Like Family, Like Nation: A Braver Angel

Author & Bridge Builder Mónica Guzmán Mediates Polarization At Home & Nationwide

purple principle episode artwork with headshot of podcast guest monica guzmán

Our TPP guest this episode, Mónica Guzmán of Braver Angels, is a fascinating conversationalist who knows how to stop a conversation, particularly among blue-leaning Seattle friends and colleagues discussing politics. As she recounts in our interview, Guzmán merely mentions that her Mexican immigrant parents avidly supported Donald Trump and the room goes silent.

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We kick off Episode 8 of Season 3, “Like Family, Like Nation,” with Guzmán’s retelling of that conversation stopper also featured in her new book, I Never Thought of It That Way: How To Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. She joins Rob this week for Episode 8 of Season 3 to talk about open political dialogue, letting curiosity lead you, and why her Mexican immigrant parents voted for Donald Trump.

Part personal memoir, part equally engaging communication guide, the book is informed by her previous work as a journalist and current work at Braver Angels, one of the nation’s most successful facilitators of cross-partisan dialogue. 

Prior to Braver Angels, Guzmán co-founded a Seattle-based newsletter, The Evergrey, with a largely blue readership. She recounts a trip of Evergrey readers she organized to the largely red and rural Sherman County, Oregon, where a group of residents agreed to meet for political discussion. There was trepidation before the event, but a feeling afterward that four hours wasn’t enough time for the healthy dialogue that ensued. 

“We see with our whole biographies”, Guzmán observes. “The opinion…. is just above the surface. Underneath is everything that backs it up, all their experiences.” As a result, she cautions that, “you’re not going to change someone’s mind in the course of conversation unless they were already at the cusp of changing it on their own.” 

Important points from a uniquely qualified voice. Tune in for an entertaining and informative episode on the value of communication across the many great divides in this country: hipsters and farmers, first- and second-generation immigrants, even Trekkies and Jedis.

Original music by Ryan Adair Rooney.

Mónica Guzmán

So right after the 2016 election, people in Seattle were pretty stunned. this is a very democratic city, very blue-leaning city and November 9th, 2016, everything felt dead. 

Robert Pease (host)

Mónica Guzmán is Digital Director at Braver Angels, the non-partisan group that promotes cross-partisan dialogue to strengthen our democracy. 

Mónica Guzmán

After that, a lot of the conversations that I’d be a part of, at networking events or dinners with friends, invariably turned to politics.  

Robert Pease (host)

Oh no, not politics! But fortunately Mónica’s out with a great new book, I Never Thought of It That Way, on why political conversations across the divide are not only possible, but important and rewarding. 

Mónica Guzmán

And then it would start to creep toward the people who voted for Trump. And it was right about there that I would feel like that was my cue. And so I would say, “well, my parents are Mexican immigrants who voted for Trump.” And that stopped conversation. 

Robert Pease (host)

That conversation stopper is our conversation starter on this episode of the Purple Principle, a podcast about perils of polarization. I’m your host Robert Pease, primed to learn from  Mónica Guzmán. She has lived with “us vs them” politics at home, with her parents, and worked to bridge that chasm at Braver Angels and as a journalist.

Let’s kick things off with an obvious question borrowed from her new book, I Never Thought of It That Way.  Once Mónica stopped those conversations at those very blue Seattle get-togethers, did anyone ask, “Mónica, why are your parents Trump supporters?”

Enter interview

Mónica Guzmán

Yeah, I would say something like 60 to 70% of the time someone would ask why. But most of the time it wouldn’t happen right there with the bigger group. It would be somebody finding me later. And some of the times, yes, it would be people who already knew me, but plenty of times it was actually almost an icebreaker, so that I would get to know somebody new. And they would go, “Hey, you know, I saw that you said that about your parents. I’m really curious, just wondering, why did they do that?” But again, it didn’t always happen in the big group when it did. That was really interesting, because I saw it as my opportunity in a lot of situations to represent a kind of person that a lot of my friends just either didn’t know at all, or didn’t really have a close relationship with. So I felt I could humanize, I could flesh out, at least two of these people. 

Robert Pease (host)

Yes. Well, we don’t get many choices in our elections, in this country compared to almost every other democracy. but I’m curious about, you know, your parents’ political philosophy, probably to you it wasn’t such a surprise they voted for Trump based on previous conversations and previous voting, right?

Mónica Guzmán

Yes but (laughs). So we are Mexican immigrants, we became citizens in the year 2000. I was 17 in high school, so I was automatically naturalized when my parents were naturalized that year. And that was the year where I came home one day and plopped down my backpack and looked up and saw a Bush-Chaney sign over my mother’s desk. And that was the first time that I thought, oh, they’re Republicans, they’re really Republicans? 

