Our Story

Depolarize America

From South Lebanon, Ohio to All Fifty States

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. "

Abraham Lincoln, 1861

The Problem of Polarization

Political polarization did not start with the 2016 election — it’s been gaining momentum for over 20 years. But with the rancor and divisiveness that has been on display in recent years, polarization may have reached its worst level in the United States since the Civil War.

Today, many believe that their political adversaries are not simply misguided, but that they are also bad people whose ways of thinking are both dangerous and incomprehensible. As Charles Krauthammer once noted, “Conservatives think Liberals are stupid, Liberals think Conservatives are evil!”

The Pew Research Center, which has been measuring political polarization in the United States since 1994, recently found that the average partisan gap has increased from 15 percentage points to 36 points.

The United States is disuniting. We’re becoming two Americas angry with the other and distrusting our opposites’ basic humanity and good intentions.

This degree of civic rancor threatens our democracy and it’s a trend we must reverse!

We haven’t reached the point of violence and chaos – yet. But surely in our increasingly and dangerously fractured nation, we all need to be touched by something “better” within us and within the institutions that we build together.

Better Angels Waynesville OH

How We Started

A couple days after the 2016 election David Blankenhorn called David Lapp in Ohio to ask if he could bring a handful of Trump supporters and Clinton supporters together in Ohio for a weekend.  Bill Doherty, noted family therapist and community organizer, developed a structure and program for that weekend. 

In December, 2016, 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters gathered in South Lebanon, Ohio, in what became the first Better Angels Red/Blue Workshop. The goal? To see if we could respectfully disagree and find any common ground.

The results were remarkable. We liked each other. We wanted to know more about each other. We wanted to keep on meeting. We wanted to help start workshops in communities all across America! Those reds and blues invited their friends to another workshop and helped to found the first Better Angels Alliance. 

National Public Radio found out about us and devoted an hour to Better Angels. The word spread, and we started getting emails from people across the country asking, “Can you please come to my community?” We did a summer bus tour, starting in Waynesville, Ohio, and ending in Philadelphia, PA, visiting 15 communities. We followed this with a fall tour starting in Washington, DC, proceeding through North Carolina and ending in Nashville, TN. In addition to holding workshops, we trained 130 volunteers to moderate additional workshops in the future – and the geometric expansion was on!

Our Approach

Better Angels is a national citizens’ movement to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing liberals and conservatives together to understand each other beyond stereotypes, forming red/blue community alliances, teaching practical skills for communicating across political differences, and making a strong public argument for depolarization.

We unite red and blue Americans in a working alliance to Depolarize America. Instead of asking people to change their minds about key issues, we give all Americans a chance to better understand each other, to absorb the values and experiences that inform our political philosophies, and to ultimately recognize our common humanity.

If feelings about our political adversaries can be represented on a spectrum, our objective is to move Americans from Hatred to Respect & Appreciation.

Our approach is guided by the Better Angels Pledge:

  • As individuals, we try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.
  • In our communities, we engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.
  • In politics, we support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.
The Emotional and Intellectual Transformation of De-Polarization

From our board of directors to our staff, workshop participants, and funding sources, we are balanced between liberals and conservatives. We call it the Better Angels Rule: At every level of leadership we are half red and half blue. Our leaders and members range from working class to affluent, and come from many backgrounds, so that our organization can reflect the country we seek to serve.

How We Are Funded

Our primary source of funds comes from membership fees from individual Americans who believe in the mission of Better Angels and who want to make a difference.

Sources of Funding

Our Red/Blue rule applies to our funding sources as well as our leadership. In other words, we strive for roughly equal funding from foundations that are considered to be more liberal or progressive, and those foundations that are more closely associated with conservative causes.

How We Use the Funds

Better Angels is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Roughly half of our budget goes to  our paid staff. The other half goes to support our various programs, including Red/Blue workshops, skills training, Better Angels debates and our Better Angels media.

Why Funding is Needed

We strive to reflect the demographic composition of the United States, both politically and economically. We keep our dues very low so that anyone can afford to join Better Angels, enjoy the benefits of membership and make a difference.

