MARA Season 2 Episode 2
Samia: You’re listening to Make America Relate Again, presented by Better Angels Media. I’m Samia Mounts.
If you tuned in last week, you caught the one and only conversation that I will be having in this season. From here on out, you’ll only hear me moderating conversations that other people are having, and I’m really looking forward to sharing the wealth of different perspectives I have lined up for you.
The two gentlemen you’ll be listening to this week came to me through Better Angels, the wonderful nonprofit that has brought my little podcast into their family. Greg Smith and Kouhyar Mostashfi met through Better Angels, at their second ever workshop event last April, in Ohio, where they both live. Born and raised in rural Waynesville, Ohio, Greg is a flaming red conservative and a devout Christian - although, as he’ll readily tell you, he wasn’t always religious. To paraphrase him, he had to be bad before he could be good. He was a police officer for ten years, and a police chief for four, and he describes himself as “passionate about God, family, country, and friendships.”
Kouhyar is an equally flaming blue liberal, and a Muslim. He’s a member of the Warren County Ohio Democratic Party and the blue co-chair of Better Angels Southwest Ohio Alliance. He currently lives in Springsboro, Ohio, and his family originally hails from Iran.
So how the hell did two dudes like this end up becoming close friends, when there is so much they really super passionately disagree on? I sent a recording engineer out of Cincinnati to Kouhyar’s home to record them talking about their unlikely friendship, and the result was endlessly inspiring. Let’s check it out.
Samia: Greg and Kouhyar, welcome to Make America Relate Again.
Kouhyar: Thank you.
Samia: Why don't you both go ahead and introduce yourselves so the listeners know your voices?
Kouhyar: My name is Kouhyar Mostashfi and I'm a blue co-chair of Better Angels Southwest Ohio Alliance.
Greg: My name's Greg Smith. Red co-chair of the Southwest Ohio Alliance of Better Angels and I live in Waynesville, which is north of Cincinnati, south of Dayton, Ohio.
Samia: Now, your story, I think, is very, very compelling and I wanna share it with the listeners. Why don't you guys - and you can switch off who's telling however you'd like - but tell us how you met, how you became friends.
Greg: Okay. Started at a workshop. It was shortly after the election of President Trump winning, and there was an organization looking for some volunteers to come and participate in this workshop to where we could try to learn how to be civil to one another and find out what made the other one vote the way they did in that election. And so there was a multitude of ways of going about it. They had different programs in it: a fishbowl and question and answer period. We come to the point where we were looking at what we would do when we left there as a group to make things better in the country, what we'd do as a pair, and what we'd do as a single person ourselves. So as the pair went, we sat red/blue alternating, and I look to the left and there was a millennial sitting beside me there and I have a son that's a millennial so I didn't feel like I could learn much from him 'cause I already learned a lot from my son. So I look to my right and there's Kouhyar. He'd been a nice gentleman throughout the thing and I just asked if he'd be my partner and we'll have a discussion. I asked Kouhyar if he wanted to be my partner and he said yes. We had to figure out what we were going to do as a pair and I got this idea that I just didn't know much about him, but the first thing I said was, I said, "The first question I have for you, Kouhyar," and it was four initials. It was I-S-I-S. ISIS. He held his hand up and he said "Stop right there." He said "My religion has been hijacked." That triggered something in my mind and I said, "You know what? So has mine." We both realized right away that we have extremes, extremists on both sides, the right and the blue, and we won't name names on them today, but they're out there. They're people that are just extremists and ISIS would be one but not necessarily blue, but they're an extremist. So we have other things like that. I'll name another one. KKK claims to be a part of the right. Well, I got bad news for the KKK. You're not, okay? So we had the like-mindedness of things and I thought... Another thing I said, I said, “I would be interested to know more about your background and the Middle East and all that. It's such a confusing thing to most Americans to even try to figure it out." I said "In doing that, I would like for you to know my background and I would invite you to come to my church. It's a Christian faith church. I would love to see you come and just see what we do and how we react and what we do." And I said, "In turn, then, I would go to a mosque with you to try to better understand your culture and things of that nature." He agreed to it and we presented it to the Better Angels and it was accepted as a great idea. It got a great applause. From that moment on, we've just worked at it. I'll let Kouhyar pick it up from there.
