Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center focuses on efforts to improve civil discourse in times of political polarization.

A certain degree of polarization is a natural consequence of political discourse. The citizens of a country are bound to disagree—even profoundly—on the best course of action on any number of political, social, or moral issues. And on the brink of an election year, a spike in charged political discourse is to be expected.

But when political disagreement breaks down to demonizing one’s ideological opponents, something clearly has gone amiss. The tendency to think the worst of those on the other side of the political aisle has not only meant governmental gridlock: it has driven a wedge between families, friends, and communities. Indeed, since the 2016 presidential election, the length of Thanksgiving dinner has diminished by 30 to 50 minutes due to political tensions.

Because of higher education’s strong cultural influence, many of the efforts to heal civic culture are targeted at college campuses. Organizations and programs such as Bridge USA and American University’s Project on Civil Discourse try to help students approach strong disagreement with respect and empathy for their ideological opposites.

One organization that is growing in North Carolina is a national citizens movement called “Better Angels.” On October 29, two representatives of Better Angels came to Duke University to talk about their aims to “bring liberals and conservatives together for real dialogue.” The guest speakers were Ciaran O’Connor, who worked on Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, and John Wood, Jr. who ran as the 2014 Republican candidate against representative Maxine Waters in southern California’s 43rd Congressional District.