Bridging the Divide in Belmar

Takeaways from the Shore

Residents of Belmar, NJ in the “fish bowl” exercise

Better Angels held a lively gathering last night in Belmar, New Jersey bringing together eight “reds” and eight “blues” to discuss their political views in an environment of honesty, respect, and civility.

While many of the views expressed confirmed pre-existing notions about what each side believes, there were some interesting learnings when it came to folks’ reservations about their own side — and some encouraging areas of potential common ground.

Here are the key takeaways:

Why do reds support President Trump and his administration?

“He says what he means and does what he says”

The Belmar reds acknowledged concerns about President Trump’s character — one participant said he can be “mean-spirited” — but they said they liked his “outsider” and “America first” approach. They believe that unlike most politicians, Trump is independent, self funded and “not in bed with either party.”

The reds said they were fed up with Washington and believed it was good that Trump was shaking things up and “rocking the boat” with a pro-business approach, even if he “stepped on a few toes along the way.” They praised his willingness to roll back regulations and “get tough” on immigration.

Overall, the reds agreed that the welfare state is too large, and that it creates a culture of dependency that traps people in poverty. “People ought to look to the government for help last, not first,” said one. The reds also criticized America’s “PC culture,” and said they were tired of being labelled as racists or sexists for supporting “personal responsibility.”

Some of the reds, however, expressed strong concerns that President Trump doesn’t always act “presidential,” and that he could be petty, insecure, and vindictive — instead of trying to work across the aisle to make progress.

Why do blues oppose President Trump and his administration?

“It’s the same with Gov. Christie — just because you’re blunt doesn’t mean you’re honest.”

The Belmar blues expressed a litany of complaints about Trump’s character, and cited his comments about women as particularly distressing. They said they don’t trust President Trump to uphold the duties of his office, though they see “cronyism” on both sides.

While the blues acknowledged the general appeal of an outsider, they believe that President Trump has been “divisive,” playing to people’s fears and biases rather than seeking to unite the country. They don’t believe that Trump was a good businessman, saying that he “refused to pay workers” and filed for bankruptcy multiple times.

“I wish Trump would try to find solutions to our anxieties, rather than manipulating them.”

The blues acknowledged the importance of enforcing law and order, but they also argued that America is a “nation of immigrants,” and called for developing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who had contributed to the country for many years.

The blues also expressed some noteworthy reservations about their own side, saying they wished Democrats would develop a more positive message beyond reflexive opposition to President Trump. “There’s a lot of yelling about resisting,” said one, “but not a lot of yelling about solutions.”

What were the commonalities?

“We all want to help our country; we just disagree on the way to do it”

While it’s safe to say that last night’s gathering didn’t change any of the participants’ core views, several commonalities emerged.

Both groups agreed there is too much money in politics, and both sides said they were sick of lobbyists controlling politicians.

While the reds and blues disagreed about the fundamental role of government in welfare, they agreed that there should be some safety net for the helpless, and that certain programs could be made more efficient to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. And while the two sides disagreed strongly about immigration, there was some commonality around finding a way to support the so-called DREAMers, undocumented children who’d come to the United States at a young age through no fault of their own.

Overall, though, the two sides agreed most that it was crucial to our democracy that we disagree with respect and civility, and that we take the time to actually understand opposing positions before dismissing them out of hand.

“It’s a start. If we keep talking respectfully, we will find ways to work together.”

Better Angels will remain in the Garden State for one more night, with a gathering tonight in Summit, NJ, before heading on to Lake George, NY tomorrow.


The Belmar participants after last night’s gathering