Kouhyar: Yes, so to kinda give my side of the story, I am a member of Warren County Democratic Party and I've been active since President Obama's election campaign doing a lot of volunteer work and work on some local issues here in Ohio. As you could imagine, the results of the election was very upsetting for me. I was angry. I was devastated. I didn't have any interaction with any conservative or any Republican. I have friends and co-workers that are Republicans, but my tendency has always been to keep it to myself and don't get into discussions because with the level of polarization that we have in our country, unfortunately, a lot of people are afraid of engaging one another. After the election, I was very upset and I heard from our chairperson at the Democratic Party that the lead organizer of Better Angels was looking for some participant to participate in a workshop, a weekend workshop to kinda understand each other, listen to each other, and find out why each side held their belief and why they voted the way they voted. I was very curious to see why the other side made that choice, so I accepted the invitation and throughout the weekend, we went through exercises and workshops. Right off the bat, I met Greg and he was a very nice man, wanting to know about me and my background. We had some interactions throughout the weekend. Like he said, at the end, where we were supposed to come up with some action items, both individually and as a group, we paired up together and his idea of understanding about my background and my religion and willing to share his beliefs really resonated with me and I really started respecting him in that regard because when someone shows interest in your beliefs, they are basically inviting you to their space and they're leading you to engage with them in a constructive way. My experience, going back to the mid-'90s where I immigrated from Iran, has always been that Christians always have written me off as a Muslim. They had to tolerate me. Deep down, they always figured that their religion is the true religion and Muslims have lost their ways and that they are not gonna be saved and rhetorics like that and beliefs like that. Seeing a true believer from the Christianity showing interest in me really got me interested. We started, after that weekend, to get together over lunch or various activities and dig deep in why we are holding our beliefs and what are we made of. It's been an amazing journey. One thing that you gotta consider when you want to engage with someone in a political discussion is you need to start compartmentalizing different topics. You can't jump into the whole thing and start debating everything at the same time because that tends to not produce anything helpful. One thing that him and I, Greg and I, have been doing ever since was trying to break down through the stereotypes that each side has from the other side and kinda debunk them and at the same time, try to identify whether there are any truth to these stereotypes. For example, a lot of blues look at the reds as homophobic or racist or overtly nationalistic, and a lot of reds regard blues as baby killers and godless people or unpatriotic, and we decided to speak through topics like immigration, through our faith, just social issues, trying to understand where each of us are coming from. Throughout these discussions, we realized that we have a lot in common. We could get into details further, but for example, in immigration, we are very much in common. Or, for example, over the issue of abortion, there are commonalities. Over education, there are commonalities. I think going through it piece by piece and topic by topic has really helped us come up with a good understanding of each side.
Greg: I'm also very strong in my faith, my Christian faith. I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. I was really amazed because when I first started talking to Kouhyar about our faith, our differences in faith, it's like, well, yeah, he believes in Jesus Christ and he believes in the Virgin Mary, and all that type of stuff that I just never even knew they... I just thought they denied, but we come to find out that he prays to one god, I pray to one god. We both agree there is but one god. The thing that makes us different is there's a perception of who that god is and how he came about, so we have - that's our common ground. We worked on our common ground. We've got that. The God, the one God, when we get there, he's gonna tell us if one of us or neither of us were right or if both of us were right, but I'm gonna say that one of us may not have it right. But then, neither of us are the judge and God is. I just leave that to God. So, we’re humans. We're here in the flesh. We're working together in this world and in this country, so we've got enough to know that respect, humanity, and civility, and all these things is what we treat with each other. The politics end of things, he's right. We agree a lot on a lot of the issues. Some of the fiscal type issues, we vary on and some of the individual people that are running, even on my party that I can't stand, a while ago, he was defending one of our locals here and I'm like "I ain't doing it. I don't trust the man." I said "If you start trusting him, he'll do you in the back like he did us." We had that discussion just a little bit ago. The more we're together, the more we're finding out that things can be - matter of fact, I told him, if you ran against that politician we were just talking about a minute ago who claims to be a Republican or whatever he claims to be, I would vote Kouhyar before I'd vote for that guy because I trust Kouhyar. I trust him because he's forthwith with his beliefs and he sticks to his word and he's a great man. He is a great man. That's how I see that.
Samia: Have there been any political issues that you really don't agree on that have been sort of stumbling blocks in your friendship that you've managed to work through or not? Have there been any big issues that are personal for either one of you where you really had to stretch yourselves to understand?
