Episode 112 – Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers, The Quest for Political Civility

This week we continue our special series on the Art of Difficult Dialogue by diving into the intense waters of political discourse. And there is nobody better to walk us through this than Sarah and Beth, the duo behind the popular Pantsuit Politics podcast. For a long time, Sarah and Beth were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. But because of their ability to openly, safely, and productively communicate, they’ve started to discover that they have much more in common than they once thought. If you’ve ever had visceral reactions to political conversations, than this conversation between Jessica, Beth, and Sarah is for you!


Jessica: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact, fair trade jewelry brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.

Thanks for joining me here as we continue through our series on recovering the art of difficult dialogue. I think you’ll agree that today’s episode is extra appropriate. We couldn’t have a difficult dialogues series without addressing the elephant in the room with the donkey in the room. That’s right, today we are talking politics.

I learned about Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers through their book that’s called “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening).” They also have a podcast called “Pantsuit Politics Podcast”. If you find yourself experiencing some rather visceral reactions when in conversation about politics this episode is for you.

Now disclaimer: you’ll find out during this conversation that I thought their book was recent, like hot off the press, but it was actually written a couple of years ago. And you will hear that they actually, over the last couple of years, have become a little bit more aligned in how they view the world. So, it wasn’t quite as “opposites attract” or “let’s have this really difficult dialogue around being a conservative and a progressive.” However, I think where the conversation went is as we perhaps do become more aligned in how we might view the world, how can we still not create echo chambers.

So, I challenged them on that as I learned that their book was a couple of years old and they actually have changed their platform a little bit. So, it ended up being an interesting conversation from that angle because they started off on opposite sides of the political spectrum and through very intentional work and committing the conversation space and respect in humanity, they’re creating a space for others to be able to engage in healthy conversations about politics, and we definitely tackle that. I think you’re going to love the things they had to share about what it is like to listen when you’re in a conversation about politics.


Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers: The Quest for Political Civility

Jessica: Well, thanks so much for joining us today. We are in a series called "Recovering the Lost Art of Difficult Dialogue." And actually, when I was searching for people to talk with, my friend Jamie Ivey who lives here in Austin said, "Oh, my gosh, you’ve got to talk with Sarah and Beth." So, she’s the one who introduced me to you guys. So, I got y’alls’ book and I have been reading it and I’m super excited because I’m gonna read it with my 14-year-old daughter who is…

Beth: Oh, wow.

Jessica: …real hair on fire right now. Real social justice advocate, which, hello, I mean, I run a social impact business, we have a Black son. Like I get it. But it’s a little bit intense right now.

Sarah: Can I just tell you? My friends in my hometown, Nicole and Nathan, like, they live in the arts community neighborhood in our town. She is a yoga teacher…

Jessica: That’s where we live too.

Sarah: She’s, like, the person, like, standing next to her feels like meditating. She has this long braid. She’s trained to be a doula. She doesn’t shave her legs. I’m just trying to paint, like, full… He plays in a band. He’s a graphic designer.

Jessica: Yeah, I got it.

Sarah: Do you feel what I’m laying down here?

Jessica: Crystal clear.

Sarah: Okay. So, their oldest daughter, Nina, went to college at Center, which is sort of a rival of the college Beth and I went to and came back, like, fully engaged, ready to fight with Nicole about pronouns and Nicole is like, "I’m trying very hard." And there was a little of, like, "Well, you’re not trying hard enough." And this… I mean, I was, like, laughing and I feel really bad about it, but the idea that, like, these two would be getting crap from their college student about how they’re not woke enough was just… it was too much. And also, it’s totally coming for me. Like, I remember fighting with my grandmother and my mother because they said if I got a part in "The Vagina Monologues," they would not come see it. It’s coming for me so hard. It’s fine. I’m prepared, but like, oh, my God.

Jessica: Just for our listeners that may not know you guys, I wanted to start off by talking about how you found each other, became friends and then decided to start a podcast together about politics.

Sarah: Beth and I went to college together. We were sorority sisters. And we stayed acquaintances afterwards, but we took sort of different paths. We both went to law school. She stayed in Kentucky. I went to Washington, DC. She worked in the corporate law world, I went into politics and worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2007 presidential campaign, which is starting to make me sound… It used to make me sound young and hip and in it and now it makes me sound so old. That’s okay. And I worked on Capitol Hill and then decided to move back to my hometown of Paducah, Kentucky to start a family. And when I did that, I started mommy blogging and my husband was on me all the time. "You gotta start a podcast. You gotta start a podcast. You gotta start a podcast."

And I was starting to tiptoe back into the political world. I’d completed Emerge training which is for Democratic women considering public office. I decided to run for office. And I started blogging a lot more about politics. I would literally roll from a stroller review into like, "These are my thoughts on the Syrian Civil War." I did not care. I would mix it up as the case called for. And Beth was on maternity leave and she said, "Hey, would you ever consider a guest post on your blog?" And I said, "Oh, my God, yes." because those of us in the content creation world know that anytime somebody steps up and offers to create some of your content, you’re like, "Yes, please. I’m so tired."

