The hosts of Pantsuit Politics will help you have more constructive disagreements

From their Kentucky homes, Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers have helped tens of thousands of people process the past few years of national news and politics. Their podcast “Pantsuit Politics” offers audiences information and grace.

They join the Reckon Interview to discuss ways in which the South shaped their outlook and approach to politics and the role Southern politicians play. They also discuss why it’s important to maintain compassion during disagreements, even when it’s hard. Learn more about Pantsuit Politics at https://www.pantsuitpoliticsshow.com/.

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Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for length and clarity.

John Hammontree: The holidays are just around the corner. And some of you may already be feeling that particular strain and anxiety comes with having to discuss current events and politics with your extended family. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers have provided a template for having deep and grace-filled conversations about politics and other tough subjects for years now on their Pantsuit Politics podcasts. They’re also the authors of “I Think You’re Wrong, But I’m Listening,” and they’ve developed a huge national community of people willing to get in and do the messy work of engaging and finding nuance and common ground. Today on the Reckon Interview, we’ll discuss how their show has helped them get through some of the most turbulent times in recent American history, the way that their Southern roots help inform their values and their approach to conversation, and steps that you can take to have better and more informed discussions. We also talk about how their podcast first came together, and Kentucky’s unique position as a Southern state with some Midwestern influences. So let’s go ahead and get started on this week’s episode of the Reckon Interview. Sarah and Beth, welcome to the Reckon Interview.

Beth Silvers: Thank you for having us.

Sarah Stewart Holland: Thank you for having us.

John Hammontree: You have been recording your show Pantsuit Politics more or less weekly for almost six years now. You’ve become kind of guides for 10s of 1000s of people across the country to process a lot of the most intense and turbulent years in, at least, recent American history. So I guess just start out, how are y’all holding up? And how does that responsibility weigh on you? Sarah, why don’t we start with you?

Sarah Stewart Holland: Well, I always say that I am able to do this because I do the processing with Beth, when everyone says you talk about politics. I’m like, I know it sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But I get to talk about it. So you just, you just walk around anxious about it inside your own head. I get to express that anxiety and fear and frustration with Beth. And then I feel better. So I’m doing I’m doing okay, actually, thank you for asking.

Beth Silvers: I think that’s such a gracious question and agree with Sarah, there is something to the consistency of it that makes it more manageable. That even those times when it feels like oh, this is the fire, this is the worst moment, knowing that there’s going to be another Tuesday episode, another Friday, we’re going to sit down and do it again, the news is going to keep rolling and that we can weather it, I think it has really built resilience in me to engage in such a disciplined way with the news. Even though it’s hard and it’s vulnerable, and it can be scary sometimes, even as long as we’ve been doing it, it can be scary. There is a muscle that has been built through this that’s been really valuable.

John Hammontree: I’m curious, you know, I know Sarah, you had the idea to do this show back in 2015. And invited Beth to join. Y’all had been sorority sisters in college, but you obviously didn’t know it was going to become what it became. And that you would be talking to each other about these topics every single week. You know, early on, it was Sarah from the left and Beth from the right. How is the Venn diagram of your political beliefs? You know, has it come closer to being a circle in the last six years?

Sarah Stewart Holland: Well, it wasn’t my idea, originally. It was my husband who was obsessed with podcast and he kept saying you need to start a podcast, so I always try to give him credit. I think that the Venn diagram was always closer to a circle, then our intro sort of gave the impression because we only have one version of this sort of left right spectrum in our head. And why we started the podcast is because we wanted to push up against that. So even from the beginning, when we were introducing ourselves as Sarah from the left and Beth from the right, we agreed a lot. We disagreed about things people probably wouldn’t think a Democrat and Republican would disagree about right? Like it just, that’s what we were pushing up against, that there’s not one way to be in this space, there’s not one way to have a political conversation. Every political conversation doesn’t have to look like Crossfire, which is the reference that dates me, but whatever I’m gonna lean into it. And so I think that there are certain policy areas that I’ve moved closer to Beth, there are certain policy areas that Beth has moved closer to me. Um, there are certain things that will always feel differently about better informed just as much about personality as they are by party identification. And I think just just leaning into the complexity of that and not feeling obligated to fill out that Venn diagram to begin with, has been the most freeing part of this process.