Kouhyar: I think one of the sticking points to date is the fact that Greg sees President Trump as someone very competent and someone who has the best interest of the country and has a very high regard of him. I still am extremely skeptical and do not trust his motivation. We have exchanged ideas. We try to understand each other and we kinda take the 'Let's agree to disagree' stance on this particular topic, but it wasn't without deep discussions and conversations. We've had our discussions about it, and both sides presented their case and some of it really goes back to your gut feeling. When something gets that internalized and there is really no defense or no explanation for it, when someone says that, “Well, I trust him no matter what the media or what everybody else says about that person. I have a positive feeling about that person." And vice versa, when I say that I just don't trust him. Some of these are very primitive and internal feelings that, I guess, when you think about any political topic, these emotional feelings get in the way and a lot of people hold their political beliefs primarily based on their emotions and their feelings more than the facts and numbers and figures. That is an example where we haven't been able to bridge the divide. Or, for example, over the issue of abortion, that's another topic that I don't believe personally in abortions and Greg is someone who is extremely against it. I don't reserve judgment on people. I let people decide - women decide for themselves whether they need to perform that procedure or not. I leave it to them, their doctors, their family, and their god, whereas Greg, who's coming from a very conservative thinking, has a complete objection to it. That was another area where we discussed it, but we wouldn't be able to necessarily change each other's mind or come to an agreement because, I guess, the job is not to change each other's mind. What we're trying to do is to understand each other, because the point is not really for everyone to start thinking the same. The point is for people to have various beliefs but then we have a mutual agreement on certain issues and be able to use synergy to build up on each other's strength. Each political thinking brings something to the table, something positive to the table, and it is important for both sides to hold their convictions but then at the same time be able to agree on some issues and have common ground.
Greg: The abortion thing, it's simple on my part. I'm a true man of faith and my faith, and I just believe that God has a plan for every thing that happens. We have choice here in the flesh to do the things that we want to do, so Satan rules this Earth in the way I believe, and he's gonna be the ruler of bad decisions and he's going to be the ruler of bad choice. When we do bad things, then bad things are gonna happen. We just have to - I have to give things to God, so the partial abortion or whatever all these other late-terms and all that stuff... You make a choice, God's got a plan. He's got a backup. You don't know - as far as abortion goes, you don't know who you're killing. It might've been the president that was gonna run this year that Kouhyar would've voted for. That's how I see it. God has a plan and we gotta let things go according to his plan. That sums up my whole thing on abortion, period. Back in the old days, and you have to know the old me before I gave my life to Christ, I probably could've flexed on this a little bit more. In fact, I probably did at times. It was a whole different thing then. Once you give your life to Christ and you give up the old, you repent and you start doing His way. The Trump thing, let's see. I just see Donald Trump as a man that's very sincere, has way more to lose than he ever has to gain, at least in revenue and monetarily... I think he's sincere. I think he really is a patriot. He really does love this country. I have not seen anything that reinforces some of the things that people say. "He's a racist. He's a bigot. He's all of this stuff." For the things that he's done in his past before he ever ran for president, I believe one of his first, or maybe his first bodyguard, was a black police officer from New York City. I know for a fact because she was there and she did it, and I can't remember her name, but the first woman to ever manage a major construction job like the Trump Towers was the main engineer or the main construction oversight, and that was a woman. He gave that job to a woman. They may have had a falling out or something later, I guess, I don't know. But nonetheless, he hired her and he put her in charge of building the Trump Tower. So I think - and all the good things that he's done, charitable things that he's done, before he ever ran for president, and now that he is president, he still does charitable things. And he doesn't have to do the things he's doing. I just believe he's sincere. I was a Cruz person before Trump and they took a lot of punches at each other in the primaries, as did all of 'em. It was kinda like a gang bang on Trump there for a while. I think everybody - he was just fighting 'em all. I think Trump knows exactly his next move. I think Trump is always about three steps ahead of everyone else. I think sometimes he plays the media. He's a puppeteer. I believe he owns the media. I believe he owns about everything that's going on in the political realm and he's not even a politician. I just don't know. I think he's sincere. I believe in the man. I think if I was president, I'd probably be a lot like him 'cause sometimes I spout off and say things and I take it back, but once the word's released, it's out there, right? So the thing to do is to try to look beyond that and see what the real intentions are. What did he really mean? What did he really do that for? Usually, about three or five days later, you'll come to find out, "Now I know why he did that" or "Now I know why he said that." I support Trump a lot.
