Full episode
Transcript

683: Beer Summit

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Prologue: Prologue

Man

A quick warning-- there are curse words that are unbeeped in today's episode of the show. If you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website, ThisAmericanLife.org.

Ira Glass

Remember that old-fashioned idea that two people who disagree about politics could sit down, talk. Each would see the other's point of view. LBJ used to quote scripture as he headed into political negotiations-- "Come, let us reason together." Now, of course, we all realize that that's impossible. I'm overstating for effect, but you know what I mean, right?

There was this famous moment a few years ago when all this seemed way more possible, a moment which was so long ago now. It came about because of this thing that happened at a presidential press conference.

Barack Obama

Before I take your questions, I want to talk for a few minutes about the progress we're making on health insurance reform.

Ira Glass

That, of course, is Barack Obama. The year is 2009. One of my co-workers here at the radio show, Robyn Semien, has been revisiting this piece of very recent history. Because it is so recent, but feels like it's almost quaint, the fact that people thought that sitting down and talking together might work.

Hey, Robyn.

Robyn Semien

Hey, Ira. OK, so I talked to Dan Pfeiffer. He's the deputy communications guy in the Obama White House at the time. He was there in the room for that press conference. So beforehand, they'd gone over with the president the 10 specific reporters they wanted him to call on.

Dan Pfeiffer

And he got to the end of that list. And instead of going off stage-- and you can tell the president was feeling very good about his performance, because it's usually when he thinks he's doing well that he will take more questions. And nothing good ever comes of the "one more question."

Barack Obama

All right. I tried to make that short so that Lynn Sweet would get her last question in.

Lynn Sweet

Thank you, Mr. President.

Dan Pfeiffer

And I remember this question like it was yesterday.

Lynn Sweet

Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you, and what does it say about race relations in America?

Barack Obama

Well, I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don't know all the facts.

Robyn Semien

OK, so just to remind everybody, Henry Louis Gates Jr., a famous Harvard professor, African-American scholar, he comes home one night. He's trying to get into his own house. He has a problem getting in. Like, the keys don't work or something. And someone sees him and calls the police.

The cops show up, and the responding officer, Sergeant James Crowley, he learns that it is, in fact, Gates' own house. But then they get into an argument, and it escalates, and they both have words, and then Gates gets arrested.

Ira Glass

Right. So this comes up at the press conference.

Robyn Semien

Yeah, and President Obama is so comfortable in his skin. He is so casual in this moment that he even makes this little joke that it is impossible to imagine him making now.

Barack Obama

Right, I mean, if I was trying to jigger into-- well, I guess this is my house now, so--

[PRESS CORPS LAUGHING]

It probably wouldn't happen. But let's say my old house in Chicago-- here, I'd get shot.

Robyn Semien

OK, but then he says this. This is the part that's going to cause all the trouble.

Barack Obama

I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, what I think we know, separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact.

Robyn Semien

So the night ends, and you're thinking that was pretty good?

Dan Pfeiffer

Yeah, I felt fine. Yeah, we survived, which is the goal of any press conference.

Usually, we'd do a press conference, I would walk back with him and sort of like do post-game analysis. But in this case, I think he might have gone upstairs to bed. Because I'm pretty sure we were in the East Wing, in the State Dining Room. So I don't remember talking to him about it that night. He might have talked to Valerie right afterwards.

Robyn Semien

Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's senior advisors, she was at the press conference too.

Valerie Jarrett

And I remember listening to the answer and thinking, yeah, that sounds right. And then when he said the word, stupidly, I paused for a minute. And then I thought about it, and I said, all right, well, when somebody gets arrested in their own home, that is pretty odd, right? And I didn't give much more thought to it.

But by the time I got from the East Room in the residence back to my office in the West Wing, it had blown up.

Robyn Semien

Oh, that night?

Valerie Jarrett

I mean, literally within six or seven minutes. It just went viral right away. It was a big deal. Almost instantly, the reaction to him saying the word "stupidly" just was an instant problem.

News Anchor

After accusing police of acting stupidly for arresting a Harvard professor in his own home, President Obama came under fire.

Steve Killian

Cambridge police are not stupid. I think everybody that knows us knows that. I think the president should make an apology to all law enforcement personnel throughout the entire country who took offense to this.

Glenn Beck

This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is. I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. He has a-- this guy is, I believe, a racist.

Robyn Semien

That was Glenn Beck on Fox News.

Ira Glass

Kind of famously.

Robyn Semien

Yeah. So that was one reaction. But simultaneously, civil rights groups are calling the White House and thanking Obama for putting a spotlight on this issue that was important to them. So essentially, President Obama had effortlessly divided the country with his one word, "stupidly."

Valerie Jarrett

It was not intended to trigger-- polarize the police from the communities that they serve and protect. It was really kind of an offhanded comment. And if, perhaps, he hadn't said "stupidly," things would not have gotten as derailed as they did. If he had said, for example, "It's understandable that Skip would be annoyed that a police officer would arrest him in his home," I think people would have said, yeah, I'd be annoyed. But when he said something about the police officer's intent or behavior, I think that's what got under people's skin.

Robyn Semien

So inside the White House, they go into full crisis mode. They're hoping it'll die down, but it doesn't. So they come up with this idea to invite Gates and Crowley to the White House to sit down and have a beer.

Dan Pfeiffer

And then that led the press to become very interested in what I believe they deemed the Beer Summit. And there were demands for them to cover the Beer Summit, as if it would be some violation of norms and transparency if they did not get a chance to take a picture of the Beer Summit.

Robyn Semien

Right.

[CHUCKLING]

Dan Pfeiffer

And yeah, we didn't want to make it a thing.

Robyn Semien

Those are nice pictures of the garden.

Ira Glass

So they get together for beers to calm the nation down. People take pictures. And as we all know, that did not work.

Robyn Semien

Yeah, no, it still comes up. Like a month ago, as you know, our colleague, Zoe Chace, was at a Trump rally in New Hampshire to talk to people there about why the country is so divided. And two separate people brought this up on their own, pointed to this as the moment that they knew that Obama was out to divide the country.

Rally Attendee 1

What he did, his first-- what, within his first year, he went after the cops in Cambridge.

Rally Attendee 2

That's the thing that started it.

Rally Attendee 3

I think that's when it really started. He started it. Just the things that he did, starting with the Beer Summit we had in Cambridge. You know, all these dumb things that he did, you know? It was his agenda.

Ira Glass

OK, so Beer Summit did not unify America.

