A Teachable Moment from the Political Divide

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on December 11, 2018

In the days following the Nov. 27 publication of my article headlined “America’s traditional values are as important as economic interests,” I experienced a teachable moment – when discussing different viewpoints, we need to listen to the other person’s perspective and understand their reasoning for the opinions they hold which might narrow the gap between our views.

I criticized President Donald Trump for discounting the CIA’s conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed binSalam of Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder of U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and for not holding bin Salam accountable. Trump said, “Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs?” in reference to the business the Saudis do with the U.S.

I asked, “What about reaffirming America’s commitment to human rights values, a question asked by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers?”

A reader, Dennis Hathaway, of San Antonio, Texas, wrote an email to me and disagreed with what I wrote. Through a number of email exchanges, we closed the gap in our views – a lesson in civility that we can all learn from.

The following are excerpts from our email thread:


Thanks for the article Stan. I have to disagree with you though. I doubt any other president would have done much different. Remember the 9/11 hijackers all came thru Saudi Arabia and nothing was done then to sanction Saudi. 

Other presidents may have said they were going to do something, but it would have been PR talk. Trump, I believe, is only speaking reality here. May not like it or agree with it, but it is what it is.

I’ve about had it with the “it’s not who we are” statements. It’s a good line that is used by the Democrats and liberals to criticize the conservative side of American politics. We as a country, are who we are. 


Thanks Dennis, for your comments on my article yesterday. 

Yes, you’re right. Saudi Arabia was not sanctioned after 9/11. I assume no sanctions were put in place because there was no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia was involved in the 9/11 attack, unlike the CIA conclusion that the Saudi government was involved in Khashoggi’s murder.

You write, “I’ve about had it with the ‘it’s not who we are’ statements. It’s a good line that is used by the Democrats and liberals to criticize the conservative side of American politics.”

Dennis, for the record, I am a Republican and have been my entire life. I am not a Democrat or a liberal and never will be. What I am is a patriot, who strongly believes in country before party.

And, it is who we are as a nation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has taken the same position as I have, as reported in a news article headlined, “McConnell: Saudi actions ‘abhorrent’ and warrant ‘response.’”

Quoting McConnell, “What obviously happened – is basically certified by the CIA – is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for in the world. Some kind of response to that certainly would be in order and we’re discussing what the appropriate response should be.”

I have many fellow Republican friends and colleagues who do not support Trump and many of his policies. They are insulted that the far right calls them liberals. They are anything but!


Thanks Stan. I too believe in country before party. Don’t know that I can agree with your statement of not knowing if the Saudi government was involved in 9/11. I just firmly believe we would not have taken action against them because we need them for various military staging areas, and at that time, for oil to carry out our actions against Al-Qaeda.

I will retract my liberal statement and just have it apply to Democrats. Because I truly believe the Democratic Party has shown itself to not have any ideas except to attack Trump.

I don’t like all that Trump does, but one thing you have to give him is that he has pushed the policies he said he would if he got elected. More than we can say for most of our elected leaders. We have had such terrible candidates from both parties lately. Bob Dole, Hillary, McCain and Gore. Is this the best we can do? 

Bill Clinton started the politics of personal destruction. Now it’s pervasive in the political arena from both sides. I’m afraid that has led us to a point where we will see Trump types on both sides, from now on. 


Hi Dennis. Except for our differing views on whether the Saudi government was involved in 9/11 and some of the individuals on your list of “terrible candidates,” I basically agree with the points in your latest email. If the Democrats run an Elizabeth Warren / Bernie Sanders type candidate, they are foolish. The country will fully reject that type of candidate and Trump will win a second term. 

I want to share with you an article that I write each year on the anniversary of 9/11. Glad we are having this exchange of ideas and views. 


Very well written article, Stan. I was on a flight from Baltimore to Mississippi during that event. One of my best friends was a NYC fire fighter with Rescue 3. He was off duty headed home and turned around to come help his brothers. He was lost when the towers collapsed. 

My wife was across the river from the Pentagon and right across the street from the State Department. She spent much of the day coordinating Navy medical response.

My son was and still is in the Army. He was in the first raid with the Army Rangers into Afghanistan. Thankfully, he has managed to complete 55 months of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with just a few scars.

I think you are correct, that’s who we really are as Americans. We just can’t seem to hold that reality once things “settle down” again.


You and your family have been touched in so many ways by 9/11, Dennis. I am so sorry for the loss of your courageous friend. A hero in every sense of the word. Glad your son remains safe (with a few scars) during his time in the military. We are all in debt to him for his service.


I have no problem with discussing differing views, with anyone who can provide a different set of facts, or another way of looking at the problem. You get better solutions to problems that way.

I think our email conversation narrowed the gap in our views because we listened to each other and acknowledged each other’s points even when we did not necessarily agree with them. We also started to dialogue on a personal level.

I shared the above email thread with friend and colleague Ray De Hont, who generally expresses the political views of Hathaway. De Hont wrote the following to me:

“I truly believe what you and Dennis have done is what is missing in our society today. To close the divide in our country, we need to allow a friendly exchange of viewpoints without name calling, severe criticism, or turning people off all together.”

“Love of Country Leads” is the motto of the Union League of Philadelphia, where I am a member. The League was established in 1862 as a patriotic club to support President Abraham Lincoln and the Union during the Civil War. This motto applies to both sides of the political divide in our country.

We are all patriots. We need to talk to each other and not at each other on issues impacting our nation.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Follow Silverman on LinkedIn here and on Twitter, @StanSilverman.

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