Kouhyar: Regarding the points that Greg is making regarding President Trump, I can see clearly that he has a positive bias towards him and because of that, he's willing to interpret a lot of his actions in a positive light. This is a perfect example of when you have a positive energy or positive belief towards some concept or somebody, you tend to be very forgiving of the shortcomings, and also be very generous of the strength. I wish, and I'm not personally attacking Greg on this, but I wish our conservative friends held the same amount of positive energy and the benefit of the doubt towards President Obama when he was in office, the same amount that they're holding for President Trump. This double standard is really what muddies the water about President Trump. He claimed a lot of things during his election campaign. He accused Secretary Clinton of the lot of atrocities and a lot of negativity that when I hear them, I saw it as if like he's raising the bar. He, during his primary and his presidential election, Donald Trump raised the bar of integrity and honesty so much that now I want to hold him to the bar that he set. Because according to his bar, Secretary Clinton was nowhere near achieving that bar. And now, after the election, I do not see any amount of honesty or integrity and any level of... I don't see the same level that he held Secretary Clinton the way he should be holding himself and his cabinet and the people that work around him. This goes back to you want to cheer for your team and you tend to close your eyes and ignore the negativity and you just want to embellish the positivity. And some of it is natural. I remember when President Obama was president, if there was a negative news or something like a scandal or something brewing, thank God there was hardly a scandal during President Obama, but if if the media were picking up the slightest of negative news, I would try to shut it down or not pay attention to it, because I saw him as my team. Part of the problem is we are putting ourselves in these teams and we have made politics into a team sport, and that is just very unhelpful, because there is no black and white. If I look at the Republican Party as something utterly false, and I regard the Democratic Party as the ultimate truth, and then Greg does the same thing in reverse, we will never see any common ground. Ever since I've got involved with these discussions with Greg, I've always tried to kind of take a step back and try to listen to him and try to understand where is he coming from. And don't immediately have an answer for what he has to say, because when you're developing an answer, you are not listening. And right now, Greg and I get into a lot of discussions, but I'm less inclined to give him an answer or punch back, because that's not the point anymore. We are trying to find the common ground and find what we can work on and what we can build on as opposed to keep picking things and make them huge issues.
Greg: Well, and that kind of... I remember the exact moment, I think, that we climaxed on that point, and that was in that car ride home from Columbus, Ohio, one day. And that's also the day, and he's going to get me afterwards, but that's the day that I tagged him as the mad Iranian and I'm the crazy Christian, because I mean to tell you, you talk about it, say, he got very out of the Better Angels spirit and he was pointing that finger and he was blooey; he went to blue in the face and comparing Trump's - accusations against Trump to the Clinton accusations, the Bill Clinton accusation, and things like that. And I just wasn't prepared for that, and it was very intensified. But it was good, it was all in good humor and fun. And I don't know, it was good. It was good to see him get passionate about something. But Donald Trump, the one thing that he's done as far as raising the bar, first of all, you say Hillary and trust goes out the window, I'm sorry. I invite any media person or any Democrat politician to dare look me in the eyes and tell me that Benghazi wasn't a scandal. I dare any of them to find me and ask me that. I've got my evidence ready if they want to bring theirs.
Kouhyar: I'm not a politician but I could tell you it wasn't a scandal.
Greg: See, that's why I didn't include you. I left you out because you're not a politician or media. And we've already had this discussion. But nonetheless, Trump has done everything... You want to talk about trust, you may not like it, but a lot of things that he said he was going to do, he's doing. And they didn't like it when he campaigned on it, the people didn't like it then, don't like it now, because he's doing it. If Trump had his way, we probably, it's possible that we wouldn't have just had all this rhetoric that went on about the ripping children away from their so-called, alleged parents at the border, because Trump would have done had the wall started. And that resolves that problem right there, because you have no choice but to enter at legal points. So we've not, Kouhyar, we've not touched on that one fully there, but we both have the same thing. We don't want to see children ripped away. I had a three-year-old daughter ripped away from me. It was nonsense. And she just was able to go down to the court system and she just made a lot of lies and made accusations and ripped my three-year-old baby right away from me. I had to, before they were able to get her out of my hands, I was able to get her to two hospitals and get a wellness check on her. And social workers had to talk to her, interview her, interview me. We went through two full 48 hours of of Justice. I ended up winning that court case. The truth came out and I ended up getting custody of that little girl. I was a police officer for 10 years, I ended up that tenure with four years of being a police chief. And in this country, when you break the law, we separate... I've separated children away from adults many times, it's just what you have to do. And I believe the crimes are being committed on the border. You have to take the babies away. Now, Trump, you want me get on Trump a little bit, I think he caved. He should have held his ground on it, because what they're doing down there from what I can see and being a police officer, I look at facts. Facts and facts only. I don't listen to the media because I don't trust them. I try to gauge things on by reading the law, looking at other sources and listening to other people that I do trust. You enter legally down there, you're okay. But I know, I've seen situations where somebody will pick up a kid and claim this is my kid. They do it here in this country. They just, all the time people were abusing children, the trafficking and all that type of stuff, and they’ll say, "Yeah, this is my kid." They have to vet. We want vetting and they have to vet. There's a process. I listen to the rangers, I usually listen to the people that are on the job, and that's where I get my information from. I have a great passion and I'm very compassionate about these children getting ripped away from their parents, if indeed they are getting ripped. But let me tell you this about the ones have been taken away. I would venture to say 90% or more of those kids have never had it better or they wouldn't be coming here from where they were. They've never had it better. If you want to call it a cage, or if you want to call it whatever, they got a mat to sleep on, they're getting food, they're getting medical attention, they're getting all the attention that they need to be taken care of. So don't tell me that they had it better where they came from, because I just don't believe it. I'm not going to believe it.