Robyn Semien

Right. I have thought about this so much since it happened, just the casual way that President Obama stepped into this. I've wondered if he was like, I set the table already with the race conversation as a candidate, so people know where I'm coming from. I wondered if maybe he was just trying to test the waters right then. Maybe he just thought, well, let's just see how-- let's just see where we are.

Valerie Jarrett

I don't know that there was that much thought. I think, to your point-- and honestly, Robyn, I haven't thought about this before you put it to me. But I'm sure, because the race speech had gone so well, and was embraced broadly, and was so raw and honest about himself, he hoped that people had a better sense of who he was. And because he had won the presidency and had comported himself throughout his short tenure at that point as a president for all of America, I think perhaps he thought he had the standing to say that and not experience the backlash.

And so that was a teaching moment, too, that, you know--

Robyn Semien

For him.

Valerie Jarrett

For him. For all of us, yeah.

Robyn Semien

Dan told me he thinks that it wasn't what Obama said, but that he was the first black president in the White House. And that if it wasn't this, it would have been something else.

Ira Glass

OK, but if the goal of the Beer Summit was just three people sitting around trying to understand each other a little bit better, like, even for those people did it work?

Robyn Semien

I mean, yeah, it kind of did. Like, they were really mad before. And then after the Beer Summit, Sergeant Crowley did this press conference where he says, you know, we agree that we both have a lot to learn from each other, and we want to stay in touch.

Ira Glass

And they stay in touch?

Robyn Semien

Yeah, it seems like it. Since then, Gates has said that he and Sergeant Crowley have developed a really good relationship. And then he did this thing-- you know, he has this PBS TV show where he tests celebrities' DNA and tells them about their history. So he asked Crowley to do a DNA test, and found out that they have a common Irish ancestor, a cousin.

Ira Glass

So Robyn, in other words, it is possible for people to get along and become friends, and see each other's points of view, especially around the magic potion that we call beer. But we live in a country where most of the nation, for one reason or another, chooses not to believe that.

Robyn Semien

It seems that way, yeah.

Ira Glass

Well, that is actually our show today, people sitting down trying to see the other person's point of view over beer. In all these stories-- no kidding-- beer is involved at a critical turning point. In one story, the fate of an entire nation is at stake. Actually, now that I think of it, it's true for the other story, too. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. Stay with us.

Act One: One More For My Baby and One More For the Road

Bastian Berbner

When Botswana became independent from Britain in 1966, it was one of the last African countries to do so. Imagine, the colonialists leave and you are the first president of Botswana. For years, all around you, you have seen the same story over and over again-- countries become independent, ethnic violence follows.

Mali became independent in 1960. Two years later, the Tuaregs started a civil war. Congo, same story. Soon after its independence, the province of Katanga tried to break away. Nigeria-- independence in 1960, very soon the Igbos and Hausa started clashing.

Having seen all of that, the early leaders in Botswana knew they had a problem. Because the exact thing that had fueled the violence in all those countries, they had it as well.

Unity Dow

If you think about that these borders were just drawn up. And some of them really straight borders. They could have cut through a person, literally, you know.

Bastian Berbner

This is Unity Dow, the foreign minister of Botswana. She was a kid back in the '60s, when a few people in London drew the borders of her country on a map, creating Botswana. And like in all those other places in Africa, they were putting a bunch of ethnic groups together that didn't really like each other-- the Kalanga in the north, the Bakwena south of the Kalahari Desert, the Bangwato in the center.

In Botswana, everyone refers to these groups as tribes. So that's what I'm going to say in this story. In Botswana, there were 20 tribes, give or take. They spoke different languages, had different traditions, and now they were forced into one country. So the early leaders figured, to avoid that kind of violence here, what we need to do is break up the tribal identities and form a true nation. No more us, no more them, just a we. But how do you do that?

They came up with a plan. First, they decided, everyone needs to understand each other. So in schools, they would only teach English and Setswana-- the other tribe languages, not at all.

Second, to keep people from fighting over land, they gave a piece of land to anyone who wished. And they said everything underneath that land belongs to the state. This is important, because this is one of the diamond-richest countries on Earth.

So what happens if I'm given a piece of land, I settle there, I dig, and I find a rich diamond mine.

Unity Dow

Well, you get moved.

Bastian Berbner

What do you mean?

Unity Dow

That you get moved. You have to declare that diamond, you must surrender it. It's against the law to actually keep it for yourself. You can't just find a diamond and say, oh, I found it. Once you find it, it is not yours. There is a law that just very clearly says it's not yours. It belongs to everybody. So you would just get another piece of land someplace else.

Bastian Berbner

I would be so frustrated.

Unity Dow

Well, I'm sorry for your troubles.

[BOTH CHUCKLING]

Bastian Berbner

There was one more thing, probably the most important one, people told me-- the transfers. Remember, each tribe had its territory. So if you were from a certain village in the north, you were most likely Kalanga. If you were from the Central District, probably Bangwato. So they figured, why not make all civil servants move to a different tribal area from their own for a few years? That would make sure that there are teachers and doctors everywhere in the country. But also, it would force people to mix. It would be an anti-tribalism tool.

Unity Dow

When you move people around, you are indirectly forcing them to take that culture in that new home, to adopt the new culture, and even to call that home. You're forcing alliances, and you are forcing friendships.

Bastian Berbner

Can you force friendships? Does that kind of thing work? The transfers affected everyone working for the government, by far the largest employer in the country-- engineers, administrators, doctors, nurses, and most of all, teachers.

When I was in Botswana, I talked to 20 teachers to find out if this works, and what it's like for the people going through it. I'm going to tell you the story of one of the teachers, a woman named Carol Ramolotsana. In a way, Carol's story is typical of what I found, but she also stood out to me. I'll tell you why in a minute.

Carol

So the teachers would always ask you, what do you want to be when you grow up? I said, I want to be a teacher like you, ma'am.

Bastian Berbner

Carol told me she became a teacher for the reasons a lot of people do-- she liked the one she had as a kid.

Carol

This lady was a lady who always, every morning when she gets to school, she will look at us. She wouldn't shout at us. If you didn't comb your hair, she will say, baby, come here. She will comb your hair nicely. She would ask us, did you have breakfast? She was this kind of a lady who always come with foods to make.

Bastian Berbner

What did she bring?

Carol

Most of the time, she brought oranges. And she would just sit there, cut the oranges, and just give to us. And she said, you know, I love you so much. And we said, we love you, teacher.