John Hammontree: Beth, I know that you publicly left the Republican Party a couple years ago, and y’all have since changed your tagline to grace-filled political conversations, which I love by the way. Did you feel any obligation to fit in that role longer than maybe you were feeling it internally because that was the pattern of the show early on? I know it wasn’t a debate show other than the redhead debate episodes, but did you feel some obligation to fit that mold?

Beth Silvers: I don’t know if I felt obligation to fit the mold as much as I felt discomfort with advertising that I was going to fit the mold. I knew from the beginning when people first started listening and emailing that I was kind of a bad fit for the Republican listener or the conservative listener, people told me all the time. And increasingly so. And so, you know, I never want to disappoint people’s expectations in a way that I can control. There’s a huge aspect of that, that I can’t control, but in a way that I can control. And so it was a real relief to me to just say, I’m not even going to, we can define it differently, we can argue over what that means, what’s really conservative, what’s not, I’m not even going to go down that path with you anymore. I’m just going to announce that that’s not where I am today. And I think it’s a struggle for me in some ways now, because I’m a very uncomfortable Democrat, I changed my registration to be a Democrat only because we’re in a closed primary state. And I want to vote in primaries, I think that’s really important. And I don’t fit that super well, either. But I feel a lot more freedom to just be who I am, which is what we wanted to do with the show from the beginning, not be pundits or journalists or party representatives, but just who we are. And that’s all I can do. There was never really a thought of should I keep trying to play a character here. Because I would not do that, well, I don’t have the skills or gifts to do that. I can only be who I am. And so now I at least feel like I’m being upfront about that.

John Hammontree: You mentioned living in a state where you have to declare your party to participate in primaries, y’all both grew up in Kentucky, you went to school in Kentucky. And in your book, “I Think You’re Wrong, But I’m Listening,” you talk about, you know, growing up in the South, everyone, but women in particular are trained that they shouldn’t talk about our divisive topics like politics and religion. And you make a pretty compelling case that the opposite is actually true, that the refusal to discuss these tough topics leads more people to retreat into political teams, put on their jerseys, like you talked about. Beth, was that something that came natural to you before doing the show, talking with people about topics like these?

Beth Silvers: I think that in certain spheres, absolutely. I’ve kind of always been the counselor friend. You know, you got a hard thing coming up, I’m the person, you’re gonna bring the hard thing to, not so much the life of the party. And so in that way, I spent my college years as an RA talking about eating disorders and aggressive behavior in relationships, and some really tough subjects. That’s kind of who I’ve always been. And so I think I did feel comfortable going into things that most people didn’t talk about early on. I also felt constrained in doing that. You know, Sarah and I have talked several times about how we can imagine versions of our lives where both of us went into ministry. That just never seemed available, that would never even have occurred to me as a path as a young person. And so a lot has changed in a short amount of time when I think about the community that I grew up in and what seems normal and approachable to me today.

John Hammontree: And what y’all do, in ways feels like a form of ministry and feels like a form of journalism all rolled up into one. Faith is clearly something that drives y’all’s conversations. Sarah, what are some other ways that growing up in the South that has shaped the way that you approach your podcast and the way you think about politics?