And so she wrote posts, they were really well received, and particular, one called "Nuance" because at the time we were so precious in America and we were arguing about things like Cecil the lion, which just seems so sweet, like the good old days. And her thought was kind of like, "Hey, we don’t have to… Everything doesn’t have to be this, like, stake in the sand. You’re assuming everything about me because of one social media post." And really pushing back against that knee jerk reaction when you read someone’s post on a controversial topic. And it was so well received, and I said, "Hey, would you ever consider doing a podcast?" And she said, "What’s a podcast?" And I said, "I will explain it to you. We’ll figure it out."

Because I knew she had a very different view of government than I did and a different party registration at the time than I did. And I thought, "I bet we could have conversations we don’t see anywhere else, like, ones that aren’t just reciting the party talking points." And we got on the phone one time and sort of tested it out, we had great chemistry from the beginning. I told her after 45 minutes, "We’re not gonna do this anymore unless we’re recording." And we just started thinking it would be a hobby and we didn’t know who would listen. And it pretty rapidly became apparent there were lots of people out there hungry for a different type of conversation. And then, of course, that was 2015 and then the 2016 election, and then what we do became even more essential and our audience was even more hungry for that approach to things and that’s how we ended up here.

Jessica: Well, I have just finished your book even though it was published a couple of years ago, and it just feels absolutely relevant to exactly right now. And, Sarah, I know you are the self-prescribed liberal, and then Beth, you are the self-prescribed conservative. I just wanted each of you guys to break down what that actually means.

Beth: Well, that’s such a good question, isn’t it? So, when we started the podcast, I felt really comfortable using the word conservative to describe myself because my view has always been that we should solve problems as close to the problems as possible. And so, I prefer local solutions first, you know, county, statewide solution second, federal solutions third. My shift in political identification has really happened as that definition has less and less to do with what conservatism means. I think conservatism has taken on a different identity and so I have as well. It’s been really hard to have a book out in the world that talks about me as a conservative under a definition that was probably losing steam when we wrote the book but is all but gone now.

And so, I’m a registered Democrat because I live in Kentucky and we are a closed primary state. So, you have to be registered with the party to participate in primaries and I wanna do that. If we were not a closed primary state, I would be a registered independent. So, I still maintain that philosophy that the federal government shouldn’t be our first problem solver, that we should really look closely at the language of the Constitution when we make decisions and think about, you know, very deliberately, how we can be faithful to the role of our three branches. But I don’t fit neatly into either party now. And because I’m a person, not a brand, I’ve decided to just kind of lean into that. And that still remains a point of tension with Sarah. But so much of what’s in the news today, you know, people come to us and they think they’re gonna hear this left-right thing and are disappointed. So much of what we’re talking about in the news right now is really about values. And I think the reason Sarah and I have been good partners from the beginning in spite of our disagreement is because we really do share a lot of the same values.

“So much of what we’re talking about in the news right now is really about values. And I think the reason Sarah and I have been good partners from the beginning in spite of our disagreement is because we really do share a lot of the same values.” Beth Silvers

Jessica: So good. And I think many conservatives are finding themselves exactly where you are. And I mean, it’s lost… Democrat and Republican has lost its meaning in so many ways. Sarah, how would you describe what it means to be liberal or do you still identify as liberal?

Sarah: Well, it’s so funny. I live in a really conservative part of Kentucky. And to my friends and families and neighbors, I’m super progressive, but to our progressive listeners, I’m often not progressive enough, which makes me feel like I’m probably about where I need to be. If you’re making everybody a little bit mad, you’re probably in the right spot. I was raised conservative Evangelical and went away to a liberal arts university and sort of became a conservative talking point. I went away to college and became a Democrat. Largely because the values that were true of the Democratic Party then and are certainly still true now spoke to me, the values of equality for women and reproductive justice. The qualities of accepting and affirming LGBTQ members of our community, which wasn’t a perfect… listen, was far from perfect when I became a Democrat when I was 18 years old back in 2000. I mean, you had party people then that… And I think that’s a part of the Democratic Party’s history that people easily forget, but, you know, even beloved Barack Obama was not affirming in the very beginning.

So, I mean, I think that and I think the value placed on just centering connection and caring and community and that this idea, you know, I’m really sort of in this emotional place right now because we’re recording this in the middle of the Democratic National Convention and it’s like going to church every night. It’s like, here’s the sermon about why we care about our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters, and here’s how we want to help them. And like, that’s my personality. I love that stuff. I love that sort of emotional appeal to, you know, this…

The policy is important, but this is why it matters. This is why we fight for this stuff. This is what’s animating us is that we want what’s best. And, you know, I’m a real… I know it’s not pop… Again, this is where I would make progressives mad. I know it’s not popular to quote Bill Clinton anymore, but I love that quote where he says, "I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this country that can’t be fixed with what’s right with this country." And I believe that. I think I’m optimistic and I love the appeal to hope and to change and that we can do better, and we should try for everybody. We should try to include more people at the table.

