Help Overcome Political Divisions by Respecting Differences

Political commentators Ana Navarro and Sally Kohn address SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference


​CNN commentator and Daily Beast columnist Sally Kohn, at left, talks with Robert Carr, SHRM senior vice president of membership and external affairs, and Ana Navarro, CNN political analyst. Photo by Vanessa Hill

​The biggest problem Americans face today is political balkanization, CNN political analyst Ana Navarro told the Society for Human Resource Management Employment Law & Legislative Conference.

Speaking on March 13, she said the last campaign season—like no other before it—strained personal, professional and family relationships. "We lost our ability to listen to each other," she said.

She urged HR professionals to go outside their comfort zone and learn from people who are different from themselves.

"One of the greatest joys in my life is having friends that disagree with me, that are different from me, that share their life experience and perspectives with me," said Navarro, a Republican strategist.

From the other side of the political aisle, CNN political commentator and columnist for the Daily Beast Sally Kohn encouraged HR professionals to promote diversity and inclusion.

"In this era of populism, it's on us … to continue to stand up for the ideas of diversity and human equity, and opportunity for all, and fairness and inclusion that so many of your human resources departments represent," she said.

In the face of "absurdity and upheaval," America's greatest businesses remain committed to diversity and inclusion, not because of profit but because of principle, Kohn added. "If you see those ideals as essential to your company … promote them."

[SHRM members-only platform: SHRM Connect]

Political Outlook

President Donald Trump's election was surreal, unprecedented and unexpected, Navarro said.

She learned the hard way that underestimating Trump was a huge mistake. He had the money and celebrity name identification and was running against 16 people with political overlap, she said, calling him a marketing genius who branded his opponents with names like "lying Ted" and "crooked Hillary." 

On the other side, Navarro said, Hillary Clinton was a flat candidate who seemed inaccessible and was slow and clumsy in responding to the e-mail controversy.

"We don't really know what's going to happen with the Trump administration," she said, because these are still the early days of his presidency. But here's what she said we do know:

  • He's going to tweet.
  • He's capable of unifying, presidential moments.
  • He's not ideological.
  • He'll bypass the media.
  • He won't stick to strict facts.
  • He will not stop being a showman, a promoter and a TV producer. 

The Republican Congress is excited about working with a Republican president, she added, even if that president is Donald Trump—who wasn't a Republican until a short time ago. "But he's a Republican now."

Kohn said most of her predictions during the election were wrong, but she could make some guesses about the direction Trump's administration will take.

"We can guess that Donald Trump and the Republicans will repeal [the Affordable Care Act] and try to replace it with a law that at least in the current iteration … somehow manages to be worse than the original."

She noted that she, her partner and child are covered by health insurance purchased on the insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. She said she likes her coverage even though she thinks it could be better. She'd like to see it replaced with a single-payer system.

Under Trump's administration, Kohn said, rollbacks of regulations so far have made it easier for factories to pollute and for drug companies to push their pharmaceuticals for uses that haven't properly been tested. She expects to see more of this.

Navarro said Trump is a dealmaker. "He knows how to schmooze. He knows how to energize his base. He knows how to campaign."

However, it isn't going to be easy for him. She noted that he has to deal with a country polarized like never before and that he arrived at the White House with the lowest approval rating of any recent president. But she urged people to listen to one another in this time of political division.

"I urge you to exercise your rights as Americans: your right to free speech and your right to vote and your right to protest and your right as an organization and as an industry to make your voices heard," Navarro said.

"But I also urge you to remember that people who think differently than you have exactly the same rights." That one little principle is the magic of the United States of America, she said.

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