In the summer of 2016, when I was first running for Congress, I was called a homophobe by a Democratic activist, because I was a Republican candidate. At the same time, a Republican activist called me a sodomite-lover, due to my support for same-sex marriage. I was stereotyped by both sides over the same issue; what a Republican candidate must be (a homophobe) and what a Republican candidate should be (against same-sex marriage).
If anything, our national politics has become even more absurd since then. In fact, it is more than absurd; it has become paralyzing and destructive. Our polarized politics have not only led to increasing dysfunction in our federal government, it is damaging the social fabric of our communities and families.
According to the Hidden Common Ground Initiative by Public Agenda, more than 80% of Americans feel that divisiveness and gridlock are big problems, and almost one-third feel that destructive partisan disagreements have directly affected their lives. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of Americans feel that there is more common ground among the public than is portrayed by the media or political leaders.
For the past 10 months, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the volunteer state coordinator for Better Angels in Iowa. Better Angels is a national, nonpartisan, and nonprofit organization which formed after the 2016 general election with the paired goals of reducing political polarization and promoting civil discourse.
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Better Angels has been enthusiastically received in Iowa, in part because Iowa is so politically engaged as the “First-in-the-Nation” caucus state, but also because “Iowa Nice” is really a thing. Iowans enjoy our politics, but we also appreciate courteous interactions, and Better Angels provides a better choice than our currently contentious political environment.
"Better Angels: Reuniting America" is a recently released documentary that is a great introduction to the mission and techniques of Better Angels. To date, we have screened the documentary in ten counties and thirteen communities in Iowa. Our goal is to reach all of Iowa’s 99 counties and as many communities as possible by the 2020 general election.
Other activities include presentations about Better Angels to community organizations; conducting Better Angels Workshops, in which we can learn to think and interact in a more constructive manner; and the formation of Better Angels Alliances, which are local citizen groups who meet on a regular basis to organize activities, discuss issues, and even explore potential policy positions that have bipartisan appeal.
In less than two months, Iowa will hold its caucus, beginning the process of deciding upon a Democratic presidential candidate. In less than a year, our country will either elect a new president or reelect Donald Trump. Regardless of that outcome, I don’t believe that our deep political divides and animosity will be healed, either at the state, national, or community level. That is something that we must do, and Better Angels is leading the way here in Iowa to accomplish just that.
If you’d like to know more about Better Angels in Iowa, request additional information, find scheduled events,, or arrange an event in your community, you can do so at betterangelsiowa.org. We’re also on social media, at Better Angels Iowa.
Dr. Peters is a U.S. Army Medical Corps veteran, a surgeon and small-business owner in Coralville, and was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016 and 2018. Reach him at email@example.com