I have that sort of core inside of me that can always be motivated to move and change and believes in public service and believes that government can make people’s lives better. Beth always says if we’re driving a car, I’m the gas when it comes to federal government, she’s the brakes, and I think that’s probably pretty accurate. And if we’re talking about corporations, she’s the gas and I’m the brakes, the free market, because I really believe that that’s what we’re here to do. When we form a democracy and we form a representative democracy, we should be examining ways we can make each other’s lives better and get people closer to that American dream and that idea. So, that’s… Again, it’s very testifying right now because you’ve caught me in the middle of the convention. So, it’s easy to tap that love fest.


Finding Our Place in Politics

Jessica: I get it. I get it. Would one of you guys break down libertarianism for our listeners?

Beth: Sure. I better do that.

Jessica: Because I may have voted for a few libertarians in my lifetime.

Beth: Well, I think libertarianism is much like being a Democrat or a Republican. There’s a spectrum of belief within that party too. But generally speaking, libertarians are gonna prioritize individual liberty over any kind of governmental action that steers us toward collectivism. From a legalistic perspective, that doesn’t mean libertarians hate community. It means libertarians would prioritize individuals’ interest in being part of a community over anything that they might express through their political systems.

So, you have libertarians who are very aligned with my values in terms of we have too much incarceration in this country because that’s an infringement on individual liberty. We use too much surveillance in this country because that’s an infringement on individual liberty. And then you have people who take that too of a much further extent and would say, "Having a driver’s license is state intrusion on my individual rights." So, it’s a big tent also smaller than the traditional two parties. But how you define liberty and where you think its boundaries are is also a nuanced question. And so, there’s a lot of space in the Libertarian Party. And I think many conservatives who don’t find a home for themselves within the Democratic Party have some interest in what the Libertarian Party could become as an alternative to what the Republican Party is looking like.

Jessica: Okay. So, my English teachers… Thanks for breaking that down, by the way. That was a good breakdown. My English teachers always used the phrase "Show don’t tell" when you’re writing, "Show don’t tell." And you two have been able to show the rest of us what healthy dialogue between different views actually looks like. So, I wanted us to take an example from your book and to provide a classic example for our audience today by taking sort of a typical party line view and hearing how your curiosity to learn from the other led to a more nuanced perspective.

So, I wanted to start with welfare, because welfare has such a typical view and it says that Democrats usually see Republicans as wholly uncaring about the poor, and Republicans believe Democrats entrap people in dependency in order to win elections. And you wrote your book a couple of years ago, but I would say those still prevail, those thought patterns. But you guys really came together and have a more nuanced perspective as you began to explore these prevailing views. So, I just wanted you to take me through your process of that typical view that maybe you held before and then how your research and coming together lead to a more nuanced approach.

Sarah: Well, Beth took the libertarian, so I’ll start. I think the research part was really key for me here. History is always essential to how I orient myself in the world, how I think about public policy controversies because so often when you look back at how they started or, you know, sort of how the argument broke down when we first started having it, you’re gonna feel like you’re in the upside-down. You’re gonna see the Southern Baptist Convention supporting Roe V. Wade when the first decision came out. You’re gonna see welfare, in particular, you’re gonna see this idea that, "Oh, well, we actually… We are creating this system because we want women, white women to stay home and take care of their children. That’s why we have it."

Jessica: And I did not know the origin of that. I just learned that from you guys. Thank you.

Sarah: And so, you read it and it breaks it wide open for you and you think, "Oh. Okay." So, this is opening up a whole new understanding of myself, of this issue, and I thought it went one way and as is often the case in America, it did go one way until race became a factor. And then once race enters the conversation, then we have a different controversy, we have different sides on that controversy. And so, you know, with the welfare system, I think, I realized that the controversy started differently and also, like, really dive into the history realizing that there is some truth in the idea that the system punishes work, the system punishes any effort to sort of move outside of it. And I think that’s probably an overly harsh way to describe it, but let’s just lean into that for a minute for argument’s sake, in that, you know, if you earn more, you won’t be available for this subsidy or this benefit even though you still need it to continue to work and to continue to build your path out of poverty as the case may be.

And so, I think just realizing like the history of the issue and really sort of coming to Jesus with the idea that if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile is how we operate in these political conversations. And why we really lean into the concept of grace is because I think it’s the exact opposite approach. It’s that, "No, you can give an inch. You can say, "I see what you’re talking about there and it is a problem." And that does not mean that you are condoning shutting the program down. You can criticize something you love. You can criticize something you want to protect. Those are not mutually exclusive acts, but we often act as if they are when we have political conversations.