Kouhyar: This is again one of those situations where both sides have a completely different perspective on it. I respect Greg, but I could not quite follow his reasoning behind this topic. We're kind of talking after the fact right now, because President Trump realized how much of a disaster this policy was, so he reversed course and he did a course correction. But basically, it comes down to a simple fact that when people outside of our borders are in a very tricky and dangerous positions and they come and they ask for help, we need to open our arms and help them. And if, even if they enter the country illegally, it is not our job to separate the children from their parents and put the children away and put the parents away and make the matter worse. We need to deal with the whole immigration issue from a place of compassion as opposed to a place that we are giving these people favors and they owe us the world because they are entering this country. No. A lot of people that come to any country as refugees, they are in desperate situations and they are coming out of desperation and nobody is willing to leave their homeland and come as a refugee so that they mooch on another country or to become a burden. That is not their state of mind when they're coming here. And I'm glad that President Trump finally came to his senses, I think the way he deals with situations is he has made a bunch of campaign promises and he is willing to take a lot of issues hostage because he wants to achieve his end goal. Donald Trump wants this wall to be built, and until this wall is built, he is willing to do any tactic possible to achieve that goal, even if it costs the reputation of the United States, if it costs the humanity of the United States, he doesn't care. He wants to achieve his campaign promise. But then at the end of the day, I'm glad he reversed course and he realized that that was not the best course of action to treat these children the way they were treated.
Greg: And I'm going to jump in right there before I lose my thought on that. He said he is willing to do whatever it takes even to separate families or whatever, so now, what he's done, and I don't believe he intended to do it this way, but I think he has a plan, two or three, five days from here, a week from here. But I'll throw in there, even if it costs a little child to be molested while she's in a cage with a man that she doesn't even know, but the man claims it to be his daughter. That's why you have to have vetting, that's why you have cops, that's why you have investigations. That's why whenever we'd stop a person or find an adult, a man that's 18, 19, 20 years old and he's got a girl in the car with him and she looks to be under the age and she has no identification, that's why we investigate, that's why the first thing we do is separate them. If there's more than two people, we separate them all. We get four stories instead of two stories, we find out, "Are you supposed to be here?" I remember one specific case, had two guys, two girls both of them were under age. They had beer, they were drinking, they weren't hurting anybody, but they might have been hurting themselves. We got them separated, the guys stories didn't match. We were able to get hold of the parents. The girls were both, I think around 15 years old. Both guys were around 19, 18 to 20 years old. That's a situation right there, if they just took their word for it and don't investigate, then who knows what would have happened to these little girls? The mom and dad eventually came down, picked up the two girls and the two guys went to jail. That's why I see this the way I see it. If you want things, if you want to keep your kids, if they are your kids, what do you got to hide? Come in the right way, just like Kouhyar did, come here the right way. Come here the legal way, don't be looking for a crack in the fence somewhere. Don't be looking for a way to sneak in, don't pick up this innocent little child, don't buy a kid over in Mexico or El Salvador or wherever they come from. You've got to vet, you have to investigate. You have to make sure you're doing the right thing. It is just as bad to leave a small child, I keep saying girl, it's just as bad to leave a small child in a cage or a room or place with a perpetrator or a rapist or anything like that as it is to separate them.
Samia: I want to say real quick Greg, and I'm sure Kouhyar you might have been thinking this too, but I think it's worth saying. We've never prosecuted illegal border crossers as criminals the way the administration now is, and you're drawing a lot of parallels between criminals like rapists, with undocumented immigrants, which is, I think, an unfair comparison.
