Bridging the Divide

Repairing a Nation Torn Asunder.

Regular readers know that I’ve long been troubled by the political divide in our country. We’ve sorted ourselves into two Americas that do not hear, understand, or empathize with each other. And the last four years have only made it worse.

I’ve spent (some say wasted) a lot of time thinking about the causes of this divide. I’ve alternately blamed Hillary Clinton, right-wing media, social media, and, of course, the great orange instigator (name to be forgotten) who formerly occupied the highest office in the land.

It is, to be sure, the fault of all those things, egged on by politicians seeking partisan advantage amid the resulting conflict.

The question now confronting us, though, is more urgent: what to do about it?

Two weeks ago, I hinted at one idea, embodied in a riddle. What, I asked, is the significance of this sentence?

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Although the original piece mistyped “jumps” as “jumped,” the answer was clear to anyone who has ever taken a touch-typing class, and familiar to many who hadn’t. For those who don’t recognize it, the sentence stands out for using all 26 letters of the alphabet in a grammatically correct manner.

The point was that the sentence encapsulates the answer: those 26 letters form the basis of our communication, and real communication is the only way to rebuild the bonds that once united us as a nation.

Not long after, I asked readers to consider both the causes of the divide and ways to overcome it. I was, in short, bowled over by the thoughtful, insightful responses I received. An overseas friend noted that, in many ways, the U.S. Civil War never ended, and our unfinished business has stained the body politic ever since. Several were hopeful that the saner among the legions devoted to the lying man would come to realize that he never actually shared their hopes and fears (except, perhaps, about black people) – that it was always about the man, not the movement.

A former U.S. Senator outlined six types of Trump supporters, arguing that each requires a unique approach and that several of the groups are simply beyond reach or redemption. The list bears itemizing:

  • Party loyalists motivated by policy (the “Establishment” to some, “RINOs” to others);
  • Evangelicals whose recognition of leftist contempt for their religious beliefs made a deal with the devil seem like the lesser evil;
  • “Left-Behinds” – the blue-collar workers and rural residents left out of the tech revolution and global trade who concluded that Democrats favor Wall Street over Main Street (and have since the giant bailouts of giant corporations in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse;
  • Racists. ‘nuff said;
  • “Pox on both their houses” types who believe all politicians and institutions are universally and hopelessly corrupt; and
  • “Anti-Elitists” (really a subset found in each of the other five groups) who recoil at “cancel culture” and “trigger warnings”, and at a new President who emphasizes college over blue-collar jobs.

My friend’s take is that the “left-behinds” and those who disdain all politicians can be brought back into the mainstream fold with sound trade and economic policies, coupled with serious democratic reforms. A hopeful thought.

Several readers call out the media. One urged an update to the Fairness Doctrine, which once ensured that broadcast networks (including Fox) gave both sides equal time and imposed other requirements designed to preserve an independent media. She also noted that politics has shifted from a policy framework to one centered on identities – who we are, as individuals, rather than how we feel about taxes, welfare or even abortion. Another, bemoaning the lies repeated on right-wing media of all sorts, noted that Hitler was elected to office on a platform that could be fairly characterized as “Make Germany Great Again.” They urged efforts to increase media literacy, regulate social media, and adopt a new federalism to push power down from the central authority (the federal government) to state and local governments and non-profits.

Lastly a couple of people suggested efforts to promote “intergroup” contacts – reaching out beyond our closed-circle feedback loop to make real connections to people we seemingly have nothing in common with.

That idea has also been on my mind for a while, and something I’ve written about before. Unbeknownst to readers, I had embarked on just such an effort shortly before the piece went to press.

Eager to test my theory that we have more that ties us together than separates us, I sent a personal email message to people across the country. The full text appears as a postscript to this piece. In essence, the letter notes that I am troubled that we’ve allowed our differences to define us and determined to reach out to old friends and total strangers simply to wish them well in hopes of helping to bridge the divide.

