The United States Of Emotion

The intense emotions surrounding the 2016 campaign were apparent to me during the last month of the race.
I spent those final weeks criss-crossing the country with the CNN #myvote campaign camper, talking to voters about who they would pick and why. Most people my colleagues and I talked to were deeply set in their convictions about their candidate and easily overlooked any shortcomings. I rarely met an undecided voter.

At the time, I expected that — like most previous elections — passions would eventually ease after the race was called and the country had time to process the results. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, eight months after the election, it often seems like the most vitriolic campaign in recent memory is still unfolding — and taking a personal toll on Democrats and Republicans alike.

We recently set up a voicemail and asked you to call in and leave a message responding to this idea:

Whatever your political leanings, we want to hear about how this political climate is impacting your life and your relationships.

We heard from hundreds of you and the messages often spoke to the personal divisions that have emerged since the election with friendships broken and family members no longer speaking to each other. We selected four messages — two from Democrats and two from Republicans — and shared them with experts in negotiation and psychology to learn what’s driving the lingering fervor and what could be done to heal the relationships.

This is not a scientific exercise and doesn’t represent the feelings of the entire country. The messages relayed anger, loss, sadness and more. But mostly, they demonstrated that people of all political persuasions just want to be heard and understood.

Nevada City, California

“This election has been like no other, ” Kathy Gibbens said as she began her voicemail. “I didn’t want to go back home from where I live in California to Louisiana for Christmas this past year because I didn’t want to hear about my relatives having voted for this administration.”

Kathy was born in a conservative part of Louisiana, but 25 years ago moved to a more liberal part of California where she says she was more comfortable being herself.

“When it comes to politics and division in our country, and how it plays out on a personal level, we tend to go back to our own habitual patterns of dealing with conflict,” said Daniel Shapiro, a negotiations expert and the founder of the Harvard International Negotiation Program. “Some of us like to avoid it, others like to engage in it. Kathy’s wanting to avoid uncomfortable conversations with her family.”

Gibbens also talks about feeling bullied. She supported Bernie Sanders until the end and wrote in his name on Election Day.

“I finally had to take the Bernie bumper sticker off my car,” Gibbens continued in her voicemail. “I almost got rear-ended at an exit coming off the freeway. I mean just harassment because I had a Bernie sticker on my car. It’s really ugly. It leaves us scared because there’s so many people who seem more emboldened to be bullies.”

Paula Niedenthal, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in emotions, said “this bumper sticker thing fascinated me because it’s sort of similar to sports teams.”

“There’s this anxiety about being exposed,” she said. “You have a bumper sticker, it’s almost like having a Green Bay Packers sticker and being in Texas.”

We asked our experts to offer advice on how the four callers we feature here might be able to communicate with the other side. For Gibbens, it’s about how to feel safe and communicate with her mom.

“Instead of it being her mom who is the problem, the problem is that there are political differences that are impacting the relationship between the two of them,” Shapiro said. “At least it’s worth thinking through what would happen if she did go (to Louisiana), and she articulated to the family, ‘I’ll go on the condition that we don’t talk politics.’”

There’s always Thanksgiving or Christmas to try again.

Sacramento, California

Heather Tomlin-Wagoner supports President Donald Trump and appreciates his bravado. Five months before the election, she and her cousin, who backed Hillary Clinton, stopped talking because their arguing got too tense.

“I don’t blame Trump,” Tomlin-Wagoner said about her and her cousin’s arguing. “I don’t blame anybody but themselves. The individual is to blame.”

She has reached out to her cousin hoping to repair their relationship, but says she hasn’t heard back.

“I think it’s very easy, when we start talking politics with someone who has a different opinion than us, to get into an experience I call vertigo,” Shapiro said. “Vertigo is when we get so consumed in a conflict situation that we can think of nothing else other than that conflict situation and the ‘evil person’ who is perpetrating it upon us.”

Tomlin-Wagoner sounds angry at times during her voicemail. But according to Niedenthal, she feels misunderstood.
“She’s focusing on the fact that people can’t listen to each other without tremendous blame or accusation,” Niedenthal said. “She’s trying to figure out why this state of anger exists in her and everybody else, and so you hear her attempts to explain that.”

Portland, Oregon

“Since the election in November, I have stopped talking to my mom, who I was pretty close with before the election,” Keith Main said in his voicemail.

He isn’t alone — I heard countless voicemails from people who ended relationships because of the election.

