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With All Due Respect: How to Have Productive Political Conversations in a Divided America
Brian F. Harrison
Brian F. Harrison (Ph.D. Northwestern University) is a specialist in American politics, public opinion, political communication, and LGBT politics. He is also Founder and President of Voters for Equality Super PAC, a political movement dedicated to education, research, and political engagement among progressives and LGBT allies. Currently, Voters For Equality has nearly 475,000 followers on Facebook. Brian has held academic positions at Northwestern University, Yale University, New York University, and Wesleyan University and has also taught at Loyola University-Chicago, DePaul University, and Fairfield University (CT). Brian is co-author of Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights (Oxford University Press, 2017, with Melissa Michelson). Listen, We Need to Talk debuted at #1 for civil rights books on Amazon.com and sold out its first printing within its first week. In Spring 2017, Brian and Melissa traveled throughout the country on a 12-week, 38-talk U.S. book tour, speaking to a variety of audiences, including universities like Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Oberlin College, and the University of Michigan as well as public talks at independent bookstores and high schools. The tour included interviews with WGN Radio, a local National Public Radio station, podcasts, and other media outlets. He has been published in academic outlets like Political Behavior, Legislative Studies Quarterly, P.S.: Political Science & Politics, Social Science Quarterly, and Politics, Groups, and Identities. His work has been cited in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Charlotte Observer, and The Guardian (UK) and he has written opinion pieces for Salon, The Washington Post, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Prior to academia, Brian was a political appointee in the President George W. Bush administration, serving as an assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection in the Department of Homeland Security. While he identifies as a progressive, he grew up with Republican parents and worked in a conservative administration and department, experiences that provided important insights on how to communicate with people with divergent political views.
Get your head out of your @*&. Snowflake. You’re an idiot. Stupid liberal. Ignorant conservative. It’s easy to use a disparaging name to dismiss a divergent belief or opinion as naïve and ill-formed. It might even feel good for a moment but it simply doesn’t do anyone any good because it turns people off from genuine engagement. We speak to, interact with, and even live near people who share our beliefs. It has become so easy to live a life blissfully devoid of any political contradiction because we simply like, Tweet, and share what we find agreeable while we hide, unfollow, and block what we don’t. Political attitudes seem to be hardening, with little to no room for discussion or dissent. Insults are thrown, feelings are hurt, and family and friends, at best, decide to avoid political discussions altogether. At worst, arguments cause social groups to break apart. How can deliberative democracy survive if we can’t even speak to people with whom we disagree? Grandma told us to avoid talking about politics in polite company. Respectfully, her wisdom no longer applies: something has to change and we need to find a way to talk. One of the most contentious set of political and social issues in contemporary America surrounds the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. It is also one of most perplexing. Public opinion doesn’t usually move quickly on average, even on prickly political issues of the day, but we have seen unprecedented change on issues like same-sex marriage in a short period of time. One of the most powerful reasons is probably the most simple: supportive people from many different social and identity groups were willing to talk about their contentious and sometimes uncomfortable opinions. These were everyday conversations that got people who may not have thought about LGBT rights out of their echo chambers to get them to start listening and thinking. The unprecedented attitude change toward marriage equality and LGBT rights is not only a compelling public opinion phenomenon, it’s a potential roadmap for how to talk about other contentious political and social issues. Drawing from a mix of empirical research from social psychology, communication studies, and political science as well as personal narratives and examples, With All Due Respect reflects on the last 15 years of LGBT struggles and successes to answer the seemingly simple question: How can we be politically civil to each other again?
65,853,516 American adults voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and most of them are pretty unhappy; many are focusing their anger in ways that aren’t helping the divisive political environment and this book aims to mitigate or redirect that negative energy. It isn’t just for highly-energized politicos with an axe to grind, however. I hear it everywhere I go: people are simply exasperated with the state of American politics. Whether someone supports or actively resists the current president, there’s an underlying tension in American culture today and there’s a new kind of exhaustion with the 24-hour news cycle. It’s becoming difficult to maintain our faith in democracy and in the American ethos while enduring nearly-daily political crises and the increasing volume at which people at every point in the ideological spectrum are indiscriminately screaming. The market for this book is potentially broad. Overall, it would include college educated, likely progressive or liberal, politically engaged individuals, the LGBTQ community itself and its supporters, and also individuals interested in the broader topics of public opinion or the evolution of social policy in the U.S. In addition, the book will be of interest to community organizations and practitioners interested in how best to move public opinion on policy issues. It would also be of value to introductory political science courses, courses that focus on sexuality and public policy, and courses that look at social movements, persuasion, and political communication. The book also contains key elements of political psychology and would be of interest to those teaching about practical applications of important psychological theory. Instead of a purely academic interest in these topics, this book seeks to extend into new markets. There is genuine yearning for practical ways to approach informal political discussions in a time when interpersonal relationships are potentially fraught with contentiousness and awkwardness about them. This book is written in a popular, conversational style, easily accessible to those who don’t follow politics very closely yet it contains enough empirical data and theory for political junkies and aficionados. The middle chapters will include insights from a variety of contemporary political and opinion leaders and real-life stories from everyday people. From a topical standpoint, the ever-changing nature of attitudes and policies toward LGBT people and rights and the centrality and volatility of these issues in American politics is sure to attract a widespread readership.
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