As Mainers head to the polls in one of the most bitterly contested elections in American history, some are trying to ensure its outcome is respected and that future races prove more civil.

“We are at a place that we’ve never been in my lifetime. And it doesn’t feel good,” Chip Morrison, former president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, said.

He said it’s time for a concerted effort to convince Americans to “step back and watch yourself and what you’re saying” before all the angry rhetoric goes too far.

Morrison, a state commissioner and city manager in the past, said that it’s fine to compete passionately in politics, but it’s important to steer clear of name-calling and to make a commitment to listen to what opponents have to say.

When everybody’s shouting, after all, nobody is heard.

Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Shanna Cox Submitted photo

Those seeking to overhaul the country’s broken politics said it’s time for quieter voices to prevail.

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Morrison and Shanna Cox, president of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said they are putting together groups of Republicans and Democrats in hopes of implementing a program sponsored by a charity called Braver Angels that aims to bridge the partisan divide.

Finding a way to span that chasm is “more important than ever,” Cox said.

Proponents of reform said that politics has become something akin to a blood sport, full of cruel invectives tossed off with casual abandon.

“You shouldn’t do that to an enemy, let alone a friend,” Morrison said. Yet many longtime pals are having a hard time even talking to each other because politics gets in the way, he said.

That failure to communicate exists all too often, he said, and makes it tough to see that solutions to problems arise from compromise and a deep effort to understand all the issues involved.

Morrison said that “we can agree to disagree” while still working together to find common ground. That’s what America at its best has always done, he said.

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Chip Morrison Sun Journal file photo

Morrison and Cox said they’re worried about what could happen if Americans can’t find ways to come together.

It’s too easy to stand on the sidelines “lobbing bombs” instead of doing the hard work of government, which requires compromise and a willingness to consider many points of view, Morrison said.

“We used to be able to do it,” he said, pointing to his experience as Auburn city’s manager.

He said elected leaders he dealt with had substantial differences on the issues, but they worked through them to help ensure progress.

“It was hard,” Morrison said. “It would have been so much easier for them to say no.”

But they had a bigger view than their own personal agendas, he said, and recognized that for everyone to advance, they had to negotiate and split their differences. Finding solutions, he said, is what’s needed.

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Cox said she’s found politics “a challenging space to navigate” as the chamber’s leader because the organization exists in part to take stands on issues that matter to businesses.

But people are so divided, she said, that it’s not easy.

Cox said that for the chamber to be successful it needs to hear passionate opinions but it also needs objectivity from those involved. More civility, she said, would provide a better path to figuring out what’s most needed.

“That’s not the whole shebang,” she said, but some effort to recognize the validity of each other’s ideas is a good way to start fixing the larger problems.

Morrison said some people may not even realize how ugly their language has gotten.

He said it’s one thing to attack someone’s position, but quite another to lash out in personal terms or to question their motives.

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As he mulled the issues involved, Morrison said he began searching for others who were trying to help with the same concerns. It led him to a nonprofit called Braver Angels that has “developed a process to get people talking with one another.”

Cox said the chamber is pursuing that process.

She plans after the election, maybe after Thanksgiving, to have a session with Republicans talking to each other and another with Democrats doing the same.

After that, Cox said, they’d come together jointly to begin trying to close the gap that has opened.

Morrison said the process has worked surprisingly well in other locales, with people becoming friends with folks on the other side of the political divide as they recognize how much they have in common.

“We can’t get anything done if people are sniping at each other,” he said. “I’m just sick about this.”

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Another initiative Morrison is pushing is to have people sign a pledge that Braver Angels put together to promise active efforts to prevent any violence surrounding the election.

After all, he said, civil discussions are always better.

“The country needs to be reunited,” Morrison said.

He said the efforts of those who are trying to address the rift come down to a pretty simple notion: keep talking and don’t ever give in to the worst instincts.

“In this country, we’re allowed to be different,” Morrison said.

Hold America Together: A Letter

Read the text of the Braver Angels’ Hold America Together letter that Morrison and at least a couple dozen other local leaders have signed below.

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At a moment of danger in this era of divisiveness, We the American People come together to speak for the Union. Some of us will vote for President Trump and others for Vice President Biden. But in this season of intense and legitimate partisanship, we the undersigned commit ourselves also to a higher partisanship – for the maintenance of our Union; for the importance of our shared civic life; and for those feelings of goodwill that Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.

For ourselves and for all Americans, we appeal for the complete disavowal of election-related violence, calls for such violence, or excuse-making for anyone on either side who would commit or tolerate violence as a means of influencing an election.

In a time of growing separation, we pledge ourselves to words and deeds intended to help us find each other as citizens. We start with this commitment: We will not demonize or question the decency of Americans who vote differently from us. When we oppose their political views we will say so with vigor, but we won’t castigate them as persons.

If in the near future we face a constitutional crisis in which our institutions cannot produce consensus on who is the legitimately elected president, we resolve to work together across this chasm for solutions grounded in the Constitution and guided by our democratic and nonviolent traditions and our sense of shared destiny.

At stake in this contest is democracy’s North Star – peaceful political transition. It’s a time for opponents, but not for enemies. We the undersigned will work separately for what each of us believes is right, but we will also work together to protect the land we all love – to lift up American citizenship and the American promise in a time of peril and to find in ourselves the understanding that our differences don’t simply divide us, but also can strengthen and complete us.


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