How To Run for Office Without Being an A**hole

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Speaker 1: Somebody will say something in a forum or it’s social media implying that the only way to show true leadership if you’re fighting for your party or your base, your constituency, is to be in fighting mode all the time.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: I couldn’t agree more. You know, I thought we were in a bad in bad shape eight years ago, and it’s gotten so much worse.

Amanda Ripley: Welcome to How To. I’m Amanda Ripley. Today, we’re excited to bring you something a little different, refreshingly different from what you normally see on the news or in social media. Politicians who fight for what they believe in with passion and conviction, but also profound decency. And here’s the catch. They still win elections. It requires Jedi level mind tricks and discipline, but it can be done. That’s why we invited two very different politicians from opposite sides of the aisle to explain how two people who are living proof that it is possible to do political battle without being a jerk.

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: So my name is Spencer Cox. I’m the governor of the great state of Utah. I grew up in a very small town. We’re talking 1200 people. And just I’m so excited about this conversation.

Amanda Ripley: Even if you’re not from Utah, you might have heard of Republican Governor Cox. He made national headlines a couple of years ago for running a shocking political ad that went viral, which we’re going to talk about later. But for now, let’s introduce our other guest. She actually squeezed in this conversation from the campaign trail. Meet Democratic Vermont State Senator Becca Balint. She’s in a fierce battle right now for an open congressional seat.

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Speaker 1: I am also very excited to be part of this conversation. I am also from a small town here in Vermont, was elected to the Senate eight years ago, served as the first president pro tem who was a woman. And I taught for years in middle schools around Vermont. I always say that it’s perfect to be a middle school teacher in preparation for politics, because sometimes it feels a lot like middle school. And you also can’t be a middle school teacher unless you believe in the possibility of change and you see hope and promise in people. So thank you so much, Amanda, for pulling us together.

Amanda Ripley: Yeah, no, I mean, I’m really excited to have you both here. And the reason is let’s you know, let’s just do some real talk here. I mean, you both disagree on many serious policy issues, from guns to abortion. And you have both resisted cheap shots, vitriol, demonizing your opponents. You’re like unicorns. We we all know that, you know, the country is deeply fractured right now. A lot of Americans that I meet in my reporting are afraid of each other on all sides. And no established democracy in recent history has been as deeply polarized as the United States from a new study from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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Amanda Ripley: So I guess I would start by asking you sort of a fun question, quote unquote fun, which is how would you describe how would you describe politics right now with one word?

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: One word, I guess I was going to say toxic, but broken probably works, too.

Amanda Ripley: Yeah. Those are two bad choices.

Speaker 1: Inflamed. Hmm.

Amanda Ripley: And now let’s imagine something better. Could you tell me what kind of politician you’d like to be, the kind you’re most proud of now? What people want you to be. Not the soundbite, but the complicated, messy version that maybe doesn’t fit an easy category.

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Speaker 1: Well, I hope it is really seeing the humanity underneath. I think people are starved for conversation that is heart to heart, person to person. They don’t see that happening a lot, putting each other in in such boxes. And I have heard more than any other seeing on the campaign trail this spring that. People desperately want to be able to talk to their neighbors again. Hmm.

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: I guess I should say right up front that the Becca Center Balint and I don’t know each other. This is the first time we’ve we’ve ever done that. And we do represent different parties. And we do have very different and divergent views. But. But I loved everything she said. It’s about listening. It’s about being respectful. It’s about finding ways to to give people wins this this kind of all or nothing mentality that we’ve gotten into. And that kind of toxic mindset is so debilitating for a democratic republic like ours. You know, I don’t know how we survive if that’s the case. This is the country that was founded on collaboration and the ability to come together to solve very difficult issues and compromise.

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Amanda Ripley: Now you might think, okay, there’s something a little naive about all this, right? Let’s just sing Kumbaya and get along, etc.. Well, as both of our guests can attest, there is actually nothing soft about this kind of politics. It is, in fact, much harder to be decent than to demonize in politics today. For example, Governor Cox is a Republican governor in a very red state, and he’s broken with his party in some pretty unpopular ways, criticizing Donald Trump. And then just this spring, vetoing a ban on trans high school athletes participating in sports that caught the ire of Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

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Speaker 4: So here you have a perfectly normal state filled with perfectly happy, normal people, somehow.

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Run by a low IQ.

Speaker 4: Weakened MSNBC anchor. Fortunately, two thirds of the legislature overrode Spencer Cox’s veto and finally got the bill passed.