Sarah Stewart Holland: So I live in Paducah, Kentucky, it’s my hometown. It’s where I grew up. And then I spent several years in Washington DC before I moved back to Paducah to raise my family. And Paducah is a really interesting mix, as is much of Kentucky. Kentucky is not Deep South. Obviously, there are aspects of Southern culture that are pretty prolific where I live. Primarily food, thank the Lord, music, art, those cultural aspects, but there’s also like a real Midwest vibe here. Like a really strong… And the more we travel in the Midwest, I’m like, Oh, okay, I recognize a lot of this from my hometown. And so, you know, I think Paducah in particular, you know, Paducah city proper is a is a very purple place in a very red County. And I say all that to say that it’s informed me because it’s complicated, right? I think people would assume one thing about being in Kentucky and how it would inform your politics, but my experience is very far from that. And my experience of identifying as a Southerner, and particularly in Washington, during my time in Washington, DC, and people make those very simplistic assumptions about me and my politics, definitely inform how I think about and talk about politics now. But I think the the main thing, as a Southerner, and as a woman, hospitality was a huge part of my upbringing. And the idea that, you know, there’s a table in a military, there’s a table and we all sit at it, we invite people in and we invite people into our home and I think that definitely informs our work at Pantsuit Politics. We often talk about it as a table, where we want people to feel welcome where we want people to feel heard, not that I think that the idea that everybody feels heard and welcomed around it. The table of Southern hospitality is, that would be a very rose colored way to look at it. But all I can speak to is my experience inside my family growing up in the South. And I try to bring a lot of those those values of hospitality and those values of storytelling and welcoming, and just the way in which you set the table for what you hope comes after definitely informs the way I think about Pantsuit Politics. 

John Hammontree: Beth, what about you? 

Beth Silvers: I think that growing up in a place that was neither Southern nor Midwestern or nor Northern, that plays this weirdly outsized role in national politics because of Mitch McConnell, because of how much attention Rand Paul attracts, there is a lot of you’re not really this or that in my personal story that I think has to be traced back to where I grew up. As Sarah was saying, there was a real mix of Southern influence and Midwestern influence, even in the food that I ate. When I look back at my childhood, we ate a lot of casserole, like it was a much more kind of Midwestern vibe. And that sense of you don’t really fit anywhere, I grew up around a lot of Southern Democrats. So they were they were Democrats in name only and consistently voted for Republican candidates, like, all of those, this doesn’t quite fit you vibes have, are pretty, they flow pretty deep in my blood, I think. And I also think that it’s important to acknowledge the lack of diversity that I grew up with, and how much that has influenced all of the places that I have created more space in my politics, because of the recognition of that lack of diversity. It certainly influences how grateful I feel for the community around the podcast. Now that I get to hear from people all over the world every single day now that I get to hear from people who share their stories of growing up in places like my hometown that I would have described as very friendly. And they tell me, this was painful and stifling for me as a young gay kid, or as a young atheist, or as the only Black family in town. You know, that closed-ness of my growing up that I didn’t even recognize has created a lot of openness in me as an adult, that I really try to embrace.

John Hammontree: You know, it was interesting, listen to y’all talk about Kentucky… because I’ve lived in Alabama for most of my life. And you know, I think most people think of Alabama and Mississippi is kind of the quintessential Southern states if you think of the South. It’s either that, or some people think Texas, maybe even though it’s its own thing. But you know, states like this, where our history is constantly discussed. And you know, we’re forced to own up to it and address it and things like that. If you are willing to listen, you know, it, the resources are there, the conversations are there, people do tune them out, I’m hearing that that might not have been the case in Kentucky, at least when you were growing up. Was that the case, Beth?

Beth Silvers: I would say that I had almost no discussions about race until I got to college. And even in college, there was less than you might think. It was really law school when I started to lean into those kinds of discussions. And I realized when I look back with a critical eye on my childhood, that we were just really embracing the idea that if we have good hearts and good intentions, there isn’t anything else to discuss. And that all that matters is today and our good hearts and our good intentions today.

John Hammontree: And I think that, you know, I say we talked about it more. But it was talked about, like ancient history more than recent history. And certainly more than the present. You know, it was, well, here are some pictures of something that might have happened 50 years ago, or at the time it would have been closer to 30 years ago.