Bastian Berbner

In 2004, Carol was working in a school in the capital city, Gaborone. She was 28, and everything was going great. She loved teaching. All her friends were in the city. At night, they went out to eat in Chinese restaurants. They went dancing. They were happy.

But then one day, the head of the school where she taught called her in and handed her a letter. She was being transferred.

Carol

With immediate effect. I still have the letter now-- you are transferred with immediate effect.

Bastian Berbner

The head of the school told her the name of the place she was going, Lentsweletau, "Lion's Hill."

Carol

Oh, God. I didn't even know the place. I asked him, where is that place? He told me, it's a village, it's a small village. And I just saw from his eyes and his looks that he was just consoling me.

Bastian Berbner

Oh, so he knew the place.

Carol

He knew the place, and he knew the place wasn't that good.

Bastian Berbner

Carol had known about the transfers of course, but she had always figured maybe she would get lucky. Well, she didn't. She had just paid for some accounting classes. If she went to this village, she wasn't going to get her money back. She feared that she would lose everything that was important to her-- her friends, her clubs, her restaurants. And she liked being among people like herself, people she had things in common with.

Carol

And there was nothing that I can do.

Bastian Berbner

Did you try?

Carol

I tried. I tried. I spent about a month-- tried moving from one office to another, just to no avail.

Bastian Berbner

She'd walk into the Ministry of Education with her letter, saying, please, can't you put me somewhere closer? Or at least delay so I can finish my classes? She wasn't getting anywhere. Most people don't.

That woman, Unity Dow, before she became foreign minister, she was the Minister of Education, and she had to deal with people like Carol all the time. She taught me that once a teacher brought in her elderly mother, pleading, please don't transfer me, I have to take care of her. Unity said that woman could barely walk, and it was clear the woman wouldn't live much longer. Still, she said, sorry, lots of people your age have an elderly parent, I can't do anything for you.

Carol couldn't get out of it either. She was desperate.

Carol

I was telling my mother, you know, mama, I want to come back home, you know. That is what is happening. You know, I don't think I can go on, you know, being a teacher. But my mother, on the other hand, would say, no, my daughter. Just go. Just go. You will see how it goes. Just go.

Bastian Berbner

Carol knew nothing about the place where she was headed.

Carol

I really didn't know them. You know, the fact that you are speaking different languages. And I wasn't even interested-- really, I wasn't even interested in knowing them that much. To me, I just felt like they are just people that I don't have to bother knowing them.

Bastian Berbner

Carol's tribe was kind of the elite. The founder of the state, for example, he was from her tribe. And it was his grandfather who, back in the 1800s, went to London to negotiate with Queen Victoria. The place where she was going, very different story. She says they used to be enslaved by another tribe.

One day, the ministry sent a truck to take Carol's things to the new place. She didn't go with it. She stayed for two more weeks. And then, reluctantly, she got in her car, drove out of the city. And when she approached a village--

Carol

There was a building, an old building. You know, I was like, oh God, what is this? On the other side of the road, there was something like-- maybe they wanted to build a filling station, but they didn't go along with the structure, but they just left the things there. There was the tank that showed that this place was supposed to be a filling station.

Bastian Berbner

I've been there. It's remote. Dusty, makeshift houses, many without running water. The school, just a few houses scattered on the deep red earth. Carol's house was on the school grounds. Campus housing for both kids and teachers is pretty standard in Botswana actually. She got her keys, opened the door, all her stuff was there in boxes. She cried, and slept.

For days, she wouldn't leave the house. A few times, someone knocked, probably a fellow teacher or her boss. She ignored it. She had brought food for weeks-- rice, pasta, 10 pounds of dried chicken, and tons of hard cider. Finally, she showed up to work.

Carol

It was really odd. It was odd. Like I said, the people in that village-- even the teachers were like them. So I was wearing high-heeled shoes, I was carrying a handbag. Some were gossiping behind. Some were telling me straight, you know, my sister, this is a village. Eventually, you would leave your handbag at home, you would leave your high-heeled shoes.

Then I said, for what? This is me. No one is going to change me. That's what I said. And you know, because of their attitude and what they said, I also had an attitude towards them.

Bastian Berbner

It's worth noting how this is basically the opposite of what the program is supposed to do. She's forced to go there. She didn't necessarily think anything bad about the people at first, but now she did. She didn't notice what she had in common with them. She noticed how they were different. Carol found herself in a corner that she hadn't really been in to start with.

Carol

And I was angry with the Minister of Education. I was angry with everyone. They have abused me, they have ill-treated me.

So I didn't even want to be a teacher anymore. At times, I would just go to class, I would look at these kids, I would just give them a book to read, and I would go back to my room.

Bastian Berbner

Wow, so the students would sit there by themselves?

Carol

The students would sit there by themselves. They would just read their books. I don't know whether they would be reading or making noise.

Bastian Berbner

Did you think to yourself, what happened to the girl who brought oranges to the classroom?

Carol

At that time, that thing didn't even cross my mind.

Bastian Berbner

Most of the teachers I talked to told me stories like this, but many were reluctant to go on the record. Carol, not so much. She was like, what the hell, this is what the government does to us, people should know about it.

After a few weeks in the village, she had finished all the cider she had brought. So that night, she drove to the local bar and went in.

Carol

I was just looking at these dirty people. To me, they were very dirty. And I wouldn't even look at them and see someone clean there.

Bastian Berbner

Dirty in what way?

Carol

Dirty like they were not bathed, and they have a smell.

Bastian Berbner

So most of all, you remembered the smell.

Carol

Yeah. It was horrible. I'm telling you. You know, the smell of armpits, and everything dirty, and the shoes? To me, I was somebody in a different class. They were not the type of people that I want to chat with, I would sit down with, I would laugh with. You know in a bar, when you get into a bar, there would be these guys that say, hey, baby, such things. And I would just look at them with this harsh face.

Bastian Berbner

Rolling your eyes.

Carol

Yeah, then they would say, uh oh, this one. And they will keep quiet. And I will get to the lady who's selling, and I will buy, and get outside, and get into my car and sit there and drink.

Bastian Berbner

How many beers would you have a night?

Carol

Around six.

Bastian Berbner

Six beers?

Carol

Yes.

Bastian Berbner

The whole point of transferring teachers around the country is to expose them to people who are different from themselves. But whenever possible, Carol just tried to avoid that. Like the teachers, for example, they had a break room where they could eat lunch together and socialize.

Carol

I only went there when there was a meeting-- only. I never sat with the teachers there, never. From the class, I go back to my house. I never sat with them.

