Working Together with Mutual Respect and Dignity

Through the Disagree Better initiative, NGA Chair Utah Governor Spencer Cox believes Governors can play a pivotal role helping all Americans – citizens and elected officials alike – learn to disagree passionately and still be friends. To open the 2024 NGA Winter Meeting, the Governor provided insights into the genesis of the initiative, noting the political discord in the country stands as a call to elected leaders to help turn down the temperature and model healthy conflict.

“Study after study shows that our social fabric is fraying fast. Trust in major institutions has plummeted over the last 10 years to the historic lows, and so has our trust in our neighbors. Republicans and Democrats increasingly viewed the other side not just as misguided, but as immoral and dishonest.”

NGA Vice Chair Colorado Governor Jared Polis echoed Governor Cox’s sentiments as he took the podium to deliver opening remarks. Governor Polis emphasized that the Disagree Better initiative stands as an “important reminder to all of our fellow Americans that there’s a healthier and more productive way to deal with conflicting opinions,” noting that NGA can “help make sure that Governors across the country are doing our part to not just sit on the sidelines and complain about civil society or the media … It is up to us as Governors to show the American people that there is a reason to be hopeful, and we can do that together.”

As anyone who follows Governors’ economic development work knows, they are excellent hype men and women, so the crowd was very excited for the day’s main event: a panel discussion with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett.  In a conversation led by Judge Thomas Griffith, the Justices shared insights on how to disagree agreeably and reflected on their experiences forging constructive working relationships with Supreme Court colleagues.

“We’re present with each other,” commented Justice Sotomayor. “We are actually listening to each other at arguments. We’re present with each other at conference; we’re listening to what each other is saying. We may disagree with it, but we are listening. If you’re not listening, you’re not going to be able to think about what other people are saying.”

“We may have red states and blue states, but above all, we’re the United States,” stated Justice Barrett. “It is a pluralistic society – that’s what the First Amendment protects, our First Amendment freedoms. And if we can’t survive by tolerating differences, and learning to compromise, and learning to allow one another to express other views, we’re going to sink. We won’t be able to get anything done as a country.”

If you are feeling down about the state of politics in the United States, watch this session. It is an uplifting and palliative discussion.

On Saturday, Dr. Frank Luntz joined the conference to bring the cloud to Friday’s silver linings, speaking to Governors on public opinion trends: the good, the bad and the ugly. Dr. Luntz opened saying, “I’ve never had a more important presentation in my life … if you haven’t realized what’s going on out there, democracy is failing. We have forgotten how to talk to each other. We’ve forgotten how to listen to each other. We’ve forgotten how to how to love each other.”

First, the ugly. From his polling, Dr. Luntz shared that 72% of American’s are mad as hell, the highest number since he started asking the question in 1992. Luntz explained that “mad as hell means you can’t negotiate. Mad as hell means you’re not listening; mad as hell is about speaking, and when 72% are mad as hell, we have a problem.”

And the problem soon came up in the presentation: “You ask people: ‘Are you invested in your country?,’ and two-thirds say yes, which is not a great number; but then you ask them: ‘Do you think your country’s invested in you?,’ and only a third say yes. Can you think about the consequences of that? When they think that their country doesn’t care about them, doesn’t believe in them, doesn’t try to lift them up? This is not about government benefits; this is not about welfare or education. It’s a belief that their government, that their country, doesn’t care … that’s not a crisis; that’s actual failure.”

Luntz continued, “70% believe our democracy is under threat; almost two-thirds believe that there’s more that divides us than unites us, and half believe there could be violence in 2024 … 83% [believe] as a country we are more divided than at ‘any time in my lifetime.’” He noted that percentage jumps to 92% for people over 65.

Now for the bad. Dr. Luntz moved on to the language we use and react to: “The two words that matter most: divided and toxic. And I want you to note that partisan is almost at the bottom. This is no longer about politics; this is now about life itself. I disagree with how you live, I disagree with how you look, I disagree with what you say, I disagree with everything, but it’s not just disagree; I hate you for being different … it’s not Republican or Democrat; it’s not liberal or conservative; it’s who we are as people. And by the way, the most powerful word of all is that we are dehumanizing people.”

But there is a solution, says Lutnz, noting, “We must begin by listening … but it’s not listening; it’s understanding … Understanding is what Americans are seeking. They will not yell if they think you understand them.” And in good news: “We asked them the question about this initiative. Eight percent are hostile; 65% are supportive. You can’t get 65% for any initiative anymore, and only 8% are negative.”

Dr. Luntz encouraged Governors to “ask people to imagine democracy at its best … imagine a state, a system, at perfection. What could we be, what could we achieve, what can we accomplish when we are all working together side by side, rolling up our sleeves to get it done? If you ask them to imagine it, they will want it.”

Luntz then went through results from his instant response focus group technique to Governors’ Disagree Better videos and took questions from Governors.

We strongly encourage you to watch the entire session; it is the best 40 minutes you will spend today, this week, this month.