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Utah Governor Spencer Cox Calls on Americans to ‘Disagree Better’ at Harvard IOP Forum

Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox called on Americans to engage in healthy disagreements at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum this week.
Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox called on Americans to engage in healthy disagreements at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum this week. By Jamila R. O'Hara
By Thomas J. Mete, Crimson Staff Writer

Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox discussed his “Disagree Better” initiative with Harvard Kennedy School associate professor Julia A. Minson ’99 at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum on Wednesday.

Cox’s “Disagree Better” campaign — launched through the National Govenor’s Association, where he serves as chair — does not call for people to compromise their core principles but rather to engage in a “healthy conflict.”

“You can have your MAGA uncle and woke niece actually sit down together at a dinner table and not hate each other, and not tear each other apart,” said Cox, the Republican governor.

HKS Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf introduced the conversation, arguing that hearing the other side can lead to better political discourse.

“In my view, a core competence for public leaders and public citizens is the ability to have candid conversations with people with whom we disagree about important issues,” Elmendorf said.

“That competence does not come naturally to most of us,” he added.

The forum follows a tumultuous semester for Elmendorf, during which he allegedly vetoed a Carr Center for Human Rights fellowship for former Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth due to Roth’s criticism of Israel. Following backlash and calls to resign, the dean later reversed his decision.

During the forum, Cox weighed in on one of the country’s most pressing issues: immigration. Despite major cities facing struggles with a migrant crisis, the governor said the subject was “the easiest of the most divisive issues to solve.”

“Most Democrats believe we should secure the border, and most Republicans believe we should fix illegal immigration,” he said. “It’s the politicians that keep us apart on this one.”

In addition to immigration, Cox also spoke about his experiences dealing with other contentious issues. During his tenure as lieutenant governor of Utah, he once sat on the steps of the state capitol to meet with student protesters after his party defeated a bill to ban conversion therapy.

“It was a very powerful moment for me,” Cox said. “There were several times I wanted to jump in and say, ‘No you’re wrong,’ and ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ and they were wrong and sometimes they didn’t know what they were talking about on a couple issues.”

“But that didn’t matter in the moment,” he said. “It was more important to listen to them and learn.”

Cox also discussed the rapid decline of the United States, which he believes is “not decades, but years away” from failing due to political extremists and cable news jointly “killing us.”

“We are on a very clear path to complete failure — and when I say failure, I mean failure of our democratic republic,” Cox said.

“I am 11 years sober — I stopped watching cable news 11 years ago,” he added. “Turn off cable news; never turn it on again. Your life will improve immeasurably.”

With the odds stacked against America, according to Cox, he gave students advice to seek “face-to-face contact” in order to break the trend and rebuild American institutions.

“Getting outside of your bubble is so, so important,” he said. “It is deeply unhealthy, no matter what your belief is, to be surrounded by people who see the world exactly the same way you do.”

—Staff writer Thomas J. Mete can be reached at Follow him on X @thomasjmete.

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