Bastian Berbner

Lunch break?

Carol

I never sat with them, never. I would rather sit in my car.

Ira Glass

After three months, she got a housemate, another teacher from a different part of the country. And one Saturday, he suggested going out to this nearby town that's just a little bit bigger. They brought their camping chairs, because on weekends, the bars can get so crowded that you don't find a place to sit. So they take the chairs, sit outside the bar, and Carol feels happy because the people there seem more like her kind of people.

[CAROL CHUCKLING]

Carol

No, we just had some drinks. It was a new environment for us.

[CHUCKLING]

Bastian Berbner

Why are you laughing?

Carol

I'm remembering exactly what happened.

[CHUCKLING]

You know, you were just sitting there, chatting. And my housemate just went to the toilets. And there was this guy who approached me. He said hi. I said hi. And he said, my name is Thabo, can I please have your number? And then I was like, what do you want to do with my number? He said, no, I just wanted to chat with you. I feel like we can chat.

Bastian Berbner

Sometimes she gives out a fake number. But that guy, he got the real one.

Carol

I just felt like talking to him, being nice to him, and chatting with him. I just felt something from him the moment he came. Just, I don't know-- maybe that was the clinch of love. I don't know. Yes.

Bastian Berbner

What did he look like?

Carol

Thabo.

Bastian Berbner

Yeah.

[CAROL CHUCKLING]

Carol

He was handsome.

Bastian Berbner

What's so handsome about him?

Carol

No, I think beauty lies in the eyes. Maybe when you look at him, you will see him ugly. But when I look at him, handsome.

Bastian Berbner

He seemed like the guys she hung out with in the city, not like the people in the village. They talked a bit with the guys he was with.

Carol

We were talking, just like, yeah. And they said, oh, you guys, are you from here? We said, no. Then they said, where are you from? I kept quiet. Then my housemate said, we are from Lentsweletau. And they were like, what?

Bastian Berbner

Thabo, the guy who had asked for her number, said, that's my home village. It's where I grew up. My family lives there. This guy that Carol liked was from the town that she found so repulsive.

Carol

And I know my housemate was laughing because he knew very well that I hate the place and everybody in that place. I always told him [SCOFFING] I don't like this place. I hate this place.

Bastian Berbner

What happened next is exactly what you think happened next. He visited her the next weekend, took her to parties, introduced her to friends, they got together. They traveled to South Africa, to the north of Botswana to see elephants. When they went out to dinner, he'd order the same thing she ordered. He lived a few hours away, so they only saw each other on weekends. But they'd talk on the phone.

Carol

You know, love chats, love chats.

Bastian Berbner

What do you mean, love chats?

Carol

You know, he would ask me how I am, am I fine? If I wasn't, well, I will tell him, no, today, I have a headache, or what-- just those things.

Bastian Berbner

That's not a love chat, is it?

Carol

It is. If you want to know how your partner is, that's the love chat.

Bastian Berbner

The transfer program was created to forge a nation. It's funny to think that this could be the real secret to how it might actually work-- people fall in love. For Carol, after she met Thabo--

Carol

Everything changed. I started loving the place.

Bastian Berbner

How? How did that change?

Carol

Hmm?

Bastian Berbner

How did that change?

Carol

You know, you have someone in the village, he's your boyfriend. He moves around, showing you things in the village. You tend to love the place.

Bastian Berbner

What did you discover about the place that before you hadn't seen?

Carol

It's just a village. There isn't anything much.

Bastian Berbner

What do you love about it?

Carol

Those people, they are loving people.

Bastian Berbner

You're smiling.

Carol

Yes. They are loving people. I love them. I love them.

Bastian Berbner

She became friends with the owner of the smelly bar. She cooked for the soccer team. She was invited to be a judge in a beauty contest, which is kind of a big deal in the village. She went to weddings and funerals. There was even a woman who gave her a piece of land.

Carol

I have built a house there.

Bastian Berbner

No way.

Carol

I'm telling you.

Bastian Berbner

No way.

Carol

Serious.

[BOTH LAUGHING]

Bastian Berbner

The former education minister Unity Dow, she says what Carol experienced is actually pretty common, and a big part of the program's success.

Unity Dow

What happens when you move people around? Maybe 80% will come back, 20% will stay, they get married.

Bastian Berbner

Oh, so it's a massive dating program.

[UNITY CHUCKLING]

Unity Dow

I don't know if it's a-- I mean--

Bastian Berbner

It's like a government-sponsored dating thing. People go someplace, they fall in love.

Unity Dow

First of all, I'm going to say that you joke, but the truth is that it's just the nature of how humans move, and acclimatize, and call those their homes.

Bastian Berbner

A few years after she had moved to the village, Carol finally felt at home. She had built that house, her relationship with Thabo was going great. Carol was taking oranges to class again. She did still bring her handbag and her heels to class every day. In fact, one of the women who teased her about it, a science teacher, she started bringing her handbag too.

Carol was still a little bit of a snob about the locals. But overall, she was as happy here as she had been in the city.

But there is something I haven't told you about the transfer program. You don't just get transferred once. For teachers, it's every five years, sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more.

So one day--

Carol

The school had called us. And it was a lady. She told us that one of you has to go.

Bastian Berbner

There were five teachers teaching religious education, one too many.

Carol

We asked her, what criteria are you going to use? So she basically said, whoever came first would be the one to go. And definitely, I knew it was me. So I think for about four or five months, I was waiting for the letter, knowing that any time I would go going.

Bastian Berbner

That must be so frustrating. I mean, now you're there, you know people intimately, and then you know that you have to start from the bottom.

Carol

Yes.

Bastian Berbner

And you have to take all of this.

Carol

It's really frustrating. Yeah, it is. It is. It is frustrating. It is frustrating a lot.

Bastian Berbner

On the other hand, if it weren't for the transfer program, she wouldn't have met Thabo.

Bastian Berbner

Are you happy with him?

Carol

Yeah, we are very much happy. And we are planning to get married.

Bastian Berbner

(EXCITEDLY) Oh.

Carol

Probably some time-- April, May.

Ira Glass

This was December last year. They had been together for 15 years at that point, survived three transfers. Thabo had never moved with her. As a soldier, he was also told by the government where to work.

But then, a couple of months after the interview, I was texting with Carol and she told me she had broke up with Thabo just before the wedding. She had found out that he was having an affair.

Bastian Berbner

Do you blame the transfer program for the end of your relationship with Thabo at all sometimes?