So I wasn’t surprised that they would be conservative or Republican, but I personally, during the 2015 (2016) presidential campaign was very surprised to see them both support someone as unconventional, and to me, as concerning as Donald Trump as a candidate.

[Archival audio – Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign]

Mónica Guzmán

My father was actually pretty gung-ho for him from the beginning. I know a lot of Republicans and conservatives who sort of ended up at “well, you know, I would’ve rather Ted Cruz or Rubio or whoever, but sure, fine Trump.” Right? Better than, than the alternative. But my dad was actually all in on Trump. 

Robert Pease (host)

Well how much of his all in on trump do you think is truly pro-Trump and how much is more anti-liberal?

Mónica Guzmán

Yeah, I would say most of it really is pro-conservative platform, pro-Republican platform. The pro-Trump piece I’m more confident saying is in my father than my mother. And one anecdote that he told me to help me understand his support for Trump has to do with the TV show House, which was popular in the early 2000s. House is a show about a diagnostic doctor who is brilliant, can figure out these mysterious ailments in people and save their lives. But in the show, he’s so mean and breaks all the rules. 

[Archival audio – Dr. Gregory House in a hospital clinic]

Mónica Guzmán

Doesn’t respect any of the bureaucracy in the hospital, makes everyone around him completely aggravated and drives them crazy, but he stands up for the patient and he saves them at the end of the day. And my father looked at the government of America and all he saw was something so dysfunctional, and the way he saw it, politicians are so false all the time. They don’t really say what they mean ever. And we put up with a lot of it for, for reasons that he can’t understand. So in some ways Trump was his House. Trump was his, you know what, someone’s gotta go in there and shake things up! 

Robert Pease (host)

Well he certainly shook things up on January 6th…

 Mónica Guzmán

Yeah. In the book, I talked about a conversation we had had in October of 2020. So that was before January 6th. But it was after Trump had said, where Trump had refused to ensure that he, of course, would respect the peaceful transfer of power.

[Archival audio – Donald Trump during a 2020 press conference]

Mónica Guzmán

And that night my father came over to help my kids get through pandemic remote school. And so, then it was time for dinner (laughs) and instead of making dinner, which I was supposed to do, I talked to my dad.  And I really thought that night after what Trump had said, that this would be the line, this would be, would be where my dad would say, “Okay. Yeah, sure. I get it. You know, that, that I can’t stand.” And he didn’t! He didn’t, he didn’t. And it was such a tricky conversation.

Robert Pease (host)

Yeah. Well, we are a podcast about political polarization so naturally we love your description of political polarization as the problem that eats other problems, the monster who convinces us that monsters are us. So when did you come to that realization? 

Mónica Guzmán

It was when I became a journalist in Seattle. Earlier than that, I did have sort of a deep-seated conviction that a lot of the problems in this world come down to people not understanding each other. It’s one of the reasons I went into communications to begin with, because I felt this is a place where maybe I can make a difference. This feels important. This is how I’m gonna try. But year, it was around and after the 2016 election in particular, where I look around at my city. My city is amazing. I love Seattle. I dedicated the book to Seattle. It’s so full of energy and creativity and intelligence and education.

And so to go around this city and to hear people, people say things about people they didn’t understand, whose decisions and paths and political views they didn’t understand, that were so sometimes dehumanizing. And so false! So stereotypical, but seemingly unaware of that. I understood it and I empathize with it from the sense of we all, you know, like to bond with each other, especially in times of stress, this is a very blue place and it certainly feels good to bash, you know, the enemy. Bash the other side that I get. But it really felt like it was getting in the way of everything that we actually want.

Robert Pease (host)

Yeah. Well, you describe an interesting, cross partisan gathering, the Melting Mountains gathering. Which was an urban-rural gathering between Sherman County and King County in the book, I believe it was through your Evergrey publication at that time and not a Braver Angels event. So, tell us about that experience and what you personally learned from it.

Mónica Guzmán

Yeah, so right after the 2016 election, I had just started, co-founded a newsletter called The Evergray here in Seattle, still going strong. And one of our core values was curiosity. So after the election, our readers were saying, “you know, we wanna be curious about everything going on, but honestly, I don’t know any Republicans” or “I know Republicans, but I don’t know…what sits in my mind is the kind of Republican who was all for Trump, you know, maybe more rural, just a completely different lifestyle. I’m sitting here in the big city.”

