Happy New Year!

2019 Recap

I’ve been so busy with on-the-ground Better Angels activities that I haven’t had time to update this blog in over two months. I apologize for that, and thought I’d try to make amends with a review of recent activity, and an outline of plans for the future.

Back in November, we launched our new website, BetterAngelsIowa.org, where you can learn more about the Better Angels mission, find upcoming events in Iowa, follow local and national media mentions, and help us by donating and/or volunteering.

In December, Governor Reynolds recognized our work in a ceremony at the Iowa Capitol, proclaiming December 14th “Better Angels Day” in Iowa. Among other media outlets, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported on it here:

Reynolds to Recognize Better Angels for Building Bipartisan Dialogue

On Friday, Reynolds will sign a proclamation declaring Saturday, December 14, Better Angels Day in the state of Iowa. Better Angles, a national nonprofit with an Iowa chapter, has been trying to get a foothold in Iowa in an effort to make conversations around politics in its 99 counties a little more civil.

Christian Sarabia, state supervisor for Better Angel’s Iowa Outreach Project, said when he started with the group, he was chairman of the Graceland University Republicans and his roommate was the chair of the College Democrats. It was 2016 and things were tense, he recalls.

“Look, we love our politics here,” Sarabia said. “But we also like being Iowa nice. We hold that near to us. We can love our politics here and still have a civil conversation about it.”

Also back in November, just prior to Veterans Day, I collaborated with some fellow veterans to release a guest editorial on veteran and active duty suicide, published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. This is not specifically related to Better Angels, but it’s a very important issue to me, so I thought I’d advocate for it again here.

Veteran Suicide is a Growing but Under-Researched Issue

In 2017, Iowans lost 66 veterans to suicide (an increase from the previous year). Seventy percent of them used a firearm as their method of suicide. Our state’s Veteran suicide rate in 2017 was higher than the national average.

We must deliver the needed solutions to a hidden epidemic, one that transcends politics and partisanship. Firearm-related veteran suicides are not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s an American issue, and if our representatives are able to discover solutions to prevent these suicides, lives will be saved.

And, as one final highlight, I wrote another guest editorial in December about political polarization and our Better Angels work in Iowa which was published in several media outlets, this one in the Iowa City Press Citizen:

‘First-in-the-Nation’ meets ‘Iowa Nice’

In the summer of 2016, when I was first running for Congress, I was called a homophobe by a Democratic activist, because I was a Republican candidate. At the same time, a Republican activist called me a sodomite-lover, due to my support for same-sex marriage. I was stereotyped by both sides over the same issue; what a Republican candidate must be (a homophobe) and what a Republican candidate should be (against same-sex marriage).

If anything, our national politics has become even more absurd since then. In fact, it is more than absurd; it has become paralyzing and destructive. Our polarized politics have not only led to increasing dysfunction in our federal government, it is damaging the social fabric of our communities and families.

Julie prepared a delicious New Year’s Eve dinner for our family
prior to working a 12 hour overnight shift at the University of Iowa Hospital.

In addition to all of the above, our team has been busy giving presentations about Better Angels to community service organizations, holding viewings of the Better Angels: Reuniting America documentary, organizing workshops and local alliances, and making plans for future activities. If you’d like to support our efforts, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

2020 Preview

One event I’m particularly excited about will be held at the Big Grove Brewery and Taproom in Iowa City on February 6th, three days after the Iowa Caucus. It’s tentatively titled the Red/Blue Community Celebration, and will include roughly equal numbers of left-leaning and right-leaning attendees. The goals of this gathering are to fundraise for Better Angels, of course, but also simply to celebrate community and what we have in common.

Guest speakers will include freshman State Senator Zach Wahls (D), freshman State Representative Joe Mitchell (R), and a delightful Red/Blue married couple from Des Moines, Ryan (D) and Haley (R) Moon. You can read about Ryan and Haley’s story in the Des Moines Register and Forbes.

If this event is successful, I can imagine holding similar events in other Iowa municipalities going forward.

Although Julie was working, I had an unexpected New Years cuddle from Liam. He was very tired and sad, and it took me over an hour to get him back to sleep. As a grandparent, I guess I’m supposed to say I don’t miss this. But, the truth is, I know it won’t be long until I won’t have it, and I’ll miss it once again.

It’s impossible for me not to think of the future when spending time with our sons or grandson. I think we need to reframe our political actions and discussions, focusing less on near-term events like the Iowa Caucus or the November 2020 general election, but on what kind of world we want to leave behind for future generations.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly happy with the path we’re on, and believe we can do better. Reducing political polarization and restoring civil dialogue, the goals of Better Angels, is part of the solution, but is in reality just a starting point.

One of my resolutions for 2020 is to begin writing about ways that we might reimagine our politics, in the process finding common civic ground, and thereby begin the long effort to restore our country. I have a few drafts already written, and look forward to getting them completed in the coming months.

Until then, best wishes to you in 2020!