Carol

Not really. A person's mentality it's not to be blamed on anyone or the government. No, I don't.

Bastian Berbner

But if it wasn't for the transfer program, you would have been able to stay with him maybe and--

Carol

Maybe. I don't know. Yeah, maybe.

Bastian Berbner

Don't want to speculate.

Carol

Yeah.

Bastian Berbner

All the teachers I talked to found the transfer thing mostly annoying. Some of them found it so disruptive that, at some point, they considered quitting. Like, there was this one guy, after being transferred, he fell in love, much like Carol. He had a kid. But then he was transferred again, and again, and again.

He worked in seven schools. He had four kids with four women. And he was single again when I talked to him. He blamed the transfers, and himself.

Recently, the government has made some changes. They now allow married people to move together. They've tried to reunite couples who have been split up. They also allow swaps. So if you find another teacher across the country who is willing to switch jobs, they'll usually agree.

So yes, they try to make things a little easier. But still, this policy is supposed to be intrusive. That's the idea. All the officials I talked to acknowledge the hardships it causes, and all of them stood by it. Yes, it was sometimes bad for individual people, but it was good for the people as a whole. In fact, they say it's a big reason why they are a whole.

The effect of the transfers has never been systematically analyzed. There is no study. And Botswana had other things going for it that helped them unify. There was less of a colonial legacy to overcome. The British had kind of ignored the country, and ruled it from neighboring South Africa. And Botswana enacted those laws that prevented any one group from getting rich off the country's diamond wealth.

But the officials I talked to were convinced the transfers were essential. They helped make their country, drawn on a map 50 years ago, into a unified nation-- one that has never seen war, one that is the least corrupt country in Africa, and one of Africa's best-working democracies.

And the economy? From the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s, Botswana had the fastest-growing economy in the world-- not the United States, not emerging China, Botswana.

Mokgweetsi Masisi

It works miracles.

Bastian Berbner

This is the president of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi. I had the chance to speak to him a few weeks ago.

Mokgweetsi Masisi

In the same way as early on, when education system was still in its nascent stages, we had boarding schools. So you had people from this part of the country going over here and there. And people marry from everywhere. And it works for us.

Bastian Berbner

I asked if some version of this might work elsewhere, like in the US and other countries that are so divided.

Mokgweetsi Masisi

It could be a fix. But you know, I don't really want to comment too deeply about the issues of another nation state. You'd understand why. But I do have views.

[BASTIAN CHUCKLING]

They may just copy us-- copy from us.

Bastian Berbner

It's hard to imagine the US shipping teachers from New York City to red states, and vice versa. If you attempted this with teachers in Germany, where I live, you'd probably have riots on your hands. But we could try something to get different kinds of people talking to each other face to face.

Everybody I spoke with in Botswana told me the transfer program works, and everything I found in my reporting suggests it works. But I also got a glimpse of its limits.

One day, I gave a woman a ride, a young French teacher. We sat in the car waiting for the rain to pass, and she talked about her family, a family of teachers, a family shaped by transfers.

French Teacher

My father was a teacher, and he was posted in another area. My mother was a teacher, and she was posted in another area. So he got on, did his naughty business, she got upset and left. But then I grew up knowing that the teacher was my father, but my father was someone else, was from another village somewhere in another tribe. So in essence, my mother raised me as a Motswana, and--

Bastian Berbner

A Motswana. In other words, a Botswanan.

French Teacher

So I hate that question because--

Bastian Berbner

Which question?

French Teacher

"Omo gai."

Bastian Berbner

"Omo gai."

French Teacher

Yeah.

Bastian Berbner

What does that mean?

French Teacher

What's your tribe? Or "hai g'gai," where's your home village?

Bastian Berbner

And is that a very common question?

French Teacher

It's a very common question. . Everyone will ask you that. Wherever you go, that's the first thing people will ask you.

Bastian Berbner

"Omo gai."

French Teacher

"Omo gai." It's like [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. You get what I mean? So I don't like that. I'm just a Motswana. It doesn't matter where I come from. It doesn't matter where my village is-- de Motswana. And it's-- yeah.

Bastian Berbner

And that's not just an answer to shut the people up. It's what you really feel.

French Teacher

It's how I feel. I don't understand why we have to always identify with our tribes.

Bastian Berbner

Do you realize that this is, in a nutshell, the Botswana story?

French Teacher

Really? No I don't.

Bastian Berbner

Don't you think?

French Teacher

I guess now you're giving me that aha moment. Yeah, hey. [SPEAKING FRENCH]

Bastian Berbner

Then she started listing the Botswana tribes.

French Teacher

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. We are distributed all over the country. And we are all one. Thank you to the transfers, I guess.

Bastian Berbner

So yes, of course it has worked. Here's a woman who identifies first and foremost as Botswanan, who hasn't spoken her native language in years. But also, it hasn't worked, not all the way. I mean, they tried the most radical thing that I've found in my years of reporting on this. They did it for decades. They moved hundreds of thousands of people around. But the question is still being asked, what's your tribe?

Ira Glass

Bastian Berbner is a reporter for Die Zeit. If you speak German, he has a book about all this called, in German, 180 Degrees-- Stories Against Hate. He's looking for a publisher in English. Carol, by the way, after splitting up with Thabo, she met somebody new. They're planning to get married later this year.

Coming up, a bar where everybody knows your name. And that is exactly the problem. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Two: Lagerheads

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, so a couple of years ago, I called this guy in Indiana.

Pete Buttigieg

Hello, Ben? Hi, Pete here in South Bend. How are you?

Ben Calhoun

Mayor Buttigieg, how are you?

Pete Buttigieg

Good. I apologize for running behind schedule today.

Ben Calhoun

No, I hear you have a whole city to run.

[BOTH CHUCKLING]

This was way before Mayor Pete started running for president. These days, I don't imagine he does a ton of hour-long chats about the direction of the Democratic Party with reporters. Which, that's what we were doing.

And in the middle of that, he mentioned this thing that happened in South Bend.

Pete Buttigieg

I went to an event not long ago at the Clay Democratic Club, which is another sort of-- that's on the north side of town, and it resembles a dive bar. It's a place you can go for a concert and card game. And they had a big controversy because about half their board voted for Donald Trump, the Democratic Club.

Ben Calhoun

Mayor Buttigieg was so matter-of-fact, it took me a second to register just how wild what he was saying was. That at one of the oldest, largest, most important Democratic clubs in his hometown, half the leadership had voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

In other words, it was like, in the tiny world of this one bar, you had what the entire Democratic party's going through. In some key places like the Midwest, a bunch of Democrats deserted, and the Democrats lost, and the rest are left trying to figure it out. Are they mad at those people? Sure. Can they win those people back? What the heck is going to happen with those people?