Better Angels also draws funding from foundations across the political spectrum. Our 990 Forms – the annual IRS-required “Returns of Organizations Exempt from Income Tax” – filed as Institute for American Values, are the most detailed reports of our yearly expenditures and sources of income.  These reports are publicly available online at www.guidestar.org.

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Our Leadership

David Blankenhorn

President & Co-Founder

David Blankenhorn is the founder and president of the Institute for American Values as well as the President and one of the founders of Better Angels.  He is also the author of Fatherless America and The Future of Marriage.

Bill Doherty

Co-Founder

William J. Doherty is Professor and Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Department of Family Social Science, College of Education and Human Development, at the University of Minnesota, where he is also an adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

David Lapp

Co-Founder

David Lapp was an Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for American Values, and co-investigator of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, a qualitative research inquiry into how working-class young adults form relationships and families.

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Ciaran O'Connor

Chief Marketing Officer

Ciaran O’Connor is a digital and communications strategist who previously served as a staffer on the Obama 2012 and Clinton 2016 presidential campaigns. Ciaran graduated from Duke University in 2013 with a degree in public policy.

Donna Murphy

Lead Organizer

Donna Nielsen Murphy has lived on the east coast, Midwest, and west coast, and for nine years in Japan and South Korea. She has worked as an economist in both the public and private sector, most recently at the U.S. State Department, and is the author of three books.

John Wood, Jr.

Director of Media Development

John Wood, Jr. is a national leader for Better Angels, a former nominee for congress, former Vice-Chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, and author of the upcoming book Transcending Politics: Perspectives for a Divided Nation.

Kelly Schumann Andino

Project Director

Kelly Schumann Andino is a graduate of Yale University with a Masters of Arts in Religion from the University of Chicago.  In addition to being employed in the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly was the Director of Operations and Fellow Selection for the Global Good Fund.

Hillary Luehring-Jones

Director of Administration

Hillary Luehring-Jones is a graduate of Connecticut College, where she studied film and digital media. Before joining Better Angels, Hillary was an event planner working specifically with nonprofit organizations, and later wrote for a popular news website.

April Lawson

Director of Debates

April Lawson grew up in Kansas, studied anthropology at Yale, and now lives in Washington, D.C. with her dog June. She worked for David Brooks at The New York Times for 4 years and is now the Associate Director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project at the Aspen Institute.

Riley Hart

Alliance Co-Coordinator

Riley Hart has a physics degree from Yale University, and her career has spanned non-profit management, business systems analysis, mediation, and science education. She is an experienced project manager, writer and presenter, and facilitator.

Steve Saltwick

Alliance Co-Coordinator

Steve Saltwick is a bio-psychologist whose career took a path through high-tech on six continents. He studies the guiding principles of the mammalian brain especially as it relates to artificial intelligence. He has published in SCIENCE but prefers to dote on his first grandchild and two border collies.

Jane Jacobs

Evaluation Coordinator

Jane Jacobs studied psychology at Harvard and worked at the Tufts Community Psychiatry Program. She was a facilitator and Steering Committee member for Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, which brought together pro-life and pro-choice activists for dialogue and collaborative work.

Board of Directors

Hunter Baker
Associate Professor of Political Science, Union University

David Blankenhorn
President, Better Angels

Raina Sacks Blankenhorn
Writer

Mark Boyd
Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia

Francis Fukuyama
Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

Jonathan Haidt
NYU Stern School of Business and Author of “The Righteous Mind”

April Lawson
Associate Director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project, at the Aspen Institute

JoAnn Luehring
Roberts and Holland, LLP

Kouhyar Mostashfi
Senior Software Engineer, CSRA

Katherine Novokov
Executive Board Member & Former CEO, Diamond Mind Co-Founder, DMBS Holdings

Jonathan Rauch
Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, Brookings Institution

Greg Smith
Better Angels Southwest Ohio Alliance Co-Chair

Glenn T. Stanton
Director, Family Formation Studies and Strategic Development, Focus on the Family

Thomas K. Sylvester
Chairman

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