Amanda Ripley: Now, Tucker Carlson is what’s known as a conflict entrepreneur. He exploits conflict for his own ends, and crossing him often requires much more courage than going along with your party. And right now, there are very few incentives to do so, which means it can also be very, very lonely to veto a bill against your party’s wishes.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: I wrote a four and a half page veto letter, which, unfortunately, in politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. I get that. But but I think we need more explaining and we need more nuance. And I’ve never watched Tucker Carlson. I don’t care about Tucker Carlson. I know his type and his ilk. And they they make a living. And it’s only about money. They don’t care about the politics by, again, using those bullying tactics and inciting fear and demagoguing and othering people. And that is what is destroying our country. And so so I don’t want to play into that.

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Amanda Ripley: Senator, balance hasn’t been in the Fox News crosshairs yet, but she does know how ugly politics can be. She said insults thrown at her from all sides and even had to censure colleagues for bad behavior. She and Governor Cox both have plenty of scars from all the times they refuse to take the bait or the times they’ve worked with their opponents to actually get things done.

Speaker 1: We have a very limited view and sense of what good leadership looks like in this country. Right. So it is about a fighter. It’s somebody brash. It’s someone who’s going to burn it down. They’re going to take it to the mat. They’re going to. Right. I certainly was, you know, criticized over my career that I wasn’t going to be able to do it my way and that I was going to have to throw more elbows consistently. And you don’t always have to show up in fighting mode. Sometimes you show up as a fighter, sometimes you show up as a defender, and sometimes you show up as a peacemaker and you have to be able to move between those three modes.

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Amanda Ripley: So on today’s show, Governor Cox and Senator Balance get real about when to fight, when to make peace, and how the rest of us can help to make politics work again. Stick around.

Amanda Ripley: Back in 2019, former Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced he was retiring and it seemed perfectly logical that the next Republican to replace him would be his lieutenant. Right. While the decision wasn’t so cut and dry for Cox and his.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Family, we did not want to do it. We could see what was happening. This was 2018, 2019. Heading into 2020, we said, if we’re going to run, we’re going to try to do things differently. We’re not going to run any negative ads. We’re always going to stay on our message. We’re actually going to run a campaign based around service and giving back. So we’ll have service projects in every town. We’ll we’ll invite people, our opponents, to join with us in these service projects. And then we’ll we’ll have debates and talk about our differences after the service project. Our thought was, if this works, maybe some other people will follow because they’re the most cowardly people in the world are the people who who advise politicians. Right. Somebody ran a negative campaign and won. So now everybody runs negative campaigns. Maybe if we do this right, that will follow and will encourage some people to come. Number two, if it doesn’t work and we lose, at least we can look back and say we made the world a better place.

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Amanda Ripley: Not surprisingly, some of his advisers thought he was nuts, and one of them urged him to run negative ads in the campaign anyway. But Cox resisted, and amazingly so did his Democratic opponent.

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Speaker 4: I’m Chris.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Petersen. And I’m Spencer Cox. We are currently in the final days of campaigning against each other to be your next governor. And while I think you should vote for me. Yeah, but. But really, you should vote for me. There are some things we both agree on. We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character. We can disagree without hating each other. And win or lose, in Utah, we work together.

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: So let’s show the country that there’s a better way. My name’s Chris Peterson. And I’m Spencer Cox. And we approve this message that went viral in a way that we were not expecting at all. And I think it shows there are a whole bunch of people out there who really don’t like where we are. I call them the exhausted majority now. I mean, they may accept it. They may they may see that that’s happening and there may be no other choices.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: But I like to see. My life would be so much easier if I just got up every day and said whatever Fox News said the night before. But that’s not who I am. And so we have to lean into the discomfort of trying to pull people together. And the incentive structure just isn’t really there right now. For far too many people, we’ve lost that incentive structure to do what we think are the right things for the right reasons. And and we end up just kind of going down this I’ve got to say this. I’ve got to I’ve got to do this or I’m not going to get elected or reelected and everybody else is doing it. So it must be okay. And and we’ve got to prove that the opposite is true. And I’m grateful that there’s a few people like you, Senator, that are trying to do that.

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Speaker 1: I’m definitely seeing that as well. They’re exhausted from the vitriol. They’re exhausted from the pandemic. You know, they’re very concerned about inflation. They’re concerned about the war in Ukraine. And they’re just this spent. And what they say is, I want to send somebody who believes in democracy, who believes in community. And, you know, I think it’s been really resonant for so many people. When I say this campaign is it is about turning towards one another and not away from each other.