So a little while ago, I went to the Clay Democratic Club to see how this was all working out there.

[DOOR OPENING]

The Clay Democratic Club, it's sort of like an American Legion hall, crossed with a bingo hall, crossed with a neighborhood bar. Pool costs $1.25. Beers are $2.50. Because it's a private club, you can smoke, which is a well-exercised right. There's a stage in the back for drawings, bands, karaoke night.

As a kid from Wisconsin, I would say it's pretty much everything a bar should be. Behind the stage, there's the club's logo, a red and blue donkey, with the name Clay Democratic Club over it. There's tables that the club moves around depending on what's happening. And at the bar, there are regulars who always seem to be in the same spots regardless of what's happening.

Every time I stopped in, there was Marty on the right end of the bar, Denny in the middle, and then, down at the far left end of the bar, Liz, Liz McCombs.

Liz Mccombs

The nights of elections, it will be packed down here-- bands and food. It's a huge event down here.

Ben Calhoun

This whole thing started, Liz told me, on the eve of Indiana's last presidential primary, May 2, 2016. This was a Monday night. Donald Trump was in town. He was holding a big rally in South Bend, just a few miles south of the bar. They had it on all the bar's TVs.

News Anchor

We are just hours away from a critical vote in Indiana.

Ben Calhoun

So everyone's watching the coverage of Trump on the bar's TVs, drinking.

Liz Mccombs

There was a lot of offhand comments and things like that, because we were Democrats. So we definitely wanted to, for lack of better words, diss the Republicans and Trump.

Ben Calhoun

And then it was over. The rally ended.

Liz Mccombs

When the rally was letting out, and they had it on the news-- so, the 11 o'clock news. And somebody said, oh my God, that's Russ. And it was.

Ben Calhoun

Right there, on the TV, in the crowd streaming out of the Trump rally, was this guy that everybody in the bar recognized, a guy named Russ Thomas. Everyone recognized Russ because he was a longtime member of the Clay Democratic Club. But on top of that, Russ Thomas was the sitting President of the Clay Democratic Club.

Liz Mccombs

And then everybody-- can I be blunt? They were-- oh, hell no, is what everybody was saying. Shock and awe. Shock and awe.

Ben Calhoun

I called Russ to hear his version of all this. Russ, I'll say, is gruff but nice. He's a real connoisseur of short answers. "What is it that convinced you to support President Trump?" "I just like him." "But were there policies or certain issues?" "I just like him." He did have more than that to say about the rally, though-- mainly that he was completely and totally unapologetic.

Ben Calhoun

If you had known that people at the club were watching TV that night, and they were seeing you on TV--

Russ Thomas

If I'd have know they were watching? I'd have had a banner that said, "Russ is here."

[CHUCKLING]

Might have waved at them-- how you doing, guys?

Ben Calhoun

Russ says the rally was exciting. He went there with a buddy that night, another Democrat-turned-Trump supporter. It wasn't easy. Russ has problems with his legs, and by his account, could hardly walk. His friend couldn't use one foot because of diabetes. But they willed themselves through the walk to South Bend's convention center. And then they stood and waited until Donald Trump made his entrance-- to the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up."

[MUSIC - THE ROLLING STONES, "START ME UP"]

Ben Calhoun

So if I'm facing the president, where were you in the room?

Russ Thomas

He's right over there.

Ben Calhoun

Russ points, indicating he was in the back, back towards the back right corner of the room.

Russ Thomas

Yeah, I'm back on this back wall back there, standing.

Donald Trump

But we had such incredible crowds. Look at this room as an example-- right into the corners, people. Hello, corner.

Ben Calhoun

How far away were you from him?

Russ Thomas

I was almost to the other wall.

Ben Calhoun

So pretty far in the back.

Russ Thomas

It was awesome, everybody clapping and yelling. Awesome.

Ben Calhoun

Indiana's primary comes pretty late in the process. But that night, Trump was on the verge of effectively locking up the Republican nomination. And he told Russ and his buddy in the crowd there that their votes the next day could put him over the top.

Donald Trump

Now Indiana is becoming very important. It's usually, by this time, it's over, and you know, it doesn't matter. But this time, you folks belong where you belong. It's called Importantville, right?

[CROWD CHEERING]

Importantville, I love it.

Ben Calhoun

Of course, that night in Importantville, not everyone was feeling so great about stuff, specifically the patrons of one Democratic bar who'd been watching TV.

Liz Mccombs

Anger, embarrassment, rage. There was people that were raging.

Ben Calhoun

Again, Liz McCombs, longtime Clay Democratic Club member.

Liz Mccombs

It was every emotion. Because you felt like the rug had been ripped out underneath your feet. It was like The Wizard of Oz. You're really a Republican running a Democratic Club. Never mind what's behind that curtain. It was exactly like The Wizard of Oz.

Ben Calhoun

It probably seems like Russ could not have been more busted, but he was. The head of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party-- that's the county where South Bend is-- the head of the entire Democratic Party at that time was a guy named Jason Critchlow. Jason was outside the Trump rally that night, just checking out the Trump supporters. And then what happened, he looks across the street, he told me. Who do I see? It's Russ fucking Thomas.

Jason Critchlow

I think he was wearing a hat. It was one of those things where it wasn't an accident and he was just walking along the sidewalk. It was obvious this dude was going into the rally and was a Trump supporter, you know?

Ben Calhoun

Jason was like, I'm the county party chair, this is kind of a weird thing for me to get mixed up in, but also kind of too big of a deal to just let go.

Jason Critchlow

You know, how much of a fight do I want to pick over something? And this is their club, it's their rules.

Ben Calhoun

Not knowing what to do, Jason started calling and texting a small group of people who he knows go to the club. Eventually, he gets to Dan Hardman, former president of the Clay Democratic Club.

Dan Hardman

He asked me, what's going on? I told him-- I said, Jason, I don't know. I'm not an officer at the club anymore.

Ben Calhoun

Dan Hardman is like everything about the Clay Democratic Club turned into a person. His life seems to rhyme with everything about the place. Dan was born in South Bend in 1946, same year as the club. In the beginning, the founders didn't have enough money for a building. They just poured a basement and put a roof on it.

Some of Dan's early memories are of being a little kid, running around on the low-slung roof of that basement building while the adults were downstairs in the club. Dan was a member for years, eventually became vice president. Dan was president for seven years before Russ came in.

