ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President-elect Joe Biden is doubling down on his calls for unity and healing. But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, many of his own supporters are having a hard time letting bygones be bygones.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: He's been saying it since his first speech as president-elect. Biden implored everyone to put away the harsh rhetoric, give each other a chance and end what he calls this grim era of demonization in America.
ABBI GOLD: So that's a wonderful sentiment. It's probably a really sweet pipe dream.
SMITH: Abbi Gold, a 59-year-old Democrat from Arizona, thinks it may be generations before the rancor subsides enough for any real rapprochement.
GOLD: We're not going to have any healing until the public at large learns to have a nice cup of shut up before they say whatever's on their minds.
SMITH: Hoping to help, many around the nation are ramping up trainings for cross-the-aisle conversations. Julie Boler is with a group called Braver Angels, which runs red-blue workshops that aim for common ground and civil discourse.
JULIE BOLER: When you have the experience yourself of feeling a little opening, a little less frantic rejection, then you've learned at least that it is possible for some of that softening to happen. And it's a humanizing process.
SMITH: Enrollment is way up this fall, but Boler concedes it may be a self-selecting crowd that's open to dialogue. There are plenty who'd be hard to convince, including 64-year-old New Yorker Darwin Bushman. He sees bridging the gap with diehard Trump supporters as a bridge too far.
DARWIN BUSHMAN: This is not an alternate viewpoint; this is racism, hate, lying, demagoguery, sociopathy. What else can I say? Bad people, capital B-A-D. I will not sit at a table with them. I will not have a conversation with them.
SMITH: Nor would Elizabeth and Tracy Murphy, an interracial couple in Georgia who say they've been harassed, even spit at by people they believe were fueled by the president's divisive rhetoric. Before any fence-mending, Tracy Murphy says, Trump supporters would have to straight up admit that they made a mistake and apologize.
TRACY MURPHY: It's their turn to extend the olive branch out. They're the ones who messed up everything. It's not my job to fix it, you know? It's a funny thing that the person who was the victim always has to end up being the bigger person.
SMITH: But many on the right are just as adamant that they're the ones owed an apology by what they see as radical socialists threatening American values. Virginia Republican Katherine Schoonover says she's all for bipartisan cooperation, but she calls Democratic calls for unity disingenuous.
KATHERINE SCHOONOVER: I don't know how you go from telling everybody that they're all secret Nazi, fascist, bigoted, racist people, and then you're going to say, but now let's come together. It's just ridiculous coming from the Democrats now.
SMITH: And especially, she says, since she believes the claims, even though there's no evidence backing them up, that the Democrats stole the election.
SCHOONOVER: It's shocking. And I think that if the Democrats try to ram this down everybody's throats, you're going have a real problem.
SMITH: It's exactly why Darrell Duane, a 51-year-old Biden supporter from Washington, D.C., has been echoing Biden's calls for unity and imploring his friends to not dig in their heels.
DARRELL DUANE: Unfortunately, that's a recipe for civil war.
SMITH: But so far, Duane says he's not made a lot of headway.
DUANE: I've gotten in trouble for it. I've gotten called nasty names for being "Kumbaya."
SMITH: Same with 58-year-old New York Democrat Vincent Downing, who's with a group of humanists calling for more cross-the-aisle empathy and understanding. Even though Trump supporters may dehumanize him, he says, he won't stoop to the same level. But Downing says it's challenging, as he put it. He also tends to think like any good lefty would.
VINCENT DOWNING: When I just think I'm right, right, right, right, right and those godawful people who disagree with me - they're just so wrong about everything all the time.
SMITH: But then Downing says he reminds himself...
DOWNING: If you want to help other people escape from their echo chamber, the first step is you've got to escape from yours.
SMITH: It may be a tough sell, but at least one group has opted to dial it down. An online project to blacklist Trump supporters, which was once backed by prominent Democrats, recently shut itself down, quote, "in the spirit of the president-elect's call to build a more united country." Tovia Smith, NPR News.
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