But why haven’t people been able to move past this eight months later? It’s because, Niedenthal said, we’re not able to sit with our feelings or digest them. There is always something happening that resurrects any emotions we’ve tried to resolve.

“Keith is being reminded all the time, we are all being reminded all the time in the media, of things that allow us to charge somebody or charge an entire group of having made a mistake in some way,” Niedenthal said.
The deeper feeling in Main’s voicemail is betrayal.

“I feel like my mom has always sort of held so close and tight to her values and her religion,” he said in the voicemail.

“So when I knew that she was supporting Donald Trump, I thought this doesn’t go with the values that she’s espoused her entire life. And then as soon as he got elected, I just thought, you know what, her values mean nothing.”

Main is feeling the loss of the relationship, but also the loss of who he thought the woman was who raised him. It becomes an identity crisis, Shapiro said.

“This election is raising questions of identity for Keith,” said Shapiro. “‘What values define me? Who’s my mother?’ That’s a fundamental core personal conversation that is extremely difficult.”

Shapiro offers a tactic he uses when he helps with high level negotiations in the Middle East. It’s called BAG: Best Alternative to a Grudge. It applies here too, he said.

“In other words, if you don’t have this grudge towards your mom, can you envision having some sort of other kind of relationship with her? And would you prefer to hold onto this grudge and lose three and a half, or seven and a half if Trump’s reelected, years of your life with your mother?”

It’s always easier said than done. For Main and many of the callers, the grudge has deeper roots than an acronym.
“I feel like I literally cannot speak to her while she’s supporting that man who is the President, ” Main said.

The Arizona Republic front page played Trump rally with a different approach

Many newspaper front pages on Wednesday featured a photo of President Trump with headlines that mentioned him by name. They touched on themes from his blustery speech at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Arizona Republic took a different approach.
In large black letters that eclipsed the font size of the masthead read the words “Violence Erupts.” Below the headline, a photo of a protester kneeling in front of a row of police in riot gear.
The Arizona Republic’s news director felt it necessary to tell the story on the ground.

The difference a night makes in a Trump speech

Trump held seven rallies in Arizona during last year’s campaign. Tuesday’s event was the first one he headlined since becoming President. It came on the heels of a dramatic two weeks that included the announcement of a new approach on Afghanistan, and more notably, the backlash over Trump’s failure to denounce hate groups that incited violence at a demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“This rally was different, obviously,” said Josh Susong, the paper’s news director who was leading coverage on Tuesday. “Because of that, we thought that the activity on the streets was also significant and different than what we have heard in the past.”

The lead photo doesn’t just convey the news of the day.

For the dozen or so Arizona Republic journalists deployed to the Phoenix Convention Center, where the rally took place, this photo reflects what they experienced on the ground, which happens to be a block away from the newspaper’s headquarters.

At one point, Susong received a call from a reporter on the ground who he said was too choked up by tear gas to speak.

Here’s how reporters are responding to Trump’s new amped-up attacks

An early edition of the printed paper had shipped with a lead photo that captured the scene at the rally. After the phone call with his tear-gassed reporter, Susong realized that the story was no longer about President Trump.

“From that point on and through the course of about an hour and a half, that was the way we were perceiving events outside,” Susong said.

What started out as a day of peaceful demonstrations turned violent in the evening. Police used tear gas to control protesters, who authorities say were throwing rocks and breaking out into fights.

On the television and around the internet, people debated the merits of Trump’s blistering remarks about the “dishonest media.”

Members of the media who work for The Arizona Republic have endured threats before.
The newspaper famously bucked tradition last year and endorsed a Democrat for the first time in its 126-year history.

What ensued were death threats against staffers, which means safety is “always paramount to us,” Susong said. Reporters were given safety gear and instructed to travel in teams on Tuesday.

“We’re really proud of our staff, who covered it well and looked out for one another and for our community in the process,” Susong said.

Inside the fight that could derail the Democratic Party

In what should be Democrats’ strongest moment since November, a series of emotional and racially charged clashes are forcing the party to once again confront the problem that has plagued it for a year: How to incorporate the supporters of Bernie Sanders.

The Vermont independent senator himself is winning battles over the direction of the Democratic Party. He has emerged as a messaging leader on health care, appeared on a “unity tour” with the party’s new chairman and helped craft a populist economic agenda for the midterm elections. Many Democrats even concede the possibility that Sanders could enter the 2020 presidential race as the party’s frontrunner if he chooses to run.

But even as Sanders and party leadership increasingly make ties on Capitol Hill, infighting with roots in the ideologically loaded and often deeply personal 2016 primary are threatening to blow up the détente.