Sarah Stewart Holland: Well, and here’s what people do, right? In Kentucky where I live in Western Kentucky, there’s this big distinction between western and eastern Kentucky, and culturally there is a massive distinction. Eastern Kentucky is a mountainous region, it’s the Appalachian Mountains and that the Appalachian culture is it’s totally separate, own thing. And also when I moved to Washington, DC, and I told people I was from Kentucky, they didn’t ask if I was from Eastern Kentucky or Western Kentucky. And if you live in Birmingham, they don’t ask what part of Alabama you’re from, right. Like there’s this book of assumptions people make about Southerners and Southerners want to — I mean, in some ways, rightly so — fight stereotypes that are one dimensional. And another sidem in other ways need to understand that like some of those one dimensional stereotypes are not just ancient history, and sort of deserve to be addressed in the here and now, and are going to have to be addressed if you ever want people to take in the three dimensional complexities of the South today.

John Hammontree: Well, that’s interesting. You know, Mitch McConnell — I guess, a politician that our states share because I think he was born somewhere near the border of Alabama — and Richard Shelby, our senator who is about to retire, are two of the most powerful people in the country right now. And yet, you know, the states that they represent don’t necessarily always see the benefits of the federal government that they serve in. Although I will say, Shelby does a great job of bringing pork spending to Alabama. Every, every building in the state is named after him. But you know, it’s interesting to have that kind of disconnect between, you know, Mitch McConnell, one of the most powerful and shrewdest politicians of all time, and yet not necessarily see the dividends pay off in places like Eastern Kentucky that, you know, have some of the highest poverty rates in the country. Is that something that is talked about in in Kentucky?

Beth Silvers: Yes and no. Kentucky does receive a lot of federal spending. And I would agree with your premise that that spending is pretty ineffective for the lived experience of most Kentuckians. What I think that McConnell has done very shrewdly is let us know both that we are reliant on his power in the United States Congress and that even with all that power, the coasts still look down on us. And we would be long forgotten without him. There is a benefit to him in keeping us in victim mode here in Kentucky. And so he has somehow managed to be both our hero, and a person who continues that victim mentality for us. It’s a really strange dynamic. But I tell people all the time, Mitch McConnell doesn’t win elections in Kentucky because people like Mitch McConnell, I don’t talk to anyone who does. It is much more this idea that we we can’t let this power go, and the fact that he just destroys the people who run against him. He drowns them in money and negative coverage.

Sarah Stewart Holland: I was gonna say it’s not interesting, it’s by design, right? It’s interesting only because it’s by design, it’s not happenstance that I think that it works like this, that it’s very much purposeful. One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read in helping me understand the South, and particularly the politics of the South, is a book by Colin Woodard called American Character A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good. And he talks about sort of the individual liberty of the West, and how that informs so much of the culture and how much it has informed a lot of our national politics. But he talks about the common good of that really informs the politics of New England, based on their history of, you know, the pilgrims, and, you know, the highly educated populace and just a way a lot of the politics up there works. And he spends a lot of time on the South, and that it basically was an oligarchy. And in many parts of the South, it remains an oligarchy. And it really just opened my eyes and made me realize, like, there is this undercurrent, or maybe it’s not that undercurrent, depending on who you are, maybe it was just undercurrent to me because of the privilege of my own experience as a white Southerner. But there is just this idea of like, the people in power are in power because they deserve to be and you’re not in power because you don’t deserve to be. And everything within the system should support them, because they deserve to be there. A lot of times in a lot of Southern cities, it’s, you know, you see this not just in the political figures, but the the family businesses, the rich people in the town, and how they make decisions and how they control so much. And you just see this self perpetuating system. And I just think, you know, people like Mitch McConnell and Richard Shelby, and I can name a lot of other Southern politicians just sit on the top of that mountain, and they perpetuate that.