Amanda Ripley: You know, it’s interesting because you’ve both hit on this kind of central paradox of intractable conflict, which is people find it very magnetic. It’s very hard to get out once you get in. And at the same time, people want out like they are miserable. I will tell you, when I interview gang members and members of Congress, their expressions are the same. They feel trapped. They feel like there’s no way out. They’re worried about their safety and their families. And they would love a way out if they could see one.

Amanda Ripley: And I guess I wonder, is there something almost kind of poignant in the fact that the ad you did with your opponent vowing not to go negative went viral? I mean, is is a fairly small thing in the scheme of the moral universe, and yet it became breaking news.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Yeah, it’s it’s fascinating to see because so again, in Utah, we’re a very red state. Right. And so the primary was the most contested piece of this. And I, I was running against a former governor of the state, former presidential candidate with, you know, unlimited funds. I was running against former speaker of the House who was who was kind of the hard charging Trump like character. And and then a former chair of of the Republican Party. And I was the only one who wasn’t going negative. And they all decided to go negative, but against me, not against each other. And and so so here.

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Speaker 1: Classic, classic.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: So here I am. That that last month, when all of the negativity turned on me, we saw the polling almost every day. I was losing about one point of my lead every couple days, and I had a ten point lead going into that month. There was a moment in our I think it was our last debate when I was just, you know, taking incoming. It was just three on one. And there’s nothing lonelier than being on a debate stage when you’re just taking all the other hits. And I said something at the very end. I just said, if if I have to tear these fine gentlemen down to be your next governor, then I don’t deserve to be your next governor. I want you to know if that’s what it takes to win, then I don’t want to do that. That that was the one piece that that that people remembered more more than anything else.

Amanda Ripley: Senator Ballard has had similar moments dealing with pressure from her own side behind the scenes as they were trying to get a bill passed.

Speaker 1: And we were in really tough negotiations with our counterparts in the House. And the colleague was so mad at me. He was so mad at me because she kept saying, it doesn’t make any sense why they agreed to this. I said, it’s not about the policy anymore. It’s about. How they’re feeling about this relationship. And you think, that’s ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. We’re wasting too much time on peacemaking, I said. I guarantee you that’s what this is about. And we have to stay in these conversations and we have to do the work of repairing in order to actually get the bill across the finish line.

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Speaker 1: And I remember at one time he just was screaming at me, too much talking, too much talking. I was just like, Nope, this is the price that we need to pay right now. And he would roll his eyes and he would, you know, he just thought that it was a sign of weakness in my leadership. And I kept saying, this is the only way that we’re going to do this. And we had a lot of hard conversations. And but we we got there and we got to a deal.

Amanda Ripley: And was that by repairing the relationship with your counterparts?

Speaker 1: Yes, we had to acknowledge how they were feeling. And he just thought that was a waste of time. And for me, I knew that was the only way we were going to get it forward, because ultimately we’re all people, right? We want to be seen and they didn’t feel seen.

Amanda Ripley: Governor Cox, I’m curious, this counterintuitive move, right, this step out of the dance is so important and powerful. I wonder if you could tell the story about when there were protesters at your home and what your first reaction, your first intuition was and then what you and your family ended up doing.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: In the middle of the pandemic. I was then lieutenant governor and running for governor. My governor, Herbert, at the time had put me in charge of the pandemic response and obviously a very difficult time in our country, very divisive time. And we had lots of people who were very upset and began expressing their anger by protesting different houses.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: So and they came to my house in in a small rural town out on our farm, and we had protesters out there. And our first reaction was just that of of disgust and anger. How dare they? You know, I have I have a young family and had to keep my kids inside and worried about what might happen. So there was a little bit of fear as well. And we we were sitting there talking it was a Sunday. And, you know, we had attended church. And our message that day was about Christ and and the sum of his parables and this concept of the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek.

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: And I think it was my wife, my daughter suggested, well, maybe we should turn this on on the head. Maybe these aren’t terrible people. Maybe these are people who are really scared about their livelihoods and what’s happening. And we decided instead of being angry and hiding, we my wife and daughter made cookies and my sons and I got some hot chocolate together was a cold day. I was carrying a giant one of those orange like five gallon coolers full of hot chocolate.

Amanda Ripley: And the Gatorade challenge was kind of.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Like the Gatorade thing. And then my son came out with me and he had a tray of cookies and they were shocked. Like, at first I was like, Wait, is that him? You know, who is this? And we did have some some highway patrol members who were there, part of the governor’s detail who were there to keep our family safe and told they were not excited that we were going out.

