Before we left on the cross-country drives that led to our new book, Union: A Democrat, a Republican, and a Search for Common Ground, the two of us knew little about one another. On first meeting, we learned that each of us stood on opposite ends of the political spectrum — Jordan is a Republican, and Chris votes Democrat — and that we both grew up in California. 

Somehow, the Golden State fashioned our two different — and at times opposing — worldviews. Chris, a Berkeley kid, was inspired by the afterglow of the Free Speech Movement, the Black Panthers down the way in Oakland, and Rolling Stone back when they still published out of San Francisco. It was their foil, Ronald Reagan, who formed Jordan’s earliest political consciousness a few hundred miles south in the hills of Encino. 

Since 2016, we’ve taken six road trips across 44 states to better understand those differences. Our book, Union, is the result of countless political arguments, more reconciliations, and dozens of conversations with truck drivers, immigrants, veterans, prisoners, journalists, and artists. What was most striking to both of us were the people working everyday to improve their own lot and that of the country. Whenever we returned to Berkeley — or killed the engine down south in Encino — those people left us with an abiding sense of hope. Americans are not the same, but neither are we far apart. 

Of course, the United States is changing by the day, and so is California. It seems unlikely this state would elect a governor like Ronald Reagan in 2020. Will California be poorer for it? The two of us likely disagree on this point. But the wide-ranging cultural and political diversity of this state persists, and we’ll have to call on it going forward. We are on the frontlines of a changing climate as fire season becomes perpetual. Our economy is growing, but poverty persists. Yet another budget crisis looms, while our prisons hold more people than 48 other states. 

Addressing these issues will require new ideas, debate, and careful listening. One of our biggest take-aways after three years of road trips together is how much the left and right still have to learn from one another. That exchange must continue here on the West Coast if we are going to find and execute solutions. Tension often creates new things, and a broad civic discourse improves our understanding of governance, economics, culture, and so much more.

Joan Didion, another Californian, left on a 1970 road trip from New Orleans to Oxford, Mississippi to test a hunch about her home state. “I had only some dim and unformed sense,” she wrote in her journal, which 47 years later became her book, South and West, “that for some years the South and particularly the Gulf Coast had been for America what people were still saying California was, and what California seemed to me not to be: the future, the secret source of malevolent and benevolent energy, the psychic center.”

Like California, Didion helped inspire our writing, but we would quibble with this particular conclusion. As the 21st century marches on, the Coronavirus pandemic leaves its mark, and Trump fights for his political life this fall, it seems likely that the same witch’s brew of “malevolent and benevolent energy” still emanates from California — our nation’s psychic center. For any state that could shape the two of us, then attract us back again, can point out a new, better way forward.


The book was published by Little, Brown