Toxic polarization is poisoning American democracy. But I still have hope we can save it.

The worst of all current catastrophes in our society is the social and political polarization that divides Americans – it is a problem that guarantees all of our other problems will fail to be resolved.

As long as deep polarization prevails, our institutions will be seen as untrustworthy, simply because we don't trust each other to do what is right for our nation, our communities or our families.

Toxic polarization runs much deeper than mere partisan disagreements. It has led to the spread, and even the acceptance, of misinformation that deepens our divisions and endangers lives. A 2021 Brookings Institution study found that the sharing of misinformation, especially on social media, is a bipartisan problem.

And if we can't agree on basic facts, there's little chance we'll find consensus on resolving complex problems.

No one wins: America's culture wars are a losing fight for Democrats and Republicans alike

Bridging movement tries to bring Americans together

But there's a growing movement – called bridging – that is attempting to heal our divisions and to bring Americans together in ways that will have a deep and lasting impact.

What is the bridging movement?

It involves tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of organizations who are working to rebuild trust among our fractured political tribes. Their goal is to reduce the kind of polarization that leads Americans to hold in contempt their fellow citizens who have different political views.

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I help lead an organization called Braver Angels, a bipartisan effort dedicated to political depolarization at every level of society. I've seen Black Lives Matter leaders and Tea Party leaders come together to talk through their differences. I’ve seen a man who was paralyzed by a policeman’s bullet work with law enforcement to rebuild trust between the department and people in his community.

I’ve been in rooms where conservative business executives have discussed ways to bridge the partisan divide with progressives who work in international peacekeeping (through the leadership of the Listen First Coalition).

A conversational road map: We meet weekly for lunch and talk politics. We don't always agree. But we're always civil.

At Braver Angels, we run programs where left-leaning activists concerned with voter suppression work with conservative activists concerned with voter fraud to hammer out consensus on electoral reform.

Building empathy is important step

Other organizations such as Living Room Conversations and Make America Dinner Again bring together liberals, conservatives and others to discuss difficult issues and to build empathy. Groups like No Labels and Convergence work with members of Congress and other elected leaders to build working relationships and foster bipartisan compromises. And organizations like Bridge USA host debates and cross-partisan programs on college and high school campuses.

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All of this adds up to a vision of America where we avoid the collapse of our institutions and democracy itself. It is a vision for society in which we can once again work together toward solutions to our common problems. And one where the temptation to demonize each other because of our differences is no longer the norm.

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As my colleague April Lawson, architect of the Braver Angels' debates program, wrote, our vision is for a society in which “the spirit of the debate is defined not as a contest in which one side will emerge the victor, but as a collective search for truth.”

As the bridging movement grows, our hope is that the pools of toxic polarization now poisoning our politics will dissipate. All we need is patience, perseverance and time.

John Wood Jr. is a columnist for USA TODAY Opinion. He also is a noted writer and speaker on subjects including racial and political reconciliation.
John Wood Jr. is a columnist for USA TODAY Opinion. He also is a noted writer and speaker on subjects including racial and political reconciliation.

John Wood Jr. is a columnist for USA TODAY Opinion. He is national ambassador for Braver Angels, a former nominee for Congress, former vice chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, musical artist, and a noted writer and speaker on subjects including racial and political reconciliation. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnRWoodJr 

More from John Wood Jr.:

Can you show respect to 'MAGA Republicans'? For sake of American democracy, we must try.

Red and blue America don't trust each other. And that's driving us dangerously apart.

White privilege may be real, but economic class is a bigger factor in driving inequality.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Misinformation poisons democracy. The antidote? Talk to each other.