Speaker 1: But so I bet they were.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: So immediately there’s this reaction and then there’s like some laughter. And I just said, Hey, we just wanted to do something. And there was kind of just a stunned silence, like the.

Amanda Ripley: Right off.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Guard. Yeah, they knew they were supposed to yell at me, and eventually a couple of them did it. But it was mostly there were mostly just smiles and kind of this, you know, I don’t I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with this. This was not part of the plan. This was not what we expected. And we talked for a minute. I didn’t stay very long. But but but just long enough to to share a few words with them. And and then we walked back in and that was it. But but I hope, at least for a moment, it changed some some hearts.

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Amanda Ripley: Here’s our first rule for politicians who want to defy the culture of contempt, step out of the dance, do the opposite of what your intuition tells you to do. It interrupts the conflict and makes people stop and think, if only for a second. And that second can make all the difference.

Speaker 1: Oh, gosh, yeah. I mean, I was well, while the governor was talking, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a constituent some months ago. He he called me at home and he was just very, very angry about something that had happened in his home town. And at one point, he was just like, you know, screaming at me and and he said, and you you government types, you government types, you’re always, you know, fill in the blank. And, you know, I got so angry. And you know, luckily, the question that came out was one that was fundamentally rooted in curiosity. And I think curiosity is a way for us to get out of these traps. Right. And so I’m sure I did not say it in a very kind way, but I said, How much do you think I make? Right. And he was like, Well, I’m sure you’re raking it in. Like all you elected officials. You only do it for the money.

Amanda Ripley: How much is that? Can I ask?

Speaker 1: It’s about 12. 12. And he got really quiet. He said, Why then?

Amanda Ripley: Then he had a question for you. That’s awesome.

Speaker 1: You did? You had a question for me. He said, Why do you do it? I said, I do it because I love serving my community. And he said, Oh. Oh, well, that’s. I saw what I thought he did not cut and and and write. And so it was this moment of my exasperation. Not the better of me, but at least I asked a question because I think questions help.

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Amanda Ripley: Here’s our next takeaway. Ask questions, get curious. Even maybe especially when you don’t want to. We know from the research that that’s the best way to de-escalate situations, no matter if you’re on the Senate floor or your living room floor. But what happens when your opponent doesn’t believe you should be afforded the same basic rights? What then? When we come back, Senator Balint tells us about the time she and her wife drove up to their new home and noticed the neighbor’s anti-gay sign. Don’t go anywhere.

Amanda Ripley: We’re back with Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Vermont State Senator Becca Balint. So far, we’ve been talking about how to be civil over policy disagreements or attack ads. But how do you take the high road when you disagree over something that’s really at the core of who you are? Senator Balint told one such story in a recent ad. When we first moved.

Speaker 1: Into our house here in Brattleboro, the neighbor across.

Amanda Ripley: The fence.

Speaker 1: Had an anti-gay sign. I get out of the car and I’m pregnant. And at that moment, I felt like.

Amanda Ripley: How are we going to make this work?

Speaker 1: I. It was really scared about how we were going to make it work. And I felt a lot of buyer’s remorse and felt like, well, no way, exactly. And he was very, very gruff what we’d say, an old school Vermonter, you know, and he would say to me, you know, Becca, you know, when I first ran for office, it’s like, I will never vote for you. Like, I am I am a Republican. I will never vote for you. I said, I understand. I understand. And he would, you know, try to find those things to get me hooked. He would try to sprinkle the conversation with things that would get me riled up but wouldn’t take the bait. Just, you know, we tried to find the things that we had in common. We loved history. We also loved motorcycles. And I used to fix up old cars. And and over time, you know, we got to be friendly with each other. We knew each other’s families.

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Speaker 1: I heard him once talking to someone who was a possible renter. And I was on the other side of the fence and the other side of the hedge. And I was breaking the would be neighbors. People are going to rent the space. Said to him, Well, you know, how are the neighbors? And he sort of nodded his head over towards our house. He said, Those those are the best neighbors you’ll you’ll ever have. Nodding towards us. Wow. And I don’t think he ever changed his views on homosexuality. I know that he never voted for me, but I know all of those conversations over the fence and taking care of each other. And he would come over and plow our driveway sometimes and we would shovel the walk when he got sick. And those little moments of connection really do matter.