“You can criticize something you love. You can criticize something you want to protect. Those are not mutually exclusive acts, but we often act as if they are when we have political conversations.” Sarah Stewart Holland

And I think this welfare examination we did, and it was due to the anniversary of the Welfare Reform Act in the ’90s, which really, really changed the system. And that’s another interesting historical perspective is it changed the system and we still argue about the old system. We still argue, like, the federal government is handing out cash benefits is no longer the case. The federal government gives the money to states and then the states decide what to do with it. And some states handout cash benefits, but most often they do not. And so just that we’re having these old fights, that the fights never started the way we thought they did, that there are criticisms probably accurate and consistent on both sides. All of that was a really good learning exercise when we were having this conversation.

Jessica: I could tell. I could tell. Beth, what about you?

Beth: I came in with pretty typical Republican talking points about the dignity of work, about how condescending welfare is to people’s opportunities in their lives, their ability to make choices for themselves. I hated all of the strings attached to the assistance provided. And I think what really helped me was beginning to understand that I was having a fight that wasn’t relevant anymore because the welfare reform legislation in the ’90s did a lot of what I would say needed to be done. And the results weren’t good. It didn’t work. As much as it sounds great to say we should have work requirements to get this assistance, when you dive into the results of that legislation, what you see is that it’s not that most people don’t want to work. It’s that work requires a whole set of supports that aren’t in place if you’re a person needing this kind of assistance. So, transportation, access to childcare. There are so many pieces that are attached to a person’s ability to find and sustain meaningful employment.

And so the issue isn’t laziness or dependence as much as it is a lack of the right kinds of support to help people find that career that’s going to be good for them or that job that’s going to work for some period of time until they figure out where they wanna land afterwards.

So, I realized, one, that, you know, we talk about politics a lot through sports language. So, I realized we’re playing on a different court than the one I was talking about. And two, that the ideas that I would have implemented had been implemented and they weren’t successful, and so we need to look at it a new way. And what really helped Sarah and I think once we kind of oriented, "Okay, what are our values?" Well, we both do believe that there’s a certain standard of living that people in the United States ought not fall below. We both agree with that. We’re one of the wealthiest nations in the world. We ought not have homelessness. We ought not have children who don’t have food security, or adults for that matter.

So, we oriented around those values. We both recognized that any system has some potential for abuse, but that abuse is too small of an issue to develop our policy around. We shouldn’t be developing policy to the people who are gonna abuse the policy. We should be developing policy for the large group of people for whom it can work well and effectively. And that really brought us around to talking about universal basic income, which is, as people know much more now than they did when we first started talking about it because of Andrew Yang, a system where you would be provided a cash benefit from the federal government and that cash benefit you could use in any number of ways to help stabilize your situation, provide for your basic needs, and start to work toward that path of sustained employment or beginning a business or all the things that Republicans talk about as great virtuous work, you know, that you have that cash benefit to get you what you need to move you in that direction.


Making Room for Differing Views

Jessica: I love you brought him up. He spoke at a pretty small business conference that I’m a part of. It’s actually a business community and one that a lot of men, a lot of older white men. And he stepped on stage, this is two years ago, and I thought, "I can’t believe that I’m hearing this in this more traditional environment." But what I hear you saying is that there was a lot of shared ground with perhaps a more conservative point of view to see a path to help people emerge from poverty because it was a social justice-oriented business crowd.

Beth: Well, and there’s a libertarian perspective represented in it as well because there is more autonomy to people. When you give people cash, you are respecting their individual decision-making. You’re not substituting your judgment for theirs. So, I think there’s something for everyone to like and something for everyone to criticize, but it really helped for the two of us to just take ourselves entirely out of the old conversation. Instead of trying to compromise or something around the old talking points, can we build this from the ground up based on a shared framework of values? And I think that’s what helps us have conversations that feel more like growth to me than like banging my head against a wall.

“Instead of trying to compromise or something around the old talking points, can we build this from the ground up based on a shared framework of values? And I think that’s what helps us have conversations that feel more like growth to me than like banging my head against a wall.” Beth Silvers

Sarah: Can I just wax poetic for a moment? Because I think it’s illustrative of what we all want. When it comes to Andrew Yang, you know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and every American was sent a check. That would have been inconceivable two years ago. But Andrew Yang went out and raised his voice and he did the hard work of having hard conversations and explaining things to people over and over and over and over again. And he did it with people who then went out and talked to their relatives and their friends and their community members and explained it over and over and over again. And he just planted those seeds and worked at a great personal sacrifice. I mean, I know it sort of looks fun to run for president on TV. It ain’t fun. It’s a lot of work. And did that, lay the groundwork.

And look, it’s not like he’s not going to benefit from that. He absolutely is. And he’s a CNN contributor. He’s got a big speaking gig tonight at the Final Night. But like, I just think… I look at him and I think, that’s… We always say that campaigning is an act of public service as much as actually serving is. And I think of Andrew Yang every time because he went out there and pushed that issue forward tremendously and created all these Americans and, like, basically, a little bit like disciples like out there that are gonna go and share the good word about universal basic income. And I think that that not only had an impact when it comes to the checks many of us received during the beginning of the pandemic, but I think that there’s an excellent chance that we’ll move towards a universal basic income in our lifetimes.