Kouhyar: Yeah. I totally agree. I used to live in a country that have seen the wrath of war and being in a desperate situation. And I understand when people migrate or attempt to migrate to another country as a refugee, time is not on their disposal. They have to pack up and leave and sometimes enter another country illegally because they are desperate. There are two ways of looking at any human interaction. We could look at humans as black and white, they either do the absolute right thing or they do the absolute wrong thing, or we could look at the gray areas. Unfortunately, in this situation, the humanity of the situation's being ignored, those gray areas are being ignored. These people do not have time to apply for an immigrant visa to come to this country legally. I wanted to come to the United States ever since I was 13 years old, and guess when I came, I was 21 years old when I came. Coming to America legally takes time, and I'm all for that, I'm all for legal immigration, but I think we need to separate when people try to flee a dangerous situation and come to this country as refugees, then people that have their time on their hands and they can apply for immigrant visa and wait for several years, sometimes tens of years to come here. That's the important distinction that needs to be made.
Greg: Okay. And I'm going to answer you directly with that. First of all, the previous administration and/or previous administrations, we had the catch-and-release program. And I don't have it in front of me so I'm not dare going to try to explain it in depth, but there’s a situation where you just catch the people and they were separated, and then they let ‘em go, so they get on through. And then secondly, the thing about... And in Jordan right now, and this is a side thing, but in Jordan right now, I know that they have a fence at a part of their border, where they actually keep the people on the other side. Now, they're supposed to be in danger also from the people that are attacking them, but Jordan, they use cranes, I believe, check me if I'm wrong because Kouhyar is gonna know this better than me. They use cranes to lift supplies and food and everything over that fence. They still can't come into their territory, but they do do that. Now, first of all, I don't see enemies or whatever it is, these people with guns are the dangers. I don't see them right on their tail, it's not like they're chasing them right up to the border and killing them, okay? So they're safe there, it would seem. But I'll tell you when they really are safe. Once they get through, once they get captured, now you're safe. Guess what? The enemy, you can't use that anymore. There is no enemy on your tail anymore. They're on the other side of the border. The only way they're going to get here is violently through the way you just came in secretively, so they are safe. You are safe. Let's stop. Let's look it over. Let's make sure, and guess what? If you're telling the truth and everything is right, they're put back together. So it's just a temporary thing. These people that I arrested and had to put their kid in children services and all that stuff, eventually, most of them were put back with their parents, but the parent had to go get their head right. They had to go get fixed. They had to go serve time or the other parent took ‘em, after she could prove she was capable of keeping them safe. she, but he and she, had to prove that they were capable of take caring of them. And in America here, you go into a house, people, usually, there's no disputing that's your kid, so you don't have that aspect of it. But you do have, the first thing you have to do is protect the child. And the reason I get on Donald Trump so much on this is, I think he caved and we don't know now who those kids are with. We don't know if that's their father, we don't know if that's their mother. That's the scary part. The number one thing, and I'm sure Donald Trump intends to protect the children, he loves children, and he wants to take care of them and protect them. So I think once they're across the border, you can't use the fleeing from danger thing anymore, because you're in America now, and we will, we do, and always have taken care of every people here and abroad. We're the number one country in this world, since we've been a country, that takes care of other people better than sometimes they take care of themselves, so I'm pretty passionate about that.
Samia: But why are we treating immigrant asylum seekers the same way we would treat a violent criminal?
Greg: Because that's just their word. All you have is their word. You have a guy that runs up and tells you, "Somebody’s chasing me. Somebody's chasing me," and all that type of stuff. There's been cases where there's been a bank robber inside a place and they came out and act like they was part of the hostage and got away. So if somebody comes up to you, just - it's all about vetting. It's all about making sure that this is an accurate and true thing, and it just takes a little bit of time in comparison to a lifetime. It just takes a matter of maybe a day, hours or weeks. But whatever it takes, you're safe. If your story pans out, you're gonna be okay. And what the parents ought to do in these situations, I know the little girl crying and all that kind of stuff, hold them up, give them a big hug, give them that reassuring thing, like you do when you have to take your kid to the babysitter for the first time, or school for the first time. Give them a big hug and a kiss and tell them everything is going to be okay. It's up to them to reassure the child, "You're in good hands now. Daddy, Mommy will see you on the other side. We'll see you in a little bit. Everything is going to be okay." I just don't feel comfortable leaving these kids with somebody, asylum or illegally or anything. If they're coming in for asylum, I think they still have to be vetted. You still have to check the validity of their story. I know there's differences and all that, but I believe that the government's intentions are good.