This new series of emotional and racially tinged arguments could shatter a fragile peace, forged in opposition to President Donald Trump, and undermine Democratic efforts to claw back control from Republicans in Congress during next year’s midterm election season.

“Unity requires give and take. But it seems that it’s just take, take, take from the Berniecrats,” said Nina Turner, the president of Our Revolution — the political organization that emerged from Sanders’ 2016 run for president — using a term, “Berniecrats,” that Sanders supporters like Turner apply to themselves.

Turner was appointed by Sanders to the DNC’s “unity commission” in the wake of the 2016 contest. Her comments have led other members of the 21-person commission to grumble that Turner is more interested in sowing discord as a publicity and fundraising tool. But in an interview with CNN, she refused to back down.

“The Berniecrats are being labeled as always wrong — ‘they don’t get it, they’re too emotional, they don’t want to win elections,'” Turner said. “This is a hurtful environment, and people are human and do have feelings. And so both sides are just duking it out.”

The anger that has simmered in Sanders’ camp since the 2016 Democratic National Convention bubbled to the surface in comments from some of the Vermont senator’s most prominent political allies and surrogates, particularly in two recent clashes.

First, three key Sanders backers — National Nurses Union executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, pro-Sanders journalist Nomiki Konst and “People for Bernie” co-founder Winnie Wong — publicly dismissed Sen. Kamala Harris’ prospects of winning over the party’s progressive wing. The pointed quotes were picked up online when a Mic report, published after the California Democrat was feted by top party donors in the Hamptons, went viral in late July.

Many Democrats saw the criticism of Harris as a needless and counterproductive jab at a rising star. But Sanders’ backers — who tend to be younger and whiter than the overall Democratic electorate — were stung by suggestions that their distaste for Harris is fueled by race, like those from liberal MSNBC host Joy Reid, who tweeted: “So black Democrats must go begging young white leftists who were not numerous enough to nominate their preferred pick last time?”

“So odd, no, that these folks have (it) in for Kamala Harris and Cory Booker,” tweeted Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress.

The intense backlash provoked an equally sharp response from Sanders’ allies, including Turner and the three who had initially panned Harris — DeMoro, Wong and Konst, none of whom are white men.

Fight comes to the DNC steps

The online brouhaha set the stage for an in-person clash July 25 — the same day the Senate would vote on a motion to proceed to the Republican Obamacare repeal bill, a coincidence that would lead some party officials to question Our Revolution’s tactics and motives — just outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.

Turner led a group of 60 activists to deliver a petition to the DNC. Our Revolution had told DNC officials of its plans three weeks earlier, Turner said.

When they arrived, DNC senior staffers greeted them on the steps with boxes of donuts and bottles of water.
The building’s security team uses crowd control measures when large crowds come, a DNC spokeswoman said. It’s not an unusual step, particularly for a party that was hacked in 2016 and with the political world on edge after the shooting at a congressional baseball practice.

DNC political director Amanda Brown Lierman spoke to the group on the building’s steps, thanking them for their activism. But Turner — who is a Sanders-appointed member of the DNC’s “unity commission,” a DNC member and a long-time Democrat — was upset she wasn’t allowed into the building.

“We understand the fire code. It’s not our first time delivering petitions. We get it,” Turner said. But, she added, the DNC could have invited her and five people delivering the petitions into the building to sit down and briefly chat.
“And then we could have walked out in five or 10 minutes, unified,” Turner said. “They didn’t even do that.”
The incident took on increased importance after Turner lashed out at the DNC in an interview with BuzzFeed, which was published late Wednesday.

DeMoro, whose nurses’ union provided crucial backing to Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, spoke to Turner after the story’s publication. “I told her that the problem here is that she’s a movement leader. She’s speaking truth to power,” DeMoro said.

Accusations of a double standard

Sanders’ allies view any effort to diminish Turner as one designed to undercut Sanders.
The primary reason: Sanders struggled with black and Latino voters in the 2016 Democratic primary. To win the nomination if he opts to run in 2020, Sanders will need to expand his base of support. In Turner, his allies see a powerful black female figure whose prominence showcases his broader appeal.

“They would like to classify everyone as a ‘Bernie Bro’ — as a white guy, an angry white man,” DeMoro said.
“What I think that (BuzzFeed) story indicates is Nina’s effectiveness as a leader,” DeMoro said. “She is a leader. And movement leaders are always under attack. Especially black movement leaders. So the narrative is to try and make them look unhinged, imbalanced — it’s to make anyone who speaks truth to power look unstable.”