Speaker 1: The governor said something earlier about how those gestures of kindness are often seen as weakness. And I actually think they’re incredible signs of strength, you know, internal strength and fortitude when you are confident enough in yourself and who you are and your place in the world to be able to step outside of yourself and say, here is this person who I just disagreed with on the floor about an issue that we both feel so passionately about. And I can step back and say, Hey, let me buy you lunch or let me buy you a cup of coffee. And it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on, you know, my position on a policy. It’s that I’m seeing this person as more than just that one issue that we are fighting about.

Amanda Ripley: It’s easier to do that, you know, on the phone or in person. Very hard to do that on social media.

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Amanda Ripley: Which leads me to ask you, Governor Cox, you you’re you’re a big time user of Twitter. In fact, I think your your local paper once said it may be the only thing you have in common with Donald Trump. You’ve posted like 38,000 tweets. How do you manage that? How do you do Twitter and not be a jerk?

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Well, it’s getting harder all the time. You know, I think that some of the same strategies we’ve we’ve talk about help now. I didn’t have staff running my Twitter. I still don’t. It was it was it’s really me. No one else has my log in. And I always believe that social media was being used incorrectly and that social media should be a reflection of who we are. That if you only knew me on Twitter and you met me in person, I would be exactly who you thought I was. And so, so, so. So I started doing that and and I would respond to people who were angry and upset and they didn’t expect it. First of all, they assumed that people would ignore it. They never expected to actually have an interaction. And it’s you know, it’s harder to hate people up close. And that worked for a long time until it didn’t and certainly when I became governor.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: And then just with the way the platform is changed and how much more, you know, toxic, I guess it’s it’s gotten over the past few years now. It’s almost impossible for me to stay in my replies and reply at all. And in fact, it’s it’s deeply unhealthy. I found over over time, even if you have thick skin or you think you have thick skin, you can only hear and read those messages telling you what a terrible person you are for so long until it starts to to actually harm your mental health.

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: And so I’ve had to change my, my, my interactions, sadly, over the over the past year. I mean, the replies a lot, lot less. And what I’ve had to do though is I always remember and it gets back to that humanity piece. We have an empathy crisis in our country, and I’m always trying to remember empathy. And so instead of replying in anger, I do have one solution that I will recommend to everybody, and that is I have a Twitter buddy, I’ve always had a Twitter buddy. And any time I’m ready to reply with something where my my blood’s boiling a little bit, I always send that either I don’t send it at all or I send it to my Twitter buddy. And I go, who will who will say thumbs up or thumbs down in the moment?

Amanda Ripley: That’s awesome. I love that. Yeah. So sort of give it a test run. Slow it down. Yeah.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Somebody who’s not in the moment with me, who’s outside of it and can see things clear eyed and and say, yeah, that’s an important response. And, and this goes back to something that the good senator said at the beginning. You know, there are and I want to be clear here, there are times for disagreement and there are times where we need to be passionate and we need to fight for what we believe in. But it should always be about ideas and not people. Right. We should. If you have to attack an idea, attack an idea, don’t attack the person. There are also times to defend and we should defend our ideas.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: But she mentioned a third time and it’s a time to be a peacemaker. And that’s what’s disappeared. The peacemaker piece of that equation is almost gone from our politics. We have defenders and we have fighters, but we have no peacemakers. And peacemaking is seen as weak today. When it’s the exact opposite, it’s it’s one of the. Artist things you can do, but also the most rewarding. And so I’m just begging for four more more peacemakers.

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Amanda Ripley: Right. And more sort of rewards for the peacemakers. Right. More encouragement, less loneliness.

Amanda Ripley: I do want to ask about how you decide when to defend and when to just turn the other cheek or let it go. I mean, Tucker Carlson came after you very personally, sort of classic bullying tactics, attacked you as weak, elitist. You know, I noticed that there was a pause before you responded, and then you did respond. But I got the sense it was with great care.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Sure. And that’s I wish there was a way to get this right all of the time. And I certainly haven’t figured out. We we talk often about when do you you know, when do you respond? Do you respond at all? How do you respond? For me, writing is really important. So if I if I can take time to sit down and write out my thoughts and my responses, the first draft is always angrier. And then I do. I pause and I wait. There will always be an opportunity to respond. We don’t have to be in every news cycle, and I have a good group of people around me to help take some of those edges off or decide when to leave some of those edges in. And then look at, you know, who you’re responding to.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: And, you know, I rarely dignify. I stopped watching cable news nine years ago. I’ve been sober for nine years and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. So I don’t want to play into that. You know, I don’t need to add fuel to that fire because you get trapped in that that loop that you talked about. And it’s it’s hard to get out. So if you never get in, you don’t have to worry about getting out. And that’s what I’m trying to realize. And it’s I’m learning.