Beth Silvers: It’s still like that. As I read coverage of our legislature — which I’m doing a lot right now because of COVID — I see the names of a lot of the folks I went to law school with their dads, right. And then I see those folks I went to law school with starting to run for office, but only the ones whose dads are already in those positions. I mean, it sometimes feels like I’m in another century when I look at the reality of how Kentucky politics function. Even the fact that we have a Democratic governor right now, I think is only possible because his dad was the governor before and everybody knows that name. And it’s hard to explain to people who haven’t lived this way, what it feels like to see no path toward different leadership in your state.

John Hammontree: Especially when you look at kind of the history of not everybody, but certainly a lot of the people who became the wealthier families and the more powerful families did so at some point in 100 years ago, 200 years ago, by either owning people are exploiting people or you know, figuring out other ways to exploit either the earth or exploit their fellow man and things like that, but you know, time kind of heals all wounds and now generations later, they look very respectable families.

Beth Silvers: Oh, they seem nice enough. And it holds this, and it holds us in these these stakes of let’s not really do that critical look at our history. Because there’s a straight line between our past and our present, much more direct than it might seem. And it really, it is really stifling.

John Hammontree: And it’s hard to get out of to, you know, you think of something as innocuous as saying, Yes, ma’am, and no, sir, and things like that to your quote unquote, elders. And, you know, is there a level of that that’s kind of respectability politics, maybe a little bit of misogynistic and stuff like that at times? Yeah. But then on the other hand, you don’t necessarily want to be the only person who breaks those social norms.

Sarah Stewart Holland: Well, and look, I mean, I can feel my own defensiveness, like the reality is like, we don’t own a monopoly on this. I do think this oligarchic underpinning of so much of the Southern politics is distinctly Southern. But it’s not like there weren’t party bosses whose kids and grandkids aren’t still powerful in big cities in the Midwest and New England. It isn’t like There are towns in California, and particularly Utah, where families, businesses that keep and maintain a lot of power in that region. Think that’s what Yellowstone’s about, I’ve only seen a couple episodes, but like, I think like, you know, there’s lots, it’s not like we invented it, and we’re definitely not the only ones perpetuating it. But I do think that there is just a distinctly piece of Southern politics that, you know, I just, I had this moment once when I was listening to, it was the podcast about Adelaide Stevenson that Rachel Maddow did, Bag Man, and she was talking about all the Southerners and how they were supporting him. And I thought, dang, is there one historical moment in America that we weren’t on the wrong side of? Did anybody not see this but me? Is anybody not frustrated that when you look back like we’re always on the wrong side? Are we ever gonna put two and two together here? It’s frustrating.

John Hammontree: Coming up after the break: more lessons and having grace-filled conversations from Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers. 

You know, I think I guess what typically gives me some comfort through that is that we’ve often been on the wrong side of those national struggles, particularly we white Southerners, but we’ve also been the region the country that has started started to figure shit out before other parts of the country, and has often set that template and that mold for people. And some of that, you know, it boils down to the work that y’all are doing. If you can figure out how to have grace-filled and nuanced conversations in the South, of all places, where there’s rampant misinformation and hardline feelings and racial divides and things like that, then, you know, I think there’s a reason why that resonates around the country and around the world like it has for y’all. But I do wonder how y’all maintain that sense of grace in moments like this, where everything is so divided, and the stakes are legitimately very high. Whether it’s the Texas abortion ban, or the validity of an American election, or of state elections or things like that. You know, are there moments where you find it difficult to maintain that sense of, of grace and understanding for somebody who might be on the other side?

Beth Silvers: It just doesn’t feel optional to me. It doesn’t feel like a decision. Because of where I live, because of the people I love, and the people who have contributed to the person I am today, if I decided that I was going to drop all of my patience, grace, respect, whatever for everyone I strongly disagree with — and not only disagree with their opinions, but disagree with their just description of reality — I would be cutting out so many of the most important people in my life. And so I never think of it as as a question Do I or don’t die. There is sadness for me in looking around and seeing the reactions of people who formed my faith, people who formed my conception of ethics, and where they land on these issues today. There is a incongruence in how I know people from back home and who they are on Facebook, and that’s hard. And so it’s motivating, I think to keep doing the work here because I do know the goodness of those people. You know, sometimes when I listen to national media talk about the South, it’s as though they are examining like tigers in the wild or something. There is like this other species-ness to the examination. And because I don’t have that, it is just always in me to see the the goodness. Hust the Yes, ma’am. No sir example is such a great one. There is sure misogyny in it, there is classism, there is racism. There’s also something kind of beautiful in it, that you think how do I hold on to all these things together. And so I guess I just tried to keep building the skill of holding on to all these things together.

