But Gettysburg is adamantly accelerating and Democratic, while the draft of Adams Canton is article of a Republican bastion. Hillary Clinton captured about 65 percent of the about 2,800 votes casting in Gettysburg in the 2016 presidential election. But Trump took about 69 percent of the added than 45,000 votes that were casting throughout the county.
Despite their political differences, Thompson and Hower accomplished they had abundant in common. Both were educators. Thompson accomplished Spanish at Gettysburg Academy for about 30 years; Hower still works as a acting abecedary in the bounded accessible schools.
They had article abroad in common: Their ancestors fought at the Activity of Gettysburg.
Three of Thompson’s abundant uncles served with North Carolina militia units that were amid Robert E. Lee’s Confederate armament that stormed into southern Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863. Two of those abundant uncles were dead after in the war.
Meanwhile, several of Hower’s ancestors fought on the Abutment ancillary at Gettysburg. One of them, she said, was captured during a action on the city’s outskirts and was captivated as a captive of war by the Confederates.
Thompson, who was aloft on a tobacco acreage in North Carolina and still speaks with traces of a Southern drawl, calls himself a “blue voter” — a Democrat. But he says he is hardly a affair loyalist.
“I anticipate my affair has been dark on abounding things, like not acquainted the accepted annoyance of bodies who are not aloof unemployed but underemployed,” he said.
At the aforementioned time, Thompson said that far too abounding Democrats additionally accept been “too decumbent to draft … off as racism” any attack to abbreviate actionable immigration.
“I anticipate the dejected voters accept not paid absorption to abounding of the needs of the red voters,” Thompson said at his home alfresco Gettysburg, not far from a acreage area his abundant uncles’ units camped afore the battle. “This acute politicization is affliction us emotionally, about and intellectually.”
Thompson hopes the accumulation he formed with Hower will atom a borough accomplishment to accompany a amount of accord and amenity to the nation’s political debates. Beginning this fall, he diplomacy to accompany armament with a borough movement alleged “Better Angels” — the name comes from Abraham Lincoln’s aboriginal countdown abode — that offers seminars on how bodies can altercate their political differences.
“I accept to admit that it may not assignment back bodies are as disconnected as we are,” Thompson said. “But I would rather absorb what time I accept larboard aggravating to advice arch the bisect than to be adage afraid things to breach us apart.”
Hower agrees — though, like Thompson, she is hardly accommodating to devious from her rock-solid abutment of Republicans in accepted and Trump in particular.
She is such a fan of Trump that she carries a agenda box in her car abounding with Trump acclamation signs and added attack memorabilia. Ask her to name Trump’s accomplishments and she bound ticks off a account — his tax cuts, his attempts to abbreviate actionable immigration, his scuttling of the Iran nuclear agreement, his negotiations with North Korea and China.
She pooh-poohs the advancing analysis into whether Trump or anyone complex with his attack had captivation with Russia’s efforts to access the 2016 presidential election. She additionally has no botheration with Trump advantageous a pornographic extra and a above Playboy archetypal to buy their blackout about diplomacy they say they had with him afore he was president.
“It would be nice if we could appear calm to abutment the man, because it is our country,” Hower said one black as she set up attack signs on the eve of Pennsylvania’s May primary. “He’s not perfect.”
Much of the criticism of Trump, she added, seems to appear from a abstract amid America’s heartland — Trump Country — and the added accelerating East and West coasts.
“There’s a audible divide,” Hower said. “It’s a altered way of attractive at life. It goes added than the apparent issues. In my opinion, it has to do with the alone spirit.”
Whether the accumulation that Hower and Thompson started can bland out Gettysburg’s capacity — and action a arrangement for the nation — charcoal to be seen.
Hower says she is blessed that the progressives in the accumulation don’t see her as a bourgeois Republican “with horns.”Thompson is added hopeful.
As the affair ended, he apprehend a abbreviate access from an article in which the French philosopher Albert Camus empiric that “violence and abhorrence dry up the heart.”
The accumulation fell silent.
“I don’t apperceive which ancillary is activity to win, but I can acquaint you if the polarizers prevail, no one will win,” Thompson said.
“Wouldn’t you rather abort aggravating to accompany bodies calm than accomplish in disturbing them apart?”
The accumulation associates nodded.
Moments later, Thompson smiled and added: “Today Gettysburg; Tomorrow the world.”
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