A Democrat and a Republican go on a Road Trip …
Two friends’ quest for common ground
By Clark Miller | Oct. 3, 2020
Can we have a civil conversation about politics anymore?
In their collaboration, “Union: A Democrat, A Republican, and a Search for Common Ground,” two law-school pals, Christopher Haugh (a professional writer and Democrat) and Jordan Blashek (a former Marine officer, entrepreneur, and Republican) hit the road together. Despite enormous political differences, they emerge 17,000 miles later better friends than ever. “Yugely” unbelievable?
See it with your own eyes: Haugh and Blashek will come together to discuss their book, “Union,” at a National Writers Series event viewable online at 7pm Sunday, Oct. 18. Neal Rubin, Detroit News columnist and creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip Gil Thorp, will host the program.
Northern Express interviewed Haugh, who was vacationing near Traverse City, and Blashek, who was at his job (director and head of talent for Schmidt Futures) in downtown New York City. (Note: “Union” takes readers up to May 2019, so the book covers neither the COVID-19 pandemic nor the recent Supreme Court vacancy.)
Express: At first, it’s just two guys driving from the East Coast to California, right?
Blashek: There was no agenda. I needed to get to Los Angeles for my sister’s wedding, and I had a job in L.A.
Express: And that led to many more road trips and then to “Union.”
Haugh: By the second trip, we toyed with the idea of documentary, a traveling newspaper, all kinds of things. I have to credit Jordan. He said we should write a book.
Express: What did learn you about getting along despite your very different political perspectives?
Haugh: (laughs) Neither of us found it easy. Both of us were convinced it would fall apart, whether on the road or not being able to agree in writing the book together. So, the book is about male friendships and learning to say “I’m angry, but you’re still my friend.”
Express: You met some interesting folks and actually drew hope from them.
Blashek: The search for common ground is much easier when you get away from politics, and you see the humanity of your fellow countrymen and women. We tried to tell those stories so we could take the temperature down.
Express: Chris, you criticized media coverage of a Trump rally you and Jordan attended in Arizona.
Haugh: Yes, and that’s a sensitive issue for me. I love the media. One of my happiest memories was as an [college] intern at The San Francisco Chronicle. But I felt there was mostly skin-deep reporting of the event, especially when Trump said something scripted on stage but also about what happened afterward in the street.
Express: There was some violence. But you’re saying that wasn’t the main story, right?
Haugh: Most of that night was not violent. We saw respectful conversation between both sides outside the rally.
Express: How did the two of you get along when it came to President Trump?
Haugh: I’m no fan of the president. Honestly, he’s a tough topic for Jordan and me. One lesson in the book is to start with values, not personalities. Finding shared values can get you past being just angry. But anyone considering going home for the holidays might think long and hard about using the word “Trump.”
Blashek: The problem is we have so many cognitive biases. The same is true on the right. I could give you a litany of examples about what horrifies Republicans about the left and drives their judgments and feelings about the Clintons, Bidens, and Obamas.
Express: So how do we understand each other in a way that protects our democracy? Much of the president’s base seems willing to go along with him, no matter what.
Blashek: It doesn’t mean all Republicans are excusing bad behavior by Trump. Most Republicans I know don’t like Trump’s tweeting, his bombastic behavior, or his violations of norms.
Express: So why do they vote for him?
Blashek: What they do like is that he’s been a stalwart in promoting conservative policies, standing up to China, supporting Israel, nominating conservative judges, and pulling troops out of the Middle East. So as far as policies, they believe he’s doing pretty well. That’s why they’ll rationalize away some of the behaviors.
Express: What if the topic were President Trump’s statement that if he loses the election, he “will have to see” whether he’ll go along with a peaceful transition of power? [Editor’s note: Trump has since said he “will accept the results of a free and fair election.”] How would you keep that conversation productive?
Blashek: I would probably point out that a whole bunch of senior Democrats, including most of the party elites such as Hillary Clinton and Rep. James Clyburn [House Majority Whip from South Carolina], have said the same thing. And then the conversation would devolve into which side is behaving worse. But if Chris and I started by talking about how our electoral process, and specifically the peaceful transition of power, should be inviolable and upheld with the utmost integrity, we would probably have a very productive conversation about how to ensure it through policy proposals.
Express: Both of you have spoken about the emotional side of politics.
Blashek: What Chris and I found was that if we got into debates about the parties or specific politicians, we almost always ended up in arguments about which side was more objectionable. Given our two-party system, we are forced to choose one side or the other, and then we end up defending our chosen side, even if we don't always agree with everything they do or stand for. So, debates about Trump and Clinton, or Pelosi and McConnell nearly always ended up going off the rails, because they became a tit-for-tat disagreement about who broke norms first, or who violated our values more seriously. Those conversations just aren't productive.
To hear more from Christopher Haugh and Jordan Blashek about their road trips and their collaborative book, “Union,” register for the free online National Writers Series event — hosted by Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin and taking place 7pm Oct. 18 — at www.nationalwritersseries.org.