John Hammontree: I can see the path to doing that for our friends and neighbors and our communities and things like that. It does get harder for me personally, when we can see that there are certain politicians and pundits who aren’t necessarily always operating in good faith, I can give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they think what they’re doing is for the greater good. But sometimes it’s easier to lie and obstruct to get to that greater good. And so how do we combat kind of that toxin that’s in the bloodstream, Sarah?

Sarah Stewart Holland: I wouldn’t waste a lot of my time on pundits. I think that, even though I arguably am one, there is a component of don’t hate the player, hate the game that I have to just lean on to stay sane. I’m a enneagram one, I’m highly motivated by justice. If I get in my head about the bad faith actors and politics, and particularly political media that I think deserve justice, I’m gonna waste a lot of time, I’m gonna let them live rent free in my head, as my husband says. And I don’t want to do that. So I think there’s just a sense of self preservation that like, I just, I can’t, I can’t with those people. I believe that there is no amount of money or success that will that will make up for the pain that you have to be in to treat humanity like that. You know what I mean? Like, I just think there’s a part of me that’s like, well, I wouldn’t trade spaces with them so I’m not going to be filled with anxiety and frustration about how they behave. So now, I think that question is harder when you’re in that middle ground. So we’re not talking about, you know, the people in power and media and politics. And we’re not talking about the people in our everyday lives who we know and have connections with, and have lots of interactions to put into the love bank, right? That we’re seeing them in lots of contexts outside of politics, that help us maintain that connection to them. So there’s those two groups, and we have all these people in the middle who, right, we’re not maybe seeing every day, but who are still important to us, but who may be we’re only seeing through their Facebook political opinions. And I think, you know, our sort of wider community, even people we don’t know, that we just know compose our community. Like we just, we understand that there are, you know, anti-maskers, or anti-vaxxers, or, you know, January 6 insurrectionists in our midst, like whatever it is, right. And I think that that’s tougher, right? That’s just to me, that’s just acknowledging that community, in much the way family is, is not always chosen. And this is not like a carefully orchestrated selection process. This is the the work of being a human is finding ways to be in community with people who drive us crazy, who break our hearts who make us feel afraid, and which that point, we need to say, well, then we don’t belong in community with anymore and where that line is. I don’t think there’s a sort of an easy algorithm to figure that out as much as social media platforms may be want to tell us there is. There’s no unfollow button in real life, just on Facebook. And I think that that’s really hard. I think that I won’t, I won’t dress it up for you. I think that’s really hard. And I think it’s particularly hard in the south, where we have all these narratives about politeness, and hospitality and the importance of the importance of loyalty, think that it gets even harder.

Beth Silvers: Well that touches on what I was just thinking about. I like that you’re pressing us on this, John, because it’s a really important question. Something I haven’t figured out how to put words around that maybe you’ve just helped me with is that I’m learning that there is not a distinction in the way that I wish there could be between people in power and the people that voted for them or just see them as on their team. I wish that here in Northern Kentucky, I could have a different conversation about Texas’s abortion law, or, you know, what’s happening in New York City, than the conversation that’s happening on the ground there, and probably we are to some extent, but not as much as we should. It is not that dispassionate, right, because national media has just flattened everything out. So you’re in Kentucky as a Republican rooting for that law. Or you’re a Democrat saying that law is the worst thing ever even though it is it hasn’t gone into effect in my state. And because of that, I don’t get to just talk about Mitch McConnell and Kentucky without the person I’m talking with thinking that I’m also talking about them. That like that space is a luxury that I think we don’t have anymore because things have been nationalized so much. And it does make every conversation a lot more fraught. So I have to extend some of that patience and love I have for my neighbor to the national figure if I am to maintain it for my neighbor.

