In August 2022, I (Peter) received an invitation from the Mitch McConnell Center in Louisville, Kentucky, to visit for a few days and work with their 40 undergraduate McConnell Scholars on bipartisanship. Frankly, I was a bit shocked to receive this request. A progressive-leaning Democrat, I was triggered by the Center’s namesake, and felt immediately suspicious, picturing the snare-trap screaming matches I had seen set on Tucker Carlson’s show on FOX. Nevertheless, after a few days of highly-ambivalent consideration, I agreed to attend. (As a professed “bridge-builder,” it would be hypocritical for me to decline.)
Despite the nausea I experienced on my flight down South, I was ultimately stunned by what I found. There, in the center of the University of Louisville, which I discovered to be a bastion of progressivism, was the thriving McConnell Center, founded by the one and only former Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate. Its establishment at the University had been roundly resisted by faculty across the campus and local media at the time of its founding in 1991—and continues to draw protest—but the University President at the time overruled them and instituted the Center under his own auspices. More importantly, I was warmly welcomed by the Director of the Center, Gary Gregg, and found the group of students there highly diverse in race, religion, ethnicity, and political ideology, and generally eager to learn from the liberal likes of a Columbia Professor.
The hard truth about America today is that Red and Blue Americans need each other desperately. As outlined in a recent World Bank Group report, our nation is today facing multiple, overlapping and compounding global crises, which quite simply require all hands on deck. Despite the calls by 41% of Biden voters and 52% of Trump voters for their states to secede from the Union to form their own separate country, it’s just not happening (like many divorcing families, we simply can’t afford to separate).