Working with a reputable data firm, my letter was sent to nearly 50,000 strangers, all likely to be supporters of the man suddenly without a Twitter account. I invited people to write back (using a Gmail address I set up for this project to keep trolls from finding me), and promptly placed wagers with a couple of friends on how big the response would be.

One week after the letter was sent, I’ve yet to receive a single response – not even an “eff you” from a Proud Boy fascist.

It’s hard to know what to make of that TOTAL lack of response. Roughly 10% of recipients opened the message (5,000). Some, perhaps, had the same qualms I did about random contacts on the Internet – we’ve all been conditioned by experience and by the people who manage our email networks to be suspicious of messages from people we don’t know, and to NEVER click a link in such a message.

It’s also possible that my letter was simply too gentle. Facebook’s algorithms notoriously prefer controversial, provocative content precisely because it is most likely to increase user engagement – with Facebook making money off the result.   

I’ve asked the vendor who coordinated my experiment to come up with a different approach that might be tested. I haven’t given up hope that such “intergroup” contacts offer a way to reverse (if not eliminate) the separateness driving modern politics, but I allow that a pre-existing relationship may be a necessary component to undertaking such work.

After four long years, answers remain elusive, and democracy itself remains at risk. Perhaps the departure of the most-impeached-man-ever will offer respite, a cooling off period of sorts that might allow us to recalibrate – to seek each other out and, free of incendiary rhetoric, rediscover the bonds that draw us together instead of the lies that drive us apart.

Time will tell. Until then, I’ll keep trying.  

* * * * * *

A Letter to Strangers

January 14, 2021

Subject: Worried About Democracy? Me, too.


Believe it or not this letter is simply an effort to introduce myself and wish you well. I have nothing to sell or ask of you. I hope you are someone who agrees our democracy is worth thinking – and talking – about.

I am deeply troubled that, as a nation, we have allowed our differences to become so important that they push us into conflict, which is not the way to solve problems.

So, I decided to reach across the country to say hello to old friends and total strangers, to wish them well and hope that we can simply agree that we are all lucky to be Americans.

As our country has grown increasingly divided, I have been scratching my head about how to reverse that process. It is my hope that messages like this can help other people see that despite the political labels and conflicts that drive “clicks” and “views” on social media, we still share basic common goals and values — faith, family and freedom among them – even if we disagree on other things.

Conflict may be good for TV ratings, and extremism may be good for politicians interested in getting reelected, but neither is good for the country or for us as individuals.

So, it is up to ordinary people like us (I hope) to extend our hands and minds to others to help reunite us as a whole country for the next 200 years.

If you have a moment and care to email me in return, perhaps we can together become partners in restoring some unity to the country.

In the meanwhile, and whether you choose to respond or not, please accept my best wishes for the new year.

Yes, I have political views. For now, they do not matter, as I am just writing to say “Hi!”

I am 90 years old and actively planning my 100th birthday in 2031!

Wanna come?


Frank W.


A Different Kind of Virus

Perhaps more contagious than COVID?

Viruses get into our bodies from outside sources and then overwhelm human auto immune systems to infect – sometimes fatally —a significant proportion of people.

A virus’s only mission is reproduction – to find and inhabit as many host bodies as can be found, as quickly as possible.   

It is much the same with disinformation. False information distributed with malicious intent gets into the human brain and overwhelms our natural defenses (logic and skepticism, primarily) to gain a foothold from which to spread unimpeded.  

Social science has taught us that lies—especially big, deliberate lies, repeated endlessly – take on REAL meaning in the minds of millions of people who quickly lose the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. And, those BIG LIES thus become INESCAPABLE TRUTHS in the minds of those people.


Our country has suffered periods of disinformation contagion before, of course. The Salem Witch Trials are one famous example; Joe McCarthy another. In both cases, mass hysteria fanned by lies consumed a village, then a nation, albeit with far different consequences for its victims.

Today, the challenges are graver, the scope of infection broader, and the dangers exponentially larger. The misinformation virus has infected tens of millions of people and, unlike its biological counterparts, has been able to build a vast infrastructure to support its spread.