We came across an interactive on the Washington Post website where you could plug in your county in the United States, and it would spit back out the county nearest yours that voted exactly opposite you in the presidential election. And that turned out to be tiny Sherman County, Oregon. 1,700 people on land ten times the size of Seattle. Totally agricultural, just miles and miles of beautiful wheat fields. So we ended up asking our readers, if we could find a way to visit, would you be up for that? And a bunch of them were like, yes, yes, yes!

So then it was just some strange sort of cold calls and Googling and finding. I remember the phone call with a woman in her eighties named Sherry, Sherry Kaseberg, who, you know, wrote a very little blog for Sherman County, but knew everybody. And, and her on the phone, me stammering out this idea for some kind of exchange, and her saying “that sounds like a lovely idea.” And that just set it all off. 

Mónica Guzmán

And so that day, as far as what we learned, we learned, speaking from the liberal point of view, we learned what we were missing. There was one woman, Laura, who I talked to quite a bit, who has the typical experience of many of the people who went down from Seattle that day. Which was being locked into this assumption that if people oppose what I support, they must hate what I love. So she voted against Trump because of all these things that she found just absolutely essential, including, you know, rights for LGBTQ folks and things around climate change and the environment. 

So the thing that that trip really did for everyone who was part of it, including the folks from Sherman County, was get curious about other people, with other people. It’s something that’s getting harder and harder to do in these United States, as the blue zip codes get bluer and the red zip codes get redder and people dis-invite each other from Thanksgiving, you know, all these opportunities that we had to hold that glue between differences, we are eliminating. And that’s tragic. 

Exit interview, episode break

Robert Pease (host) 

We’re talking with Mónica Guzmán about, essentially, field trips between blue and red zip codes. That’s how polarized we’ve become as a nation. Which reminds me of our season two guest Ryan Enos of Harvard University, a political geographer. He’s literally mapped out our hyperpartisanship, and confirms that, yes, there is a huge blue urban vs red rural divide in the U.S. But also Americans are separating on political lines much more precisely than that:

[Lookback audio from S2E3, Ryan Enos]

Ryan Enos

And what’s surprised us even more is if you go down to even smaller levels in those cities, if you go down to neighborhoods within the same city, you’ll see the Democrats and Republicans tend to separate from each other a little bit, even within the same neighborhood, they don’t live in the same places. when people live separate from each other but close by, it really increases these feelings of animosity. And it seems like we have that going on between partisans even in neighborhoods.

Robert Pease (host)

And that is really unhealthy for our democracy. Braver Angels is a group working to facilitate dialogue and understanding across those divisions, geographic, social and political. But that’s a really tricky thing to do. Our previous guest, Dr. Peter Coleman, director of the Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia University, he shares this cautionary observation about some attempts at cross-partisan dialogue

[Lookback audio from S2E9, Peter Coleman]

Peter Coleman

I started to be approached by some journalistic organizations that were doing matching of people from different sides of an issue and asking them to go off and have a coffee or a drink and a conversation and meet each other. But there are certain conditions under which intergroup contact helps, and there are many conditions that don’t. And unfortunately some of the organizations that are encouraging people to get together, particularly without facilitation, for short periods of time, to focus, you know, immediately on their differences, these things backfire.

Robert Pease (host)

We played that Peter Coleman insight for Mónica and asked for her thoughts related to the trip she described of Seattle liberals to politically red Sherman County, Oregon, and of the nationwide efforts of Braver Angels to facilitate those important, but difficult conversations. 

Enter Interview

Mónica Guzmán

No, I think Dr. Coleman is spot on, on a lot of those things. I mean, the thing we worked hardest on, in Sherman County, was precisely that – what amount of structure, what kind of structure is going to make this work? I was particularly scared of a sense of voyeurism, right? Where, oh, yeah, let’s go and just see them, and look at them and just kind of ask our questions in a condescending way and then leave.

So I remember a few things. You know, one was that the first question, when, when people paired off that they asked each other was, what is your favorite childhood memory? And they would take turns answering that question with each other. And of course we had very intentionally a meal together and casual conversation that was not about politics before we even got to politics.  And in fact, one of the biggest criticisms of the event from the people who were there, was how it seemed like we barely scratched the surface. We didn’t, there were so many things they wanted to talk about. They didn’t get to. Too bad! We had three, four hours there, and half the time was warm up, because you need it, you gotta build that level of trust.

So yeah, I do not believe in throwing together people who are, on either side of a divide, with a lot of distrust, you know, no relationship and no structure. At Braver Angels, there is always structure in our workshops. Braver Angels was co-founded by Bill Doherty, a very well-known and renowned marriage therapist. So the methods come from marriage therapy, and they work. They are really good. So we have, for example, our program called One-to-One Conversations, which anyone can sign up for online. And with those, you do get paired up for virtual meetings with someone on the other side of the divide, but there is a structure. There are materials that you look through, there’s commitments that you tacitly make, you know, just to make sure that you’re not going in just to beat someone over the head with something, to try to win. 

