“Ordinary Republican and Democratic voters don’t disagree about public policy much more than they used to, but they still fear and loathe each other more than at any point in our nation’s modern history.”
Eric Levitz in New York magazine, Oct. 21, 2018
As I covered the presidential campaign in 2016, it appeared that the country was organized along battle lines; people no longer saw other Americans as fellow citizens if they happened to hold differing beliefs. In a 2018 study, the Rand Corporation identified a phenomenon they termed “truth decay,” marked by increasing disagreement about facts and a rise in the influence of opinion over data. One of the consequences of these trends is “the erosion of civil discourse throughout American society.” The report notes that such dialogue, while it does not need to be polite, “should be informed and honest, with all participants approaching the conversation with an open mind, a willingness to hear alternative viewpoints, and a commitment to reaching a constructive outcome.” Divisions like the ones apparent during the 2016 campaign, which have only worsened in the following years, erect barriers to civil discourse and ultimately threaten the survival of our democratic society.
In an effort to counter these forces, I set out to meet my fellow citizens while I continued to cover the 2016 campaign. I conducted long interviews with dozens of people as I traveled across the country, learning about their hopes and fears for the nation and making their portraits with instant film in a large format camera. The discrete physical flaws inherent to the medium evoke the individuality of each person, and the long, deliberate process tested our commitment. We invested the time to engage in honest conversation with open minds, and formed a connection with each other based on mutual respect despite, in some cases, our differing opinions. As I worked on the project through the campaign I felt hopeful that connection on a national level is possible, and my goal in presenting this work is to encourage Americans to engage with the ‘other’ in their daily lives. I want Americans to recognize that people they may disagree with are human beings, which creates the opportunity to act like one themselves.