Dan Hardman

For anything bad to happen down here, it kind of affects me emotionally because I've got such strong feelings for the membership and the club. My desire to have this club succeed is just humongous. I mean, anything goes wrong with this club, I feel it's part of me.

And so do most of my officers. They feel that way. And that's the way the officers of the club should feel. This club is part of them. And that don't mean that your life revolves around it, but close to it.

Ben Calhoun

Everyone at the club seems to love Dan, which is easy. He's not a big guy, but he seems big because he's so outgoing. He's a grandfather of 16, retired Teamster, drove a truck for years, Army veteran. He's got this completely bald head and a long gray goatee.

When Dan got the call from Jason about Russ, it was the first he'd heard of any of this. Dan was reeling.

Dan Hardman

What do you feel? I mean, the president of your club, your Democratic Club, is seen at a rally for a Republican candidate for president. What are you doing, dude? I mean, you're putting a black mark on our party, on our club.

Ben Calhoun

Dan, who'd known Russ for years, ended up being the one to have to call him to see what this was about.

Dan Hardman

I confronted him about it-- why did you do that, Russ? Because I believe in the man. I support Trump. He says, I'm not a Republican but I support Trump. I said, you're the president of the Democratic Club, and you're doing that to your Democratic Party? It doesn't look very good, Russ. I mean, you could have sat at home and watched it on TV or in any other venue.

And he said, that's my right to do that. And I said, OK, I appreciate that. You have your rights. Do whatever you want to do. I didn't raise hell or anything like that, because that doesn't get you anywhere.

Ben Calhoun

At the club meeting that soon followed, Dan asked everyone to, quote, "not crucify their friend for his beliefs."

Dan Hardman

Right away, they wanted to kick him out of the club, right away. They wanted to tar and feather the poor guy and run him off.

Liz Mccombs

Well, it wasn't me, but it was other people stating, he's gone, he's done, we're done.

Ben Calhoun

Again, Liz McCombs. Liz says she was friends with Russ, still is friends with Russ. But she says most people-- at least, the ones that spoke up at this meeting-- drew a hard line about what he did.

Liz Mccombs

This Democratic Club, we are old yellow dogs. And what that means is I'd rather vote for an old yellow dog than a Republican. So they just labeled him as a turncoat. And that was it, it was impossible.

Ben Calhoun

It was like there was just no way that he could even function as president anymore.

Liz Mccombs

No, you lied to everybody. No. There's-- no. He just-- he did not understand what his position meant and how much it meant.

Ben Calhoun

Russ resigned as president. A couple of people told me he wasn't doing that good of a job anyway. Russ denies that. The only thing Russ would say is that it was, quote, "personal." No matter how many times I asked, that's what he said. What I do know, Russ submitted a very succinct letter of resignation shortly after the incident at the rally. No reasons, just that he was stepping down as president of the Clay Democratic Club. Dan Hardman came back for another term, like FDR.

But what makes all of this complicated is that Russ quit as president, but he kept coming into the club because it's a great bar full of people he knows, and because Russ still considers himself a Democrat-- previously, now, in the future. He says he just likes Trump.

Russ Thomas

He's outspoken, he's doing a good job. I got a lot of faith in him. I feel the same way about him that I did with Reagan.

Ben Calhoun

Oh, is that right? So did you-- you voted for Reagan?

Russ Thomas

Yep.

Ben Calhoun

So do you feel like there's a couple times in your life when-- for the most part you've been a Democrat, but there's been a few times in your life that you said, I'm voting for the Republican in this case.

Russ Thomas

I split my ticket every year, every vote. I still vote some Democrat. I voted Obama's first year.

Ben Calhoun

At this point, it seems like it became clear that the Russ Thomas situation wasn't just going to be about Russ.

Liz Mccombs

When Russ did this, it split everybody apart, because you're either a Democrat or you're not.

Ben Calhoun

Liz McCombs says things changed at the club in the months that followed. When Dan Hardman came back as president, he told Russ if he was going to keep coming in, he had to be tactful about his support for Trump. But Dan also made sure Russ knew that he was still welcome. And so Russ continued to do some of the things he'd always done, like run karaoke at the club on Friday nights, which is how karaoke night turned into a time for people at the club to choose sides.

Liz Mccombs

So you had people gunning for Russ-- that's true. And then you had Russ supporters, which I get. It's freedom of speech. You're allowed that, and you're allowed to do whatever you want, and that's part of the Constitution, and I'm thankful every day we have that. That's fine in everybody's regular life.

Ben Calhoun

But what did those people do when they would come down? How often would it happen that people would stir up trouble about Trump after that?

Liz Mccombs

It seemed like every weekend, because Russ was doing the karaoke. And it seemed like there was a fight every Friday night. Every time he played, somebody would just start yelling and being out of control. Because he was up on stage doing the karaoke. So he kind of made himself the target.

Ben Calhoun

Wait, so would it go both ways? Would it be like he would run the karaoke night, and somebody would yell something at him? They would heckle him about what had happened.

Liz Mccombs

Absolutely. And then there were people that felt sorry for him. Because--

Ben Calhoun

And they would defend him?

Liz Mccombs

Yes. Because he's an aging man, and they're uneducated, and they didn't understand what he did.

Ben Calhoun

Russ estimates that maybe 10% of the club's members like President Trump, and others said the same thing. But most of the Trump supporters keep it quiet-- most, though definitely not all.

Another contingent increasingly came into the club spoiling for a fight, looking to mix it up. Dan Hardman, and Liz McCombs, and a number of others say the loudest was a guy named Mike Powell.

Liz Mccombs

He would pound his fist on the bar-- Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.

Ben Calhoun

Like Russ, Mike's a lifelong Democrat, member of the club for years, who decided to support Trump. Dan Hardman told me Mike would come into his office at the club and try to convince Dan to defect like he had. Again, here's Liz.

Liz Mccombs

Why would you come to a Democratic Club to be a Trumper?

Ben Calhoun

Like, when you say that he would pound his fists on the bar and say, "Trump, Trump, Trump," that is what he would say?

Liz Mccombs

Trump, Trump, Trump-- literally. And that's kind of how the Trumpers are. That's exactly how Mike Powell behaves.

Ben Calhoun

Surprisingly-- and unsurprisingly-- Mike Powell sees this whole situation differently. Mike's account-- he has not gone looking for fights about Trump. In fact, he feels, if anything, it's been the other way around.