Robert Pease (host)

Yeah. Well, it’s certainly a fascinating part of the book. But you also talk about social media, and isn’t that a more difficult challenge where people can so easily log on, take a few swipes, and log off?

Mónica Guzmán

Mm, well, I think there’s a key thing that you don’t get when you’re reading retweeted tweets: you don’t get the person, you just get the idea. And in those spaces, we have gotten to a place where, it’s entertainment to get to hear what the other side thinks, but to mock it, just to see how absurd it is. When you don’t have the person, or something to connect to underneath that idea, I don’t think that going outside your silo means, let me merely be exposed to other ideas. Let me go look at the Fox News page every now and then, you know, if you’re liberal, or go to the New York Times, if you’re conservative. If you go to the New York Times if you’re conservative and you do it in that way, you’re just going to affirm how awful you think this point of view is, because you’re doing it from a surface level place without any actual connection or reason to build trust. 

So that’s one of the reasons that in my book, I talk about the importance of actual human interaction. The internet is a non-place that makes us into non-people. And so what we need to do is counteract that by having more, more actual interactions with actual people, getting curious about each other, with each other.

Robert Pease (host)

There is this problem of false equivalence on certain topics. It’s falsely equivalent to say that you’re getting a viewpoint from Fox News, an anti-vaccine viewpoint, when it’s actually negating the science behind the vaccine. And it’s equally false to say the New York Times is promoting a pro-vaccine viewpoint. It’s a scientific fact. So how do you deal with that? How do you deal with the fact that yes, people are entitled to their views, but, you know, to quote Daniel Monahan for the 10000th time, they’re not entitled to their own facts.

Mónica Guzmán

Right. Interesting. Well, I think about experts, and I think about the nature of experts. When I think about the vaccine, I go, yeah, there’s medical experts, there’s social scientists, there’s experts who can inform about the efficacy of the vaccine, the likelihood that it is perfectly safe, all those kinds of things. But I will say this, I don’t know that there’s an expert out there about how exactly our society should adopt, distribute, and do the campaign around communicating the vaccine. That’s the piece that I think divides us. Because, for the folks, for whom, you know, trust of the medical establishment is really intact, then, yeah, you know, the fact that they are medical and scientific experts extends to, well, they’re also experts on our society and what we should all do, I’m going to give them that authority as well.

But I think there’s plenty of folks who don’t see them as experts in that. Someone who studied medicine didn’t study society, you know, and in fact, I mean, there’s been a lot of admissions on, across the political spectrum, that the communication around the vaccine could have been better and could have been more responsive and honest to the concerns that were truly out there.

So, it’s true. The facts are there about the scientific efficacy, but at the end of the day, people’s adoption of something like this is going to rely on trust more than facts. And it’s going to rely on who’s, you know, who, who they think is actually qualified to tell them what to do. And that’s just a different set of problems.

Robert Pease (host)

Yeah. Well, it’s almost a philosophical question now, and you have an interesting ‘I never thought of it that way’ moment with the philosopher David E. Smith in your book, where he presents the idea that we don’t choose our opinions.

[Archival audio – Philosopher David E. Smith]

Mónica Guzmán

Yes. And that blew my mind. When I heard him say it just, you know, I was maybe on the edge of that myself and when he said it, it just, aah of course, like so many things made so much sense. I talk in the book a little bit about the example of my husband and his love of Star Wars. So he watched the prequels as a kid, you know, many times in the movie theater. His grandmother gave him a life size replica, like an official one, of Yoda, and it still scares small children from our rec room downstairs. He has a lifelong love of Star Wars.

[Archival audio – Yoda in Star Wars]

Mónica Guzmán

Now I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was basically my ethics class to all of humanity. It taught me so much. I have, we named our son, his middle name is Riker, for William T. Riker, Commander of the USS Enterprise.

[Archival audio – William T. Riker in Star Trek]

Mónica Guzmán

But, I could try to talk Jason into acknowledging that Star Trek is better than Star Wars for the rest of my life, and it will never happen. Because he, it’s not just our opinion that one is better than the other, and our disagreement on that is not something that we can argue with reason and syllogism. Our experiences led us to those views.

The meaning that Star Trek has for me and that Star Wars has for him, goes down through years and years of his life. So I say in the book, we don’t see with our eyes, we see with our whole biographies. So we arrive at our opinions as a result of our experiences. And this is a hard thing for us all to accept. 