Jessica: Well, it’s interesting because when I heard him speak, it was long before he was running for president and I had no idea what his political affiliation was. I just was listening to him with completely open-mindedness without any confirmation bias. So, I didn’t even know that he was… When he did run as a Democrat, I was like, "Okay. He’s a Democrat," which is just interesting because I think that so much of what you guys explore is, you know, check your biases and how can you find that common ground around your values and maybe you do disagree about how to get there, but you can agree around the outcome, which really is the most unifying thing anyway when you’re unified around a mission.

And it makes me think of we hear that politics are so polarizing today and it’s just, you know, such a crazy environment, but then one sing along to Hamilton reveals that… I mean, hardcore debate, that’s been here from the get-go. And I mean, we’re talking, like, they wouldn’t play nice. But you point out that we’ve moved from debate to demonizing other people’s points of view.

And it seems like the title of your book, "I Think You’re Wrong, (but I’m Listening)" sums up your solution. So, I wanted to have you guys breakdown it sounds like… And it sounds like there’s been a lot of evolution since your book. So, pardon me, because the only podcast I just listened to y’alls was the Kamala podcast and I was listening, I was like, "Oh, they sound like probably in alignment." And maybe they are all just in alignment now on everything, which I’m like, "How did they do that as a brand?" because this whole book is based on these opposing points of view. But I’m sure you still oppose one another and don’t agree on everything, but certainly, you’ve learned how to dialogue, which is what this podcast series is about. So, I would just love for you to share how we can actually listen to someone even when our cheeks are flush, and our stomachs are churning, and our rage is bubbling.


Creating a Space for Open Dialogue

Beth: Well, I think we define ourselves so much oppositionally in politics. And so, you’re right. I mean, as a brand, it is a hard thing that we agree more than we disagree on the topics of the day here in 2020. But I think that’s important and it represents a willingness to be curious and to listen. There are a lot of things that we debate right now that really aren’t all that debatable. We just say they are because we’ve put them under the rubric of politics. When we do disagree, whether it is because we have that oppositional partisan tension or just because we see something differently, there’s so much of that under the umbrella of both parties, especially the Democratic Party right now, people who see things very differently even though they are aligned politically, or because of personality, which happens with Sarah and I a lot. We fundamentally agree on the values. Maybe we even agree on the tactics about something but we’re just really different people. Complimentary, as Sarah says, but different. And there are moments when there’s some tension just because of that personality difference. So, recognizing that’s just a condition of being a human. We should not all be in lockstep all the time. And we can work on each other and ourselves through those conversations.

My goal when I sit down with Sarah is never to convince her of anything. It’s never to convince our audience of anything. I truly don’t care if people listening to our podcast agree with me about anything that I say. What I do care about is that they feel respected by me through the words that I speak. And I care that I’m learning something. So, I never really walk away from my conversations with Sarah thinking, "Oh, I wish I’d said this." I usually walk away saying, "I wish I had asked this." Because for me, this entire process of talking politics with Sarah and anyone else is such an opportunity to think about how I wanna live with other people and community, who I wanna be, what I want to understand about the world around me. And there aren’t hard limits around that. And so as long as I keep leaning into this greater expansiveness, and that’s really what the book is about, giving grace, being curious, being willing to be uncomfortable. Once you kind of say, "I’m willing to hear anything. I’m willing to feel anything in response. I’m willing to be honest even when it’s hard," the sky is kind of the limit in terms of what you can learn about yourself and other people as you’re having these conversations.

“Once you kind of say, "I’m willing to hear anything. I’m willing to feel anything in response. I’m willing to be honest even when it’s hard," the sky is kind of the limit in terms of what you can learn about yourself and other people as you’re having these conversations.” Beth Silvers

Sarah: Yeah. I would say that, you know, for much of my life, especially in my 20s and early 30s especially when I lived in Washington, DC, I felt like I was having a debate, I felt like politics was a debate. Your side wanted to do this, my side wanted to do this and we were gonna, you know, find the right data and the right talking points, and we were just going to hammer out the details and find a path forward or not or just have fundamental areas we couldn’t get anywhere on because everybody disagreed.

And I think through the process of this podcast and why it didn’t concern me for one millisecond that Beth changed her party registration or that we spent a lot of podcasts agreeing with each other is that I’ve realized what happens in politics is much less about policy and much more about personality and emotion and fears and stories. And I think sort of seeing the matrix in that way that so often I was banging my head against the wall because I just knew if I could get this particular table with this particular data analysis or this one Atlantic article that really lays out… In my enneagram one mind, I’m gonna send everybody Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article on reparations and we’re all going to see his argument as the flawless piece of genius that it is and agree. And what being in conversation with Beth and listening to our community and really doing a lot of self-awareness and reflection on myself I was like, "That’s just not how it works."

We are dealing with a huge, complex, diverse country with many different experiences and many different fears and grievances and hopes and dreams. And we’re never ever gonna be in agreement. They weren’t in… All these stories we tell ourselves about… Even though we have this giant fracture in the middle of our country with the Civil War which when we couldn’t come to agreement and we killed each other over it. We do sort of tell ourselves this narrative that the founding fathers were in agreement and worked so hard for this great thing and the suffrages came along and pushed this further, and the Civil Rights movement came along and pushed this beautiful experiment forward. And in some ways, that’s very true.

