Van Jones went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, before election to try to understand divisions
He discovered a yearning among all Americans to be heard
Editor’s Note: Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America’s economy. He was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. A best-selling author, he is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The Messy Truth, a special program hosted by Van Jones, airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST.
I got tired of just sitting on the CNN set, talking about Donald Trump voters.
So, days before the 2016 election, I decided to fly into a battleground state – and talk to them.
I visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where a major battle was fought in America’s Civil War. I wanted to know one thing: Are we on the verge of another civil war?
What I learned surprised me. The answers are even more important, now that Trump has won.
My film crew recorded our Gettysburg encounters in hopes they’d shed light on this tense moment in America.
A local family invited me into their home one day after Trump made his own “Gettysburg Address” at a campaign appearance. I expected fireworks. And I got them. What I didn’t expect was all the laughter – or the tears.
Four moms sat on the front porch and debated Trump’s candidacy. Even though they disagreed bitterly, I discovered their secret for remaining the best of friends.
I encountered my toughest challenge: a young Trump supporter who wouldn’t back down. Finding common ground seemed impossible. Then a tiny miracle happened.
What these conversations reinforced in my mind is the basic decency and dignity of the Trump voters. They are not blind to his flaws. They simply rank and balance his shortcomings differently than do his detractors.
That’s important for Trump’s critics to know and understand.
I left wanting to cultivate a deeper sense of empathy – in myself and in our country. That’s what we seem to be missing – and secretly longing for.
To be clear: This increase in empathy will not decrease our disagreements. After all, constructive disagreement and democratic debate is the basis of all progress. Democracies advance themselves through the creative use of our disagreements.
But more empathy and understanding can keep us from needlessly inflaming one another, and this should create the conditions for a better understanding of our differences. Deeper insight can only help all sides.
Therefore, I am inviting everyone who watches this series to have a #MessyTruth conversation.
Talk (and listen) to someone with whom you don’t agree. Ask questions about anything that doesn’t sound right to you. But don’t just fight back. Try to listen. In fact, before you respond at all, carefully repeat back what you hear – just to make sure you truly understand the other person. Then share your own views and feelings. Be passionate. But be compassionate, too.
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Whatever you discover in the process, consider sharing it under the hashtag: #MessyTruth.
Democracy doesn’t just happen on Election Day at the polls. Democracy happens every day, through every interaction we have with each other.
Our future depends on our ability to have these kinds of conversations all across the country.
You may be surprised by what you uncover. There are hypocrisies, blind spots and surprising areas of agreement everywhere. Because the real truth is always a little messy.
Video credits: “The Messy Truth” is produced by Magic Labs Media and Meridian Hill Pictures; executive producers, Van Jones and Jana Carter; director, Brandon Kramer; producer, Lance Kramer, line producer, Michelle Aguilar; editors, Ellie Walton, Edwin Martinez and Sara Fusco; cinematographer, Brett Wiley; sound recordist, Andrew Kennedy; field producer, Chris Gorski; titles, Dan Sharkey; Trailer: Wheelhouse Creative. “The Messy Truth” is a trademark of Magic Labs Media, LLC. All rights reserved.