John Hammontree: Yeah, I think that’s well said. And for the sake of our audience, what are some ways that you recommend, you know, centering yourself and finding ways to civilly disagree with somebody? You won’t always necessarily persuade them, but you’ll be able to at least find an understanding.

Sarah Stewart Holland: It didn’t feel like it was a less-fraught time when we were writing it, I can tell you that much. That’s the hard part, right, is that the goalposts keep getting moved on us. I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s never about just one conversation. If you can center the relationship instead of what you want to get across in one conversation, and just acknowledge the reality that there will be more conversations, hopefully, if this is a person you want to stay in a relationship with. And so you don’t have to get everything in in one conversation. The stakes are infinitely lowered when we say we’re gonna just we’re going to talk about these things, because they’re important to us. Not because we’re trying to convince each other not as best as because we’re trying to leave the table with draft legislation that we’re submitting to Congress. But just because we want to understand each other better, because that’s important because we’re in relationship with one another. And I just think lowering the stakes and realizing that this isn’t about convincing the other person, because I just think we come into conversations with wanting to feel better individually, like wanting to feel heard, wanting to get our point across, wanting to expose the hypocrisy of the position, if not the person, those wanting those gotcha moments and wanting to feel righteous. And that’s just a recipe for disaster. No one finds connection when they go in looking for righteousness. And I think if connection is the goal — hopefully it is — then that’s that’s what we have to keep front and center.

Beth Silvers: I think connection as the goal is a more disputed point than we wish it were. Because everything feels so high stakes. And it is, you know, masking or, not vaccinating or not, those are truly high stakes issues. When we’re talking about police violence, those are truly high stakes issues. I mean, there’s an argument healthcare, everything we’re discussing right now is very high stakes. And so I worry that we have convinced ourselves, whichever side of the debate we’re on, that the ends always justify the means now, that it is just someone wins and someone loses, someone has the power and someone doesn’t. And I don’t see a path forward for our country if that’s what we’re doing here. And so to me, connection has to be the goal first, just to keep us remembering that we value the American experiment and that we wish to live in a country where there are diverse opinions, and we wish to live in a country where there’s tension, and power that is constrained. And so, I think, sometimes just for me stepping back and thinking, ‘who do I want to be in this conversation’ is the best I can do. What do I want this conversation to feel like if someone were describing me with a set of adjectives in this discussion, what adjectives would they use about me? Because if I lose that sense of how am I behaving, how am I treating this person? How am I living up to my core values, and I’m willing to sacrifice them because I’ve told myself that this particular issue is so important, I just don’t know where that leads us. So I don’t know if I have an addition to what Sarah said, as much as I just want to underscore that we really have examined this hard, and it’s not because we think any issue is worth approaching casually. It is that I think for the sake of the whole here, connection has to be the goal.

John Hammontree: Yeah, you know, sometimes you hear people say like, conversations get stifled now more than they ever had before. And I wonder, you know, that may be the case, I can’t speak to the way that things happened in the past. But I think there’s a difference between, you know, 10 white guys on a college campus sitting around and being able to have heated discussions about abstract topics. Versus you know, we’ve now also invited more people to the table like you said, Sarah, than ever before. And, you know, I think it’s good that we have coexisted, particularly in the American South, with people with different races and backgrounds and classes for hundreds of years. But for hundreds of years, we’ve also kind of existed in those unequal societies. And so pushing past that in this feudal society is going to it’s going to be tough, but but a good kind of tough. One thing that comes to mind that y’all do really well is these primers that you develop for really complex topics. You know, particularly in America right now, we can all get our information from as many different places as we want. You know, one way people can learn some of these complex topics is, of course, to subscribe and listen to Pantsuit Politics. But I’m also curious about your recommendations for doing deep and comprehensive and fair dives on some of the topics that y’all approach.