But every time that we go online or that we talk to somebody thinking, all right, here, in my hand, I am holding the reason. This is the reason that I believe what I believe in this political issue. It’s a very powerful reason for me. So all I need to do is hand it to you, and then you’ll agree with me. And sometimes we act as if that’s how it works, but it’s not how it works. 

It’s like the tip of the iceberg thing, right? The opinion that we see about the person is just above the surface. Underneath is everything that backs it up, all their experiences. You’re not gonna change someone’s mind in the course of a conversation, unless they were already at the cusp of changing it on their own, you know? Unless their life was already pushing them in that direction. So it’s understanding that we don’t choose our opinions, that we arrive at them through the course of our experiences, allows us to have compassion for people whose, who are in the course of changing their minds or, or are extremely resistant to changing their minds, because it feels like they’re changing their whole identity, and in a way that’s what you’re doing.

Robert Pease (host)

And that really points to the title and main theme of the book Mónica, and your acronym for it, INTOIT, not to be confused with the software company. So tell us about an INTOIT moment.

Mónica Guzmán

Yes. So the title of the book is, “I Never Thought of It That Way,” because one of the fun ways you can think about how to become more curious is to tell yourself to chase down more “I never thought of it that way” moments. And those are moments where you think or say, “huh, I never thought of it that way.” 

But, an “ I never thought of it that way” moment, it basically plants a seed in your mind. You don’t know if that seed will later get pulled out of the ground, you know, or if it’s just kind of sprouts, just a, a new perspective on something. So yeah, so that’s what, an “I never thought of it that way” moment is, and, and I shorten that to “INTOIT moment.” But it’s, it’s those moments as I’ve paid attention to them, I’ve recognized a sensation. There’s a physical sensation to me that others, you know, will, will say that they feel as well. Some people kind of, you know, they even like, gasp.

We can actually tell when a thought has shocked us, and our language has it too: something clicked, it dawned on me, you know, as if a light is coming up. But for so many of these things, awareness is really the first step. And we haven’t really trained ourselves to be aware of when a thought comes in and surprises us. But the way to chase more of those kinds of things down is to be exposed to different perspectives, because those are the ones that can make you take something that you had seen in perhaps a two dimensional way, but you talk to someone with a different perspective and it will gain a third dimension. And you’ll be able to turn it like a prism and see it from a different light.

Exit Interview

Robert Pease (host) 

Maybe that light will be a bit more purple, or at least not so angry red or patronizing blue. And that’s where less partisan, more indie-minded Purple Principle listeners can make a difference. Not just in voting, but in conversations like those described by Mónica Guzmán. We learned a lot from her in this episode: the importance of these cross partisan discussions and experiences, the surprising Dr. House-like appeal of Donald Trump to Mónica’s own father and many millions of other Americans. But also the seemingly unending quest for intergalactic supremacy between Trekkies and Star Warriors. May the force be with them as they live long and prosper.

Our full interview with Mónica will soon be a premium episode on Apple Subscriptions and Patreon. And Mónica’s recent book, I Never Thought of It That Way, is highly recommended. She’s successfully recreated her own engaging voice and tone throughout these pages, weaving personal anecdotes with professional experience and important research.

We will also hear from Mónica on a different though related topic next episode, the first in our two part series on diversity among Hispanic voters this 2022 primary season. Are many Hispanic Americans just plain uncomfortable with both major parties, and therefore naturally independent? We’ll hear from former Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo:

[Look head audio to Carlos Curbelo]

Carlos Curbelo

I think that’s right. Obviously there are exceptions, but more recent immigrants don’t have those generational commitments to political parties. So they’re kind of up for grabs. And certainly Latino immigrants are, in terms of large groups, the most recent immigrants to the United States. I think Latino voters need to be met where they’re at.

Robert Pease (host)

And Northwestern University Scholar, and frequent New York Times and Atlantic contributor, Dr. Geraldo Cadava:

[Look head audio to Dr. Geraldo Cadava]

Dr. Geraldo Cadava

And so I think what needs to happen is just a fundamental rethinking of how parties and campaigns approach Latinos and talk to Latinos in a way that really takes seriously their political positions and what they say they believe about any number of issues from home ownership, to immigration, to jobs, to education.

Robert Pease (host)

…along with other guests speaking to the great diversity of experiences and political views among Hispanic Americans.  We hope you’ll join us then, share us on social media, rate us on Apple Podcasts or at This is Robert Pease for the whole Purple Principle team. Original music from Ryan Adair Rooney. The Purple Principle is a Fluent Knowledge production.