Consider Q-Anon, once noteworthy largely for the wackiness of the conspiracy fantasy at its core – an indiscernible plot for domination by a cabal of Satanist, child-predator cannibals led by a “deep state” embedded across the government. For four years, the anonymous “Q” posted Nostradamus-like blather about a coming “Storm” in which the forces of good, led by a sympathetic president, would rise up to save the day.

Then that sympathetic president left office — after his own efforts to foment a “storm” led to a deadly invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

The tortuous beliefs of its adherents proven wrong by the course of events, some awoke from their fever dream, perhaps a little embarrassed, and realized they’d been “had.” More, however, chose to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Many still believe that their Orange Messiah will somehow rise from the ashes of his failed presidency to save the country. Others have joined ranks with the “sovereign citizen” movement that asserts the U.S. was secretly converted to a corporation in 1871 (and therefore has no authority over them). They even have a new day of reckoning: March 4 (the original inauguration date outlined in the Constitution), when democratic rule will be restored to the nation and its true 19th president (guess who?) will be inaugurated.

Operating from a fact-free foundation, the disseminators of disinformation need not be troubled by real-world developments that undermine their cause; the amorphous nature of the conspiracy makes it easy to switch gears when events prove problematic. The only mission of disinformation is reproduction, to propagate itself far and wide to better infect the vulnerable among us.

There are two contagions raging among us, one deadly to humans, the other fatal to democracy. Stopping both in their tracks is the momentous challenge of our times.

A New Dawn

An old way.

A new dawn suggests more than just another day.

Indeed, we can expect the sun to rise every day –if only a bit later than the day before.

A ‘new dawn’ is the beginning of something– NEW-BETTER-PROMISING!

As the jet fumes from Air Force One taking Trump to Florida for the last time waft over us, we will begin to breathe cleaner, freer air for the first time in four years.

Air that is free of constant lies and wild promises.

The new dawn brings a new day and days when WE –the people –are the point of it all, not ME, EL PRESIDENTE.

Biden, sadly, cannot reunite us with a phrase.

But he can and will produce chains of new days dedicated to finding the will of the people, beating the pandemic, improving health care for all, restarting the economy and restoring our world leadership.

If talk – honest or not—could get things done, Trump perhaps could have been an even worse disaster. But all talk and no competence creates only illusions of things – such as who wins an election or who benefits from tariffs and trade barriers.

So, our new dawn is the beginning AGAIN of a truly professional political leader who will deal with facts, truth, and reality to make our world work once again.

The biggest challenge Biden faces is rebuilding REALITY. Until the third of the country that still believes Trump won the election comes to their senses and realizes that was THE BIG LIE it will be very difficult to truly REUNITE all our people.

It cannot be done overnight but with skillful continuous information and leadership can be whittled back to a normal level.

Then the human linkages which are the core of our freedom and democracy will begin to recover as well.

So, the new dawn is not by itself a magical change that wipes away the last four years, but it is the beginning of a healthy process of renewing all of our 350,000,000 lives!!

Trump Who?

How Did He Slip Through the Cracks?

Trump didn’t slip through.

Hillary delivered him to us with one word.

She declared that because only deplorables liked him, he was a deplorable.

While she was right, she was also plain STUPID!

When running for votes one NEVER wants to head on antagonize voters against YOUSELF.

So now 4 looooo…ng years and TWO impeachments later, it is over.

It would be nice if we could find something positive we learned from those wasted four years.  The big lessons – democracy is fragile, the country is dangerously divided – point to a challenging future.

Historians are already reminding us that a lot of folks (including me) warned that Trump was well known In New York City for being narcissistic and a congenital liar. At the time, though, it seemed harmless – more amusing than alarming — and it failed to pick up steam.