And in other ways, as we know from Hamilton, there wasn’t a monolith in the founding fathers. They hated each other. And they fought all the time. And there were women who fought tooth and nail to keep the 19th Amendment from passing. And there was a passionate disagreement in the civil rights community about violence and non-violence. I just listened to… I’m listening to "Winds of Change" and they talk about Nina Simone meeting Martin Luther King and saying, "I’m not non-violent."

So, I think that the more we can realize and release ourselves from this pressure to all agree or to say, "We’re really talking about policy and acknowledge that we’re talking about pain and hurt, you know, and then in a perfect world, we’re pushing towards love and justice," and that’s gonna look different to different people and that we don’t need to convince each other 100% of the time that the goal is that everyone feel heard. That’s why we titled our book that, right? The goal is to feel heard, not to come to agreement, not to leave a conversation 100% comfortable, not to never get your feelings hurt, but for people to feel heard because I do think the most dangerous thing is when people feel silenced. That is a recipe for grievance and violence and fracture. And that’s not what we want. But unity doesn’t mean 100% agreement, and it never has.


Being Open to Change

Jessica: I love that. I love how Beth said that when she leaves a conversation with you, she’s not thinking, "Gosh, I wish I would have said that," but, "Gosh, I wish I would ask that." That’s powerful. Well, Beth, I wanted to ask you. I know a lot of people who might have traditionally described themselves as having identified more conservative or belief in a smaller government, believe that local is more the better way to solve problems, have found themselves homeless in the last few years because of a highly polarized president. And how did that feel, I mean, to make this switch? And how are you now walking in the nuance? Are you just… Are you like Sarah and you’re like, "I’m going to church every night, the DNC, and I’m just… This is it and I’m sold and you’re putting the signs in their front yard or…" Yeah. Tell me a little bit about your journey because I feel like, "Wow, that’s a big switch, especially…" And I’m wondering if you got pushback from your listeners as you built kind of a whole brand on being a Republican versus a Democrat.

Beth: Well, fortunately, for all of us, I was never a very good Republican. So, I was definitely more moderate. That’s just my temperament. I’m sure it comes across. I don’t go to church every night at the DNC because I’m just not made for that. I don’t go to church at church. I’m just not that kind of gal. I’m pretty serious. I’m very, like, introspective. And so, when I was a Republican, I got really mean email all the time from Republicans telling me what a poor representative I was of them. Because I am more moderate and where Sarah and I really align is around what I would consider issues of individual liberty. I’ve always been, since we started our podcast, affirming of the LGBTQ community. Certainly not always in my life because of my religious upbringing, but as an adult, I’ve been affirming of that community.

And so, there are lots of places where I don’t neatly align with what the Republican Party was, and that was true pre-2016. But 2016 to me indicated a shift that I couldn’t find a way to navigate anymore because of what I viewed as this movement into territory that was truly nationalist, xenophobic, overtly racist. And I say overtly because I know there’s criticism that Republican policies have long been racist, and I’m trying to be open-minded to that as much as that hurts and as much as it sucks to think that I’ve been complicit in that. I’m trying to lean into it and to not be afraid of those questions.

So, in a way, it was the easiest decision I’ve ever made to disaffiliate from a president who speaks about other people in ways that I find abhorrent. And in a way, it was very scary and difficult. But what Sarah and I have committed to with our podcast since the beginning, and I hope with all of our work, is to be ourselves and to not show up as anything else. We didn’t wanna be pundits, we didn’t wanna be representatives of the parties. Those were just shorthand labels to help people understand what they were gonna listen to. And I can’t show up as anybody but me. And it was intolerable to me what was happening, and I didn’t wanna be part of it.

And so, our listeners have taken a lot… It’s taken a lot of explaining. And depending on how people come to us, sometimes they come and they’re disappointed and that hurts me. I’m a two on the enneagram. I really like to make people happy. I want them to come in and understand what we’re about and feel respected by it and to like me, but they often don’t, and that’s okay. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I want to be in a position to talk to my daughters about this moment in history and explain with real clarity what my choices were. So, I feel really good about some of what happens in the Democratic Party and I feel really far away from other aspects of it. And that is okay with me. And if things shift, I could shift again. I will embrace those changes. I am getting involved in our race here in Kentucky for Senate. Sarah and I have had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with Amy McGrath who’s running against Mitch McConnell. So, I am phone-banking for her this weekend and stepping in more wholeheartedly than one might think a former Republican would. But I just think a lot is on the line right now and I want to have a moral clarity about my choices around those stakes and then be willing to see what happens next.