Samia: But do they need to be separated from their kids while you're vetting them?
Greg: You know, for the pure reason that you don't know who you're vetting until they've been vetted. That's where it's different than Americans. You know that, I mean, nine times out of ten, you go on a house where there's a disturbance, you know that's their kids. He says it's their kids, she says it’s their kids, their neighbors says it’s their kid. They say, "Yeah, that's my mommy, that's my daddy." I don't know. There's signs of evidence. You have to collect evidence, you have to understand and see. "No, this is the neighbor's kid." You'll figure it out, but it takes time. But until then, if there's some harm, domestic violence or something, or this kid doesn't really belong to that man or woman, yeah. I say keep them apart until you know because, in the meantime, who says that person doesn't take the child as a hostage or something? I mean you just have to be careful. You can't assume anything, I think. I just don't believe you should assume that everything is as they say it is and check it out and confirm and double confirm and make certain. Because that child's life is worth it.
Kouhyar: As Greg was responding, I figured I give you the best example of how the Better Angels discussion would come and solve this runaway train of a discussion.
Kouhyar: In any political discussion, and this was a clear example of that, both sides stick to their talking points and they just go at it and the goal is to defeat the other person. I could sit here and respond to every sentence that Greg had with my examples and my counterarguments, but at this point I'm not gonna do that. What I'm gonna do instead is: Greg, I listened to what you said. What I learned from all your argument is that it is important for you, for people that come to this country to be vetted because you do not want the criminals to come to this country. I respect that. I do know that you do not have personal grudges against helpless people that want to come to this country and seek refuge. So what I learned from Greg is that the fact that he wants a vetting system in place in our immigration system is important to him and is important to me. It's important to every American. We do not want criminals to come to this country. And by criminal, I think Greg and I can agree that we mean law breakers, murderers, drug dealers. And not a criminal by the definition of the immigration court. So the common ground here is we both want a compassionate system for our immigration system. But then at the same time we want some sort of vetting, and it is up to politicians to work together to come up with that system. Because I'm not going to say that this is a Republican problem or it's a Democrat problem. Both sides have been culprit in letting the immigration get out of hand and get to the point that it is. And it is up to both sides to get their head together and come up with a comprehensive solution. Because if we just believe that one side has the answer and one side holds the truth, we will never get anywhere.
Greg: I wanna say this. There's a cartoon I used to watch. It's a sheepdog and the sheep, okay? Or the shepherd and the wolf, that's what it was. And they'd clock in. So the shepherd then had to protect the sheep and the wolf's job was to get the sheep. So they battled all through that cartoon, they battled each other all the time, and they beat the crap out of each other in there. But then at the end of the day, they both clocked out and they went off and probably had dinner together like Kouhyar and I. We're gonna get out of here in a few minutes, we're gonna share a pizza together. And I'm gonna have pork on my side and he's not on his side or something like that. I don't know. That's one of my crazy Christian moments. But I'll say this. Kouhyar's exactly right, what he just said, and I'll guarantee you if we had Better Angels, if we could pick a Better Angels panel of a 100 people or 50 or 25, we'd fix this way sooner than what our politicians are working on it. And let's leave the President out of it and let's just talk about our Senators and Congressman and I'm guaranteeing you if we could do this, we would figure this out. Us Better Angels. And he's shaking his head yes. I know he agrees. There are so many things. We've figured out the gun control thing. We've - everything that's put before us, we come up to a nearly 80% agreement on things. Some things maybe even 100%. But hardly anything can we not at least reach 75, 80% agreement.
Kouhyar: Yeah, because the idea is we both have a lot in common. Both sides have so much in common, and unfortunately, that aspect of it is not being shown in today's society. The media and the politicians are excited to point out our differences. But the fact of the matter is, Americans, red and blue, agree on awful lot of issues and because of this bloodsport and this nature of today's politic, we don't get to build on our mutual agreements. And the very first thing that Greg and I always do is to, you know, after venting and you know, get all our rhetorics out, then try to listen to each other and say that, "Okay. Where can we agree? Where is our starting point where we can have a consensus and let's build on that."
Greg: That's right. That's right.
Samia: Beautiful. I have one final question for both of you before we wrap up this conversation. I want to know, let's start with Greg, what is the number one thing in your mind that you've learned from Kouhyar that's made you a better person and a better American?