Beth Silvers: Well, this is a great question for us because I think Sara and I approach it really differently, which is helpful. So I always start research with a series of questions. What do I not know about this? What do I wish I knew? If that, if I learned this, what would that mean for me? Where does that take me next? And so I think that Wikipedia is underrated. And it’s a nice place to get started if you don’t know about something, because for me, I usually can get my first ‘What do I not know,’ question answered there. And then I go down to the footnotes. And I can go all kinds of places from there. I don’t take Wikipedia as like the definitive end point of any research, but as a jumping off point to scholarly articles, newspaper coverage, just people who know about this and write about it, it’s a really great place for me to begin the path of answering my chain of questions about any subject.

Sarah Stewart Holland: I like to listen to podcasts because I’m a podcaster. And what I realized recently is when I listen to podcasts, I can’t skim. And that stops me from looking for the information I just want to confirm my point. So I really when I’m starting with a topic, try to listen to at least, you know, one or two podcast, deep dives on it, so that I can really take it in in a way that I’m not speeding past the information that I value about podcasts is just you can’t skim. You can listen to them sped up, but you can’t really skim them. And so I love you know, the podcasts that come out of NPR, I listened to a lot of Ezra Klein. But you know, often, when I’m researching, I literally will just type the topic into Apple Podcasts and see what the search pulls up. You know, make sure and I find like, you know, podcasts from universities I would have never found otherwise, or think tanks or foundations like out there just talking about really wonky stuff. And it’s like such a fun way to be reintroduced to the topic.

John Hammontree: To wrap up, you know, I know that you all spend a lot of time looking at national issues and even international issues, sometimes with the case of the War in Afghanistan and things like that. But what’s your sense of the future of Southern politics? You know, we’re kind of at a crossroads, whether you look at Georgia, and Texas, or even Kentucky and Tennessee, and Alabama, places like that. Whoever wants to go first can go first on this last one.

Sarah Stewart Holland: I think it’s gonna be a fun ride. I think an oligarchy that is built upon a certain unchanging demographic, or only changing at the margins demographic, is going to have a real rocky ride with this new influx of population. We just, you can’t argue with it. I mean, there’s a huge influx of people into the Southeast. And it’s going to change the politics, it’s going to change not just the politics, it’s going to change the culture. And this is an area of the country that is notorious for not liking change. So I think it’s going to be fun. I’m excited to live here to watch it all. 

Beth Silvers: Yeah, I think we’re in for some remix of the 1960s here, because the closer that the impacts of what happens in a legislature impact our homes and our families, the more participation you’re going to see from groups that often sit out that structure. Just seeing what’s happening at school board meetings right now shows you that we are we are embarking on a new era here. And there are voices that are going to be heard that haven’t been heard before. And some of those are going to, like not be the voices I would choose to elevate. But many of them are, I think, going to usher in some some new ways of thinking and are going to have a really strong impact. So I’m kind of fastening my seat belt as well. Because I think that we are, if COVID has done nothing else, it has pushed us out of that complacency about politics and said No, like your everyday life experience is on the line when they’re in session, when the legislature of your state is in session. And so I think it is going to be a raucous few years.

John Hammontree: Well, I look forward to y’all walking us through it. And so thank you all so much for your time today.

Beth Silvers: Thank you so much for having us.

Sarah Stewart Holland: Thank you for having us. I told my husband I was going on a podcast about the South and he said, too bad we live in the Midwest. So thank you for inviting Kentuckians to the table.

John Hammontree: And that’s all for us this week, folks. Thank you to Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers. You can find new episodes of Pantsuit Politics each week on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can also sign up to receive premium content like their nightly nuanced news recaps through either Apple Podcasts or Patreon. And you can find their book, “I Think You’re Wrong, But I’m Listening,” wherever you get your books. 

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