Sarah: Can I add that I would say our community… I’m gonna distinguish between our community and our listeners. That might sound like a distinguish without a difference, but I promise it isn’t. Our community is, you know, the people who have been with us for a very long time who are very active on our social media channels. You’ll hear their voices on our podcast quite often. And our community didn’t blink an eye when Beth changed her registration. Now, we have listeners that come in and perhaps are disoriented because it is difficult to shake that bipartisan label. But I think that people who understood what we were doing and had been with us as we were doing it for a very long time really were not upset or disturbed. We’re like, "Yep. Okay. Got it." because a lot of them are on that same journey.

Jessica: Would your community, if someone is in your community and they are out campaigning and phone-banking for Trump, would they feel a place still in your community? Because I’m struck by how you say you shouldn’t talk about politics that we change it to you should talk only to people who reinforce your worldview. So, how are you holding that tension in your community where people can… Because that’s what I feel like the tricky thing is, is there is violent disagreement. I feel it in my blood around leaders in our country right now, but then at the same time, I lead a community and we have people all over the spectrum. We have… People have this… How are you holding that tension of still creating a space of dialogue and respect for now two people that clearly are even not voting for Trump, but probably not voting for most people that are running for Republican office across the country or you’re like, "It doesn’t matter, our community is going in this direction and we’re bringing them with us."

Beth: I certainly hope people who disagree with us are part of our community. I believe some are. I don’t think it’s a huge number because I think part of the ethos around Trump right now, at least for people who are interested enough to listen to political podcasts, is kind of “you’re with us or you’re against us.” So, I’m sure that people have opted out because we have not been supportive of the President’s rhetoric and policies. We do try to call out the good when we see it and we try to be fair in our assessments. But I’m sure people feel like we aren’t sometimes. And it is hard to listen to things that are not just affirmation of where you are today.

I hope the difference between what we do and what other podcasts that people would broadly call left-leaning do is show that we still love and respect people who disagree with us. There are lots of people in my life who are diehard Trump supporters, and I love them. I don’t quite understand some of the choices they’re making right now, but I love them. And I hope when I talk about my concerns and my fears because Sarah’s right, a lot of your political participation is about what you’re afraid of and there are things I’m afraid of right now. And I hope that when I talk about those, the people who disagree with me know that I still respect them as individuals, and I care about them, and I believe they have as much space in the world to voice their opinions as I have to voice mine. And I hope that we work on each other.

There are definitely times when I get an email or a message on social media from a listener that really gives me pause and I think, "I need to re-examine this or I’ve missed something important here or I’ve gone too far in this direction." And it reorients me. And that shift is what this whole ecosystem that Sarah and I are part of is about for me. If it became static, I would not want anything to do with it. And I think that’s why so many people have opted out of politics together. We expect it to be more static than anything else. If you started a business and said, "Here, I’m gonna hire people in for these positions, but I don’t want them to ever grow out of them. They just need to do this thing that I brought them in for from now on without regard to the industry, the technology, their personal development. We’re just stuck right here." That business would not flourish. And I’m fearful that that’s what we’re doing with our politics. And so I would rather take the risk of alienating people who don’t want to ever hear something they disagree with than to reinforce this culture where we say, "Well, you picked your side and so you sit there no matter what’s going on on that side."

“I would rather take the risk of alienating people who don’t want to ever hear something they disagree with than to reinforce this culture where we say, ‘Well, you picked your side and so you sit there no matter what’s going on on that side.’” Beth Silvers

Sarah: Yeah, I agree. I think we have people who disagree with us. I know we do because they send us lots of emails. So, I’m not worried about being a reinforcing sort of echo chamber because I do feel like what we try to do is constantly evolve and be curious and question ourselves. Do I think we have full Trump-supporting listeners? No, I don’t. I think if we do, they’re few and far between. And I don’t think that’s on us, I think that’s on him. I think the ethos is ride or die.

We had Joe Walsh, who challenged Donald Trump, in the primary on our show. And he talked about the experience of shaking the hands of every single person waiting in line to get into a Trump rally. And just the intensity of the in-group mentality. You are in or you are out, period. And what I feel like our job to do is two-fold, one, to serve the people in our community who are struggling with that in their personal lives and their personal relationships just like we are. My father is a Trump supporter, we have lots of conversations. And so, I feel like when our job… That’s who we have in our community is people who are like, "How do I do this? How do I talk to them? I want to stay in connection and relationship with this person, but I’m really struggling with the hateful rhetoric coming across on their social media feed.”

And so one, I feel obligated and a responsibility and a duty to be there for those people and to provide them an outlet and tools and a sounding board and, you know, the latest talking points for the newest viral video on Facebook, whatever the case may be. The second thing is, there is an instinct to do that on the left as well. And me personally, I feel very obligated to push against that. I had an intense conversation with a friend of mine during her book tour when we were talking about this because there’s the progressive side is, "Well, if someone is hateful and they are a garbage human then we’re done." And for me, as a sort of the more represented member of the left, I push hard on that and I say, "It is not my values to do that to anyone including Donald Trump or a supporter or anybody. It is not love your enemy unless they are a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist or whatever. That’s not the rule. The rule is love your enemy as yourself. It is not easy, but it is also not complicated.