Greg: I have learned from Kouhyar, the one thing is, and it's in the Bible, love everyone. Love everyone. I go back to it. It's in John, Chapter 13, I think. But I go there. It's in there a lot of times. It says to love everyone in there all the time, as you love yourself, as God loves us. And I've went back several times and I say this. I keep going back and I keep looking. Has God put the word “but, or “except,” or an asterisk in there anywhere yet, and so far today, He has not. It still says love everyone as you love yourself and as God loves us. And Kouhyar will agree with that, I'm sure, but that has helped me the most. He has helped me to understand I've got to love everyone, and that be Muslims. That would be across racial divides. That'd be across the LGBT. I can agree to love the person. I don't have to love what they do. I don't have to love their thoughts. But I have to love the person and I have to shine my light for the Lord. And they have to be able to see that. And I don't take that credit. I give that credit, I give that glory to God. That's God in me and it's not me, it's Him. That's what I've learned from Kouhyar. Learn to love people. I would have never done this with a Muslim. I did a lot of business with gas stations in this state all over the place and they were all kind of Middle Eastern people running them and that. and I had a respect for them because they had the gas and I needed it. And we talked and we were cordial. But now I'm not afraid to engage in conversation with any of them. I've learned just to love people and make an approach. Truth and love and just love. That's it.
Samia: That's beautiful. Kouhyar?
Kouhyar: What I learned from Greg is that he cares about his family. He cares about his community. And he cares about this country. He may have a different approach in solving some of our problems which may differ with me, but the shared humanity and the commonality that we have is paramount. And you know, just like what Greg said, I would have never associated with someone who is a pure conservative or extremely religious before my Better Angels experience, but now engaging in these conversations with Greg, I can see that he comes from a place of genuine interest to learn from the other side, and he's not afraid of agreeing when he is in agreement. And that's what I like about him and that's what I admire about him. That he's not all about taking all the credit and not conceding anything. He will concede if he realizes that he has somewhere where he could be persuaded. And I love him for that and I'm a better person because I know that by keep associating with my type and people of my own ideology, I'm not going to be able to understand the other side. And by not understanding the other side, you tend to hold resentment and animosity towards them. You do not hate what you know.
Greg: That's true.
Samia: Thank you so much you guys. I have really enjoyed hearing all of your answers to things and I'm sure the listeners have as well. Thanks for being on the show.
Greg: Thank you.
Kouhyar: Thank you, Samia.
Samia: After listening in on Greg and Kouhyar’s conversation, one moment really stuck out at me. When the subject of immigrant families being separated at the Mexican border came up, Greg said a lot about how he feels on the subject, and Kouhyar, very much unlike what my instincts were screaming, declined to get into a debate about it right then and there. Instead, he said something that he knew would strengthen their bond rather than degrade it. I’m sure they’ll talk more about the issue on their own time, and that the conversation will be productive and illuminating for both of them.
Now, I want to ask something of you, listeners. I know most of you are listening because you really do have an interest in understanding the other side of the political aisle. I realize that sometimes the guests on this show say things that make you cringe, things that aren’t politically correct, things that may come off as racist, or sexist, or just plain ignorant, things that seem impractical or overly sensitive. I am asking you to give my guests - and hopefully, anyone who disagrees with you in your own life - the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, people just need to be exposed to other perspectives in order for their own to shift, and the greatest gift anyone can give someone who disagrees with them is a listening ear…followed by an earnest explanation of why you feel the way you do that isn’t dripping with snark or judgement. One of the biggest problems I see with progressive messaging is the level of condescension and snark directed at anyone who doesn’t already agree, and that’s not effective messaging. We have to do better at communicating with each other, so let’s start here. I’m asking you to give the same compassion you hold for strangers in need to the people on this show that you disagree with. Hear the humanity in their voices. Listen for the personal anecdotes that reveal their inner motivations. We are all, after all, human beings worthy of respect and love.
To find out more about Better Angels, check out their website at www.better-angels.org. For a donation of ten dollars, you can become a Better Angel yourself, and if you’d like to be more involved, you can sign up to organize a Better Angels workshop in your city or town. I highly recommend this. Depolarizing America is going to take a lot of patience and hard work, but the result could be amazing. We can turn this toxic atmosphere around, and together, we can find out who we are as a nation.
Make sure to check back next week, when I’ll be bringing you one of the co-founders of liberal news media organization, The Left, and the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Southern California, talking about social safety nets, capitalism, and which system serves the greater good.
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Many thanks to Josh Elstro for recording this episode on location in Ohio, Chris Gilroy for mixing and editing it, and of course, to my wonderful guests for agreeing to be on the show.
This is Make America Relate Again. See you next week.