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Sunday, May 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Like Ellen Degeneres befriending George W. Bush, political opposites in Spokane find common ground

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 9, 2019

On Oct. 2, 2018 at a protest for Vice President Mike Pence’s visit, Cheryl Conn and Will Hulings take a selfie. (Cheryl Conn / courtesy)
On Oct. 2, 2018 at a protest for Vice President Mike Pence’s visit, Cheryl Conn and Will Hulings take a selfie. (Cheryl Conn / courtesy)

She was wearing a pink pussy hat with a rainbow knit near the top. He was wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat. The two were, literally, on opposing sides: She was in the area to protest the visit of Vice President Mike Pence, he was in the counterprotest area.

This encounter was Oct. 2, 2018, but Cheryl Conn – who wore the pussy hat – held on to the selfie the two took after a productive conversation.

Another unlikely pair was spotted at a Dallas Cowboys game Friday. Daytime talk show host Ellen Degeneres experienced backlash from viewers after she was pictured socializing with former President George W. Bush.

Degeneres addressed this on her show Tuesday, and used the opportunity as a call to remember that even when viewpoints differ, people should still be able to be friends.

“We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different,” Degeneres said on her show.

This message reminded Conn, who volunteers for Spokane County Democrats, of her encounter with Will Hulings, a leader of the local Proud Boys group. He was engaged in an argument with someone else in her group, and she approached him because he was wearing a Navy pin on his jacket.

“I just interrupted the conversation and asked him if he was a veteran and he said, ‘Yeah, you got a problem with that?’ ” Conn said. “I said, ‘No, sir, I just wanted to shake your hand and thank you for your service,’ and that redirected the energy, and we started talking about common humanity.”

Blaine Garvin, a Gonzaga University political science professor, said he spoke with his students Tuesday about the ability for Democrats and Republicans to get along at this point in history. He said in the 1940s, most people had party loyalty, but less understanding of what their party represented. Today, people are more knowledgeable, and that is leading to more conflict.

“They can tell the difference between the parties now, and they know that when a discussion starts about one issue and it’s divisive, if they change to another issue, it’s still going to be divisive,” Garvin said. “The differences between the parties now are systemic, they go across a whole range of issues.”

Garvin said that while we have always had segregation by class, causing people to live by like-minded people, that has become intensified.

“There’s even some literature in political science that suggests that people are intentionally looking out for what the neighbors’ political views might be when they buy a new house,” Garvin said.

Garvin doesn’t drive, and therefore uses Uber a lot. When a driver asks him what he does, and he offers that he is a political science professor, the driver usually asks him what way he leans politically. Garvin said depending on the beliefs of the driver, the conversation either takes off or comes to a grinding halt.

“In the presence of somebody who quite clearly was different from my view, the discussion stops,” Garvin said. “If the discussion is in a situation where it doesn’t stop, it escalates, then people get angry with each other.”

Garvin said he isn’t surprised people were upset with Degeneres, but he was saddened.

“If we’re divided into camps, to use this metaphor about warring camps, then people on the other side are enemies,” Garvin said. “How can you consort with the enemy? So the kind of amiable crossing of the aisles that used to be frequent in Congress now is much less so, and that filters down.”

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