And so, I feel sort of convicted to push on that instinct on the other side because it’s not like the in-group, out-group psychological impulse only exists on one side of the political spectrum. It absolutely does not. And so that drive to, "We’ll dehumanize because they dehumanize me first," is something I feel, you know, really passionate about and I try to speak to and be aware of in my own self because I just think that, for better or for worse, is the thing our human brains do. But I think we have a lot of listeners who, especially, I think if you look at left-leaning podcasts, left-leaning circles, there is that, "I wanna come here to be mad and to blame and to feel self-righteous." And listen, I mean self-righteous is my favorite emotion as an enneagram one, but I really try to keep it in check. And I try to sort of walk through that journey for our listeners who also maybe need to keep that in check from time to time.


Taking the Next Right Step

Jessica: Okay. I wanted to end with Beth’s point, which is that so many people have opted out of politics and feel like it’s not really an avenue for change anyway and it’s all just a hot mess, and then that can influence voting behaviors. So, in the words of Emily P. Freeman who has the podcast "The Next Right Thing," what is the next right thing for someone who maybe this podcast is, you know, having them go, "Okay. I guess I better figure out what the issues are and engage a little bit." What would be the next right thing for that person?

Beth: We have an election coming up in November. I don’t know if you’ve heard. We need you to vote. Look, it is a hot mess. And the problem is when something is a hot mess, if you leave it alone, it doesn’t clean up. It gets much, much worse. And I think if you look at politics and you say, "I don’t like how this is going," that means your voice is needed. We need people who don’t know. We need so many people who aren’t sure how they’re gonna vote in an election, who ask that question, like, "I don’t even know what this local office does. How can I vote for them?" You are the person that we need to show up because you’re thinking about this in a way that is fresh.

Politics has been whittled down to such a small group of people who feel so stuck in a particular place. And they’re important and we need them. It is not to dismiss those folks. The activists of all stripes are important to our political process. But democracy is supposed to be universal in nature. That’s the idealized version that we’re going for. And so, if you want it to be better, we need you to show up. And that doesn’t mean that you go into the ballot box or sit down with your mail-in ballot or however you’re participating, feeling like you have a full grasp on every issue.

We just need your assessment of character to the best of your ability. We need your best guess, your best choice at this moment in time. Fill out the first ballot and then make voting a habit. And then after that, pick some, like, one source of news to engage with every day for 15 minutes. Just that consistency of plugging in, you’ll be more informed than 90% of Americans. And the more people who will do those, I gave you two next right things. I love Emily as well. But the two next right things I think are vote and just keep voting, and then do one thing a day to know what’s going on in the world around you. And if you do that our country will change.

“The two next right things I think are vote and just keep voting, and then do one thing a day to know what’s going on in the world around you. And if you do that, our country will change.” Beth Silvers

Sarah: Yeah, I agree. I think the next right thing is voting, the next right thing is facing those fears, and participating in those difficult conversations. You… Let me repeat this two times just to make sure it lands really clearly. You do not need to be an expert. You do not need to be an expert. You are… I think the most important thing is, you are a citizen and that is enough. That is enough. We need every citizen. We need every citizen’s experience and perspective and history and personality and story and emotion. We need that because, like I said, the more… It’s not a policy debate. It’s not that policy is not important. We have experts for that. But we need citizens to be involved. We need citizens to say, "That doesn’t sound right to me. That doesn’t sound right to me."

I can envision a conversation where we’re plodding through the talking points of welfare where someone who doesn’t feel like an expert says, "But sometimes don’t we wanna pay mothers to be home with their kids?" I can envision that conversation and somebody stepping in and cracking it wide open because of that fresh perspective, and not because of expertise. And I think that’s the intimidation factor is both, I don’t feel like an expert and I don’t wanna make anybody mad. But look around you, everyone is already mad. And so maybe we could use people that are more concerned with peace, and with compromise, and with listening in the conversation to move it forward and to get us out of this place where it is just polarized, discontent, and violence. And so, if you feel animated by the values of love and understanding, then we need you.

Jessica: Walking out of this conversation, it stood out to me that we always have choice. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we have choice, especially for those of us that a little bit more on the passionate end of things. And maybe you’re in a conversation and something just gets triggered and you want to just talk and defend instead of listen and learn.

My big takeaway was when you walk away from someone, do you want that person to say, “Wow, I really loved what that person said,” or “Gosh, I really love how I was listened to.” Ah! So powerful. And I have such a long way to go.

Something that also stuck with me is the idea that a lot of our political participation is a reaction to what we’re afraid of. And if we can remember this, we can remember that who we are talking to is a person and not a policy.

Guys, I’m filled with hope. Go out there. Go vote. Even if you’re overwhelmed, choose compassion and action over overwhelm. And go and vote when that November election hits.

Next week, we are going to be back with my friends Justin and Patrick from “I’ll Push You,” and we’re gonna be having a powerful conversation talking about disability with dignity, respect, and kindness. I cannot wait for you to hear it.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.