I recently suggested a ‘bonkermeter’ of some sort to warn us off making similar collective mistakes again. The problem is that that device has yet to be invented. Therefore, we all pussyfoot around the ‘indelicate’ topic of whether someone is in fact crazy. And, as the insurrectionists, white supremacists, Q-Anon cultists and ordinary people waving Trump flags and voting in (almost) record numbers attest, one man’s crazy is another man’s cunning.  

Now that the clock has run out and we have all run out of steam, there is only one word: GOODRIDDANCE.

And please do not tell me Hillary could have been worse. Nothing trumps crazy, corrupt and contemptible.

The Biggest, Toughest Unanswered Question

How do we find a “bonkermeter?”

With mere days left in his term, stripped of his Twitter feed, isolated and under attack, his legacy in tatters, the tenor and timing of President Trump’s denouement have at last become clear.  

The biggest question remaining is what becomes of his followers. To even hazard a guess at THAT requires understanding a deeper question that continues to elude me: what drew them to such a nutty, misguided person in the first place?

 If we could figure this one out, we might begin to make some progress for the future. 

If we can NOT find answers, then we may have an even BIGGER problem, because there is no shortage of “mini-Trumps” hoping to lay claim to his throne.

Skip over the racists, insurrectionists, and Civil War defenders. This group – estimated to be as much as 20% of the U.S. population, is a cause as lost as their cherished war.

But, in a country split down the middle, that still leaves about 30% that backed Trump.

Many people say these people are stupid, naïve, selfish, short sighted and simply misguided. And that is, perhaps, the root of the problem.  

Sure, we have plenty of people who fit this dismissive description. Every population has! But people who see themselves as looked down upon, discriminated against and just plain left behind, not surprisingly hate that treatment. And Trump, in their eyes, is treated the same way. That causes many people say to themselves, “There is THE guy who gets ME!”

The “establishment” looks down their noses at Trump the same way they sneer at the “uneducated hicks” who populate much of the country. Trump tickles the funny bones of such people because he is just as aggrieved as they are.  They love a leader like Trump and identify with him because they see him as fighting FOR THEM! Put another way, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The ordinary Americans who support Trump are not stupid, ignorant or even misguided (remember – white, blue-collar workers used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party.) They simply recoil at a political system that routinely dismisses their hopes, fears and circumstances – and openly mocks them, to boot.

That only means that they resent being looked down on. Big surprise?

The assault on the Capitol captured the new Republican dichotomy well. Most of the protestors did not enter the Capitol building, did not engage in fights with police, did not partake in the insurrection that unfolded. But they are forever tarnished by the rest, who on nothing more than the word of a congenital liar determined that it was not only their right, but their duty to take matters into their own hands.

The first order of business moving forward MUST be to separate the two groups. If Republicans as a party want to cast their lot with the Proud Boys and Lost Causers, they will wander the political wilderness for years.

Telling people engaged in armed conflict within the halls of Congress that “you’re very special” and “we love you” is both morally reprehensible and a prescription for political disaster – not that Trump cares a whit about the Republican Party.

One hopes that the storming of the Capitol may have broken the collective fever of Trump’s acolytes. Surely at least some of them see that, whatever their personal intentions when they marched from the Ellipse to Capitol Hill, they crossed a line.  

We cannot mollycoddle them; lecturing them will NOT help at all. It is simply time for Republicans – in Congress and in the heartland of our nation – to pick a side. Are they proponents of democracy and the rule of law, or are those Constitutions they self-righteously pull from the breast pockets of their fancy suits merely for show?

When most people feel under the weather for a while, they take their temperature. If they see 101, they understand they have a bug and act accordingly.

How can we find a ‘bonkermeter’ to go with our thermometer and learn more about our heads, so that we might know when America has, in fact, gone crazy

We and the people around us dance around on tippy toes, even when questions of mental competence are obvious.

We must tackle that and much more head on.

Any ideas?????


How Can We Tell?

Consider this sentence:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

What does that mean or tell you?

It contains some very important information that we all use all the time and it contains the key to solving the puzzle described by the title of this piece.