Mike Powell

I mean, everybody knows how I feel. And if somebody sits down next to me and starts cutting down Trump, I'll say, you're talking to the wrong guy-- wrong guy. Talk over there.

[CHUCKLING]

And sometimes they get mad, and oh well.

Ben Calhoun

There was a blow-up over the situation at a board meeting at the club when they discussed Russ's support for Trump and the impact it was having. According to a few accounts I've heard, someone-- a longtime Democrat-- stood up and he said some version of, half the board didn't even vote Democratic. Club president Dan Hardman shot back saying that wasn't true. Though I guess that comment about half the board is what produced the story that spread through Democratic circles, and eventually made its way to Mayor Buttigieg.

At this meeting, Mike Powell told me he got called out as a Trump supporter, to which he yelled back, it's none of your business how I voted. Mike told me a staunch Democrat started shouting at Mike's wife, who is the club's financial secretary. He was pointing a finger in her face. Mike told me he went up to the guy after the meeting and told him if he pointed a finger in his wife's face again he'd break it off and shove it up his ass.

Dan Hardman says he's done what he could to limit the damage as stories like this have circulated. He wrote in the newsletter telling people not to believe everything they heard, making it clear that it was a Democratic Club for Democrats.

Dan told me, leading up to all this, membership at the club had already been declining. But all this strife, it made it worse.

Dan Hardman

We went down from nearly 1,000 members, to right now, we're looking at maybe 300. And that membership is hard to keep together, because we can't get people to come down, because they think that we turned our backs on them.

Ben Calhoun

He means Democrats didn't think the club was really for Democrats anymore.

Dan Hardman

And there are some that I haven't seen in, oh, heck, three years.

Ben Calhoun

That must have been difficult to go through with a club that you'd been running, and that you'd built over the course of years.

Dan Hardman

Yeah. Oh yeah, it was heartbreaking. It was really heartbreaking. I don't know. I don't know why they don't come back.

Ben Calhoun

Mike and Russ, the more they've come under attack from their Democratic friends, the more they've sought the company of those who agree with them. Russ told me, these days, he's relying almost entirely on Fox News. Both guys read a lot of conservative stuff that they get from other Trump supporters on the internet. Democrats want open borders. President Obama wanted one world government. Mike said he doesn't want Muslims in our government. That scares the tar out of me, he said.

I asked both of them what the Democrats might do to win them back, if that was even possible. Russ said, maybe for 2024, but I'm sticking with Trump. Mike told me he likes some of what he heard from Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar, but really, it was pretty unlikely.

Ben Calhoun

What do you think the Democrats don't understand about somebody like you or somebody like Russ, who identified for a long time as a Democrat, and then they left for Trump?

Mike Powell

I don't think they care. That's the deal. They have an agenda. And they don't care what we think anymore. I mean, everything is about illegals, and the poor, and everything else. They don't care about us anymore. They just don't. It's just like we're irrelevant, you know? You don't give a shit about us.

Ben Calhoun

So if there was a Democratic politician, though, and you felt like that is somebody who cares about a guy like me--

Mike Powell

That's a big deal.

Ben Calhoun

That's the kind of thing that could get you back.

Mike Powell

That's huge, yes. You know, it ain't just what Trump does, but it's about feeling like you matter. You know what I mean? If you think somebody don't give a crap about you, what does it matter? You're going to go towards somebody that cares, somebody that thinks you matter. That's the bottom line. What about us?

Ben Calhoun

There's a certain schizophrenia to Russ and Mike's politics these days. Even though they support President Trump, their biggest concerns still do seem to be traditionally Democratic causes. Russ says he's concerned about health care. And if somebody could present a plan to get everybody covered, he'd be for that. Mike also worries about health care, and the cost of prescription drugs, and about the quality of public education in America.

They both told me the story of the Democratic Party they were loyal to, that they still love, was the story of a party that was for the little guy and against the big guy. I told them, I think many of the Democrats running now still talk about the party that way. And they're making proposals to do things that both men say they want. But whatever the story the Democrats are telling, Russ and Mike do not see themselves in it.

The one part of the Democrats' message that seems to be getting through to Russ and Mike is just how badly they all want to get rid of Trump, which just makes them want to defend him. One Democrat who's had to come up with a strategy for how to deal with the Russes and Mikes of the world is club President Dan Hardman. And his strategy could pretty much be boiled down to, let's just all try to chill out some, go easy on each other, maybe have a beer.

Russ isn't so interested in hearing from any Democratic politicians right now. But he also made a point of telling me about this thing that Dan did for him after all this went down. Russ lost his wife, Carol, earlier this year. They'd been together since high school. After she died, Russ got really depressed. In the middle of that, Dan organized a dinner for him, and he held it at the Democratic Club. Russ says that-- that meant so much to him.

And so there is one Democrat I know for a fact Russ respects, that he listens to, and that he likes. It's a guy who keeps letting him know he's welcome to sit with him at the bar, regardless of who's in the White House.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun is one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - GEORGE STRAIT, "COLD BEER CONVERSATION"]

George Strait

(SINGING) Cold beer conversations, just a couple old boys, a little time well wasted. Trying to figure out life, trying to figure out girls, trying to find our place in this crazy old world.

Ira Glass

Well, the program was produced today by Zoe Chace with help from Elna Baker. The people who put together today's show includes Emanuele Berry, Ben Calhoun, Sean Cole, Damian Grave, Jessica Lussenhop, Miki Meek, Lina Misitzis, Stowe Nelson, Katharine Rae Mondo, Ben Phelan, Nadia Reiman, Tracy Roland, Robyn Semien, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Nancy Updike. Managing editor is Diane Wheeler, executive editor is David Kestenbaum. Special thanks today to Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Moses Ochonu, the Pew Research Center, NDR in Hamburg, Betty Olivier, and Denny Grounds.

Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org, where you can stream our archive of over 680 episodes. And there's videos and tons of other stuff there too. Or get our app, which has all that stuff and also lets you download as many episodes as you want. Again, ThisAmericanLife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Thanks as always to our program's co-founder Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, he just signed up with the Hair Club for Men. He seems to be taking it very seriously. But to be honest, I am not sure he understands it.

Dan Hardman

My desire to have this club succeed is just humongous. I mean, anything goes wrong with this club, I feel it's a part of me.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of this American life.

[MUSIC - GEORGE STRAIT, "COLD BEER CONVERSATION"]

George Strait

(SINGING) A little truth, a little frustration. It's just us, man. Go on and say it. Cold beer conversation.