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: I think we need to give politicians, public servants an opportunity to learn and grow and change. We do that in every other profession in this world. We we encourage it. We admire it. And here, if you learn or change, you’re a flip flopper or you’re weak or, you know, and we’ve got to change those those expectations. Sometimes you have to respond and you have to defend.

Amanda Ripley: You start to know when, right?

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Yeah, it is hard to know. But what I can always say is in the moment, you almost always get it wrong. It needs to be thoughtful.

Amanda Ripley: And true and.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Intentional.

Amanda Ripley: And your intuition is not a good compass.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: It’s that. That’s right. It is almost never the right response.

Amanda Ripley: Here’s our next insight. Both Governor Cox and Senator Balint have found that relationship and rapport are prerequisites to any constructive conflict. So they tend to engage where others might not on Twitter and even with homophobic neighbors across the fence. But they’ve also learned to limit their exposure to vitriol for their own mental health and to pause before responding to any attack. And what I hear you saying is you have a bunch of checks and balances on your ego and your intuition and your reactivity, including writing, which is a great one, very well supported in the research and also your your team and people you go to. And I assume also prayer and your spiritual faith.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: So much prayer.

Amanda Ripley: So important, right? Everyone I know who’s resisted high conflict has had some kind of practice of exercise or meditation or prayer. Governor Cox, any last advice for Senator Allen and other politicians, you know, in the heat of primary season here?

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Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: Well, just I want to thank the good senator for the example that she’s setting on the other side of the country. It’s nice to find people who who see the world this way and are working hard to make it better. I would just add this in closing, I had an incredible opportunity. The National Governors Association, we were at the Swiss ambassador’s residence in D.C. a couple of months ago, and he spoke to us and he talked about all the things the ambassadors talk about, trade with our countries, blah, blah, blah. But then he started talking about his view of the United States growing up and how the United States led through crises, through, you know, world wars and the space race, the Cold War and all of these incredible things that the United States had accomplished in leading the world.

Chris Peterson, Spencer Cox: And then he talked about how there are dark clouds on the horizon. This was just a couple of weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. And then he paused and he just he he spoke passionately about how he was worried that at the time, when the world needed the leadership of the United States the most, we were too busy fighting culture wars and hating each other to to actually lead the world. This stuff we’re talking about right now isn’t just an existential crisis for the United States and our politics. It’s an existential crisis for the rest of the world. And I had never seen it through that lens. It just hit me over the head that this is so much bigger than just, you know, do we feel good about ourselves and are we bickering? And so I would just leave that that this this what you post on Facebook tomorrow could really have consequences worldwide consequences months and years from now.

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Amanda Ripley: Yeah, I think we underestimate the power of that. And this is the race, right? I mean, yes, there’s the primaries or midterms. There’s a lot of race is happening. But I listening to you, I start to think that the real race is, can we get the exhausted majority? To be hopeful enough that they will do these things. Yes. Before things get worse. Yes. That feels like the race.

Speaker 1: Agreed. That is it. That is the big challenge before all of us. We cannot lose hope, Amanda. We just can’t.

Amanda Ripley: Is there any last thing you want to ask voters or regular people to do to support politicians like you?

Speaker 1: Yes. If you see somebody within your community who may be an elected official or may just be a leader of an organization, and you see them doing something that is contributing in a positive way. Drop them an actual card or an email or a phone call and say, Hey, I saw you do this thing and it really matters. Thank you for doing that. Oh, my gosh. It will change my whole day. My whole day, really, when I’m like, get beat up. Those things really matter to those of us in public service.

Amanda Ripley: Thank you to Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Vermont State Senator Becca Balint for finding time in their busy schedules to take off the gloves and help us figure this out. We’ll link to their websites in the show notes. Are you trying to make peace with your problems? Send us a note at how to at slate.com or leave us a voicemail at 6464954001. And we’d love to have you on the show. If you like what you heard today, please let us know. Give us a rating and a review and tell a friend that helps us help more people. How TOS Executive Producer Is Derek John Rosemary Belson produces the show with help from Katie Shepherd. Our theme music is by Hannah Brown, remixed by Merritt Jacob. Our technical director. Charles Darwin created this show. I’m Amanda Ripley. Thanks for listening.