I will, for now, leave it to you to figure out, and ask you to send me your thoughts on what the sentence means.

The puzzle I’m suggesting you solve might help us all deal with today’s astounding and – as we’ve just seen in the U.S. Capitol – dangerous inability to sort out fact from fiction.

If we cannot do that, we may all fall down the rabbit hole alongside the folks who are trying to manipulate the real world into their fictional world.

I will give you a full read out of people’s ideas about the answer – absent names and with a promise not to embarrass anyone –in two weeks and explain what I have learned and how we can ALL put it to work to save our REAL world!

Are We Really All Born Equal?

If not, what should we do about it?

All over the place, from the Declaration of Independence on down, it says that we are born equal and should be treated as such to make the world a fair place.

BUT we are NOT all born equal.

Some of us are women and some men. We have come a long way to take care of that problem but are not all the way there. Our skin comes in a variety of hues and the non-white versions still struggle for basic equality.

Not all of us have 2 arms and legs, some of us are fat and others thin, some of us have an odd number of fingers and toes, some of us itch a lot and others do not.

Some of us are curious and many are not. Some of us are quick and others slow. Some of us have a sense of humor and others none.

In theory, it shouldn’t matter – after all, we’re all born equal. In reality, however, it matters a lot.

It matters because we should be coordinating the strength in all those differences into a glue that unites us.

Instead, we seem to use those differences to divide ourselves into factions, frequently at odds with one another and most assuredly NOT looking for common ground.

The problems begin very soon after birth.

Children –babies –all look very much the same. But that does not last long.

When those babies are old enough to begin school, they are generally treated all the same way—as if they were in fact equal – at least in the early years. By middle school, though, students encounter an education system that espouses a binary division – those destined for college and those not, with the former strongly favored in the educational system.

In the last 50 years, the number of college graduates has increased by about 50 percent. But this emphasis on a college degree as the favored way to secure society’s approval compounds the differences of and damages to those who do not ‘get’ what school is all about in their lives.

It also ill-serves the country’s economic engine, cranking out degree-wielding students who have learned not to value the economic contributions of those without college degrees, yet still leaving companies without the highly-skilled (if not formally educated) workers needed to keep things humming.

If the school systems could sort kids in a more nuanced manner, considering inclination, interests, temperament and it might be possible for their teachers to treat them as they are –not as identical building blocks—they all might have a better chance to develop into their full and unique potential.

The tools to do this actually have existed for a long time, but long-standing doctrine has insisted that ALL should be treated the same way because they are equal.

I am not sure how this can/should happen BUT it makes clear common sense to me that we must adapt our systems for the benefit of ALL our young people.

Trying to squeeze a one size fits all shoe onto millions of different feet may be one of the biggest educational mistakes in the past 100 years.

It should never be too late to wake up.

We have to help kids who hate school, and learning, to find their own appropriate ways forward with their very unequal bodies and lives.

We might just unlock powerful new forces in the world!

A Fantastic Tiny Sign

Of What May be on the Way This Year

My wife of 70 years and I were munching a bite of lunch at our kitchen table on New Year’s Day when the phone rang. I answered, as I was next to the phone, and a woman asked if Denie Weil was there. I said yes, and put the phone on speaker.

The woman introduced herself: “I am Mary Smith [not her real name] and we went to school together in Atlanta a few years back. I am calling just to say HELLO!”

Denie asked which school the woman meant and, after clarifying, the conversation went back and forth nicely. “Mary” explained that she had no particular reason to call, only that “I wanted to start the new year by reaching out to long forgotten friends to say hello again and reach across time and tide to make the world closer.”

We reciprocated pleasantly and said goodbye after exchanging email addresses.

After I hung up, Denie turned to me and said “I haven’t the faintest idea who that lady is. I only went to that school with 60 girls in my class for one year. But wasn’t that a nice thing to do?”

Then we got an email picture of her with a grandchild.

I said it wasn’t just nice. “Maybe it is fantastic and a sign that the new year will bring us a new world!”