Letter from Charlottesville, where I am now… learning how to civilly disagree!

It is a Friday evening.

At this moment, I am at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia, conceived by Thomas Jefferson, a lush place graced by The Rotunda, a building designed by Jefferson that has just undergone a year-long renovation, sitting magnificently on the road into the University grounds.

It is also home to The Miller Center, a unit of the University devoted to the study of the Presidency.

It was there I spent my day, moving from one meeting to the next, having conversations with staff about the mission of The Miller Center and the part played in it by “American Forum,” a program they produce which is aired on PBS Stations.

What struck me today was that the mission of The Miller Center, along with its exegesis of Presidencies, is its mission to foster civil dialogue between people of differing opinions.

And this is a time when we need to learn how to disagree civilly with each other.  Disagreement, and disagreeable discord, is the heart and soul of democracy, has been so since democracy first raised its head back in ancient Greece.

Today I came away respecting this small redoubt that is working to increase the civility of disagreement, of modeling ways that opposing views can be examined without violence.

This is a hard time for everyone in this country, I think.

Tom van der Voort, who is a Communications Director at The Miller Center, focused me on the fact it is fine we disagree and it is important HOW we disagree.

He pointed out to me that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, not guns.  Nuclear weapons are arms.  Should everyone have a right to their own nuke?  That is the extension of the Second Amendment which the Founding Fathers could never have imagined.  We all have right to nuclear arms?

Even the most ardent supporters of gun rights would not agree that we should allow everyone their own nukes but the wording of the Constitution makes it perhaps possible.

We need to think.

We need to talk.  Civilly.

In a meeting with a very smart young man who is a senior figure in television it was suggested by him we have moved into a “new civilizational phase.”

For good or not, the election of Donald Trump as our President means we are moving into uncharted territory.  He is a wild card in our lives, in our life as a democratic society, which is, I think, why he was elected.

The country has decided to roll the dice and see what the unexpected will bring to us.

And in this time, it has never been more important to learn how to disagree civilly.

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