In both the backlash over Sanders allies’ criticism of Harris and the DNC incident, Turner said she saw “the system” — Democratic donors, Hillary Clinton-aligned operatives, in particular — “really trying to continue trying to drive a wedge between progressive people of color and progressive whites.”

“They’re using identity politics as a weapon,” she said. By criticizing black Democrats such as Harris, Booker or former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Sanders supporters are “labeled as a racist and a sexist. But they don’t say the same thing when their side comes out and attacks somebody like me.”

That failure to defend her against racist attacks stings, said Turner — adding that she’s personally been called

“Bernie’s Omarosa” and “Bernie’s Aunt Jemima.”

“To be called that and not have an outcry from the tone police, it’s hypocrisy,” Turner said.

That’s the Berniecrat leaders’ view.

Elsewhere in the Democratic Party, lawmakers and strategists are complaining that Sanders’ allies are forcing the party to revisit its 2016 divides — at precisely the wrong time.

“It is not good for the rebuilding that needs to happen within the party for Democrats to be attacking each other, and I think in particular the attacks on Kamala Harris are fruitless and unfair,” said Brian Fallon, who was Hillary Clinton’s national press secretary and is now a senior adviser at the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA.

“Sen. Sanders is showing tremendous leadership in moving the Democratic Party in a progressive direction on issues from college affordability to Medicare for all,” Fallon said. “But some of his supporters are undercutting that good work by trying to fast-forward to a 2020 presidential primary. We have too much important work that needs to be done before we start attacking people just because they’re considered rising stars in the party.”

Others also said it appeared Sanders’ allies were firing a 2020 starting gun too early — a charge both sides have now leveled against each other.

“On balance and in the long run, the Bernie team’s spat with Kamala Harris has actually been beneficial to her — it has raised her profile as a real contender in 2020 (otherwise, why would the Bernie folks feel so threatened?) and rallied the vast majority of the party in her defense,” a Democratic operative said in an email. “That’s not a good sign or look for Bernie Sanders and his team.”

A moment for Sanders to speak up?

The complaints from Sanders’ supporters come at what has the potential to be Democrats’ strongest moment since Clinton’s 2016 election loss.

The party leads Republicans in generic congressional polls. Its base is energized in a way Democrats haven’t seen in years headed into the 2018 midterm elections. And a breach between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is increasingly visible, with Trump attacking McConnell on Twitter.

“So why in the world would the progressive forces that want to resist Trump, that want to win up and down the ballot — why in the hell would we be fighting with each other?” another Democratic strategist said.

“A lot of Democrats who really very much care about the same set of progressive issues that Bernie Sanders cares about are champing at the bit to say ‘What the f—?’ with Our Revolution.”

That strategist said Sanders needs to weigh in. “These things are being done in his name. Where’s his sense of responsibility for reining these things in?”

A representative for Sanders said the senator, who is in Vermont during the congressional recess, could not be reached for comment.

Several Democrats acknowledged that the party badly needs Sanders, whose supporters have remained loyal, within its fold — and said they see the recent dust-ups as disconnected from the Vermont senator and out of step with his post-election actions.

Tanden described Sanders as “a hugely important force” in defending the Affordable Care Act from the GOP’s repeal effort.

She called him a “strategic leader in the amendment process,” said Sanders “rallied the troops,” and pointed to his use of a key committee post to force Republicans to drop elements of their health care bill through the enforcement of the procedural “Byrd Rule.”

“I see, in his actions, him recognizing that we are facing the most right-wing administration in history. He himself has done a lot to unify people,” Tanden said.

Carolyn Fiddler, the political editor and senior communications adviser for the progressive blog Daily Kos, said Sanders’ allies should “sort out their differences with Democrats and shift their focus back to the task at hand sooner rather than later.”

The DNC, meanwhile, would prefer to avoid a direct confrontation with Sanders’ supporters — even as members of the party’s “unity commission” complain that Sanders’ own appointees to that commission sniped at Harris and, in Turner’s case, unloaded on the DNC.

“The DNC is focused on winning elections. That is our goal,” said the DNC’s Lierman, who met Turner’s group of activists outside the party headquarters.

“And as we look at key races in 2017 and beyond, it’s going to take progressives working together to bring about real change for working families. That is what we did when we defeated the Republican health care bill and that’s what we will continue to do in races up and down the ballot,” Lierman said. “We hope that all progressive leaders will join us in this fight.”