Dining across the divide US special: ‘She said there are no leaders in the Republican party, just idiots’

Neither of them likes Donald Trump, but would they agree on the economy, healthcare or immigration?


Lali, 62, Chicago, Illinois

Occupation Now retired, Lali worked in international accounting and mergers and acquisitions

Voting record Always Democrat

Amuse bouche Lali lives in Chicago, but has an organic farm and an off-grid house in Wisconsin. She’s also lived on four different continents


Jozsef, 68, Waterloo, Iowa

Occupation Business consultant, now semi-retired

Voting record Jozsef is registered as an independent, but considers himself conservative and mainly votes Republican. He “held his nose” and voted for Trump in 2016, but now hates him “with a passion”. In 2020 he voted for Biden

Amuse bouche Jozsef moved to the US from Hungary as a toddler and is a foodie. He makes a mean goulash – the secret is homegrown Hungarian paprika

For starters

Jozsef I had grilled grouper – of all the things to eat in Iowa! They had a nice Reuben sandwich on the menu, but I’m diabetic and have a heart stent. The rule from my doctors is that if your food has flavour, you’re not allowed it.

Lali I had sweet-potato soup, a Reuben sandwich with a salad, a craft beer and tiramisu. He ate the fish that goes in the fish tacos. I had a huge dish of food and he had a teeny thing on a teeny plate.

Jozsef Lali was outgoing and friendly. We started off talking about the weather – that’s the typical greeting in the midwest. Then we started denigrating Trump for about 10 minutes. And it went on from there.

Lali and Jozsef sitting at a restaurant table

The big beef

Jozsef We didn’t have a large disagreement about a major issue. We were loud, but polite. Especially as she was a woman. If it was a guy, it might have been different. That’s being sexist, but that’s because I’m old. Men are afraid to argue with women, let’s face it.

Lali We agreed on a lot of the symptoms and many of the causes, but had very different solutions. He thinks capitalism is the answer to everything, but it has been messed up in this country. We agreed there should be more education funding. I think it has been deemphasized by Republicans because there have been so many studies that show the better educated you are, the more likely you are to vote Democrat.

Jozsef She’s very black and white about Republicans. I would describe her as a typical Democrat – she spouts a lot of talking points from that side of the aisle: “All Republicans do this. All Republicans are jerks.” She claimed they are out to dumb down America, because that’s their voting block: dumb people. I totally disagree. I said: “It would take really smart people to come up with that complex a plan.” I don’t think the Republicans are smart enough to come up with something like that.

Lali He kept trying to say Democrats and Republicans are both messed up. I said: “No, there’s a degree of difference in how messed up they are.” Republicans have a lot more whack-jobs than we do.

Jozsef She said there are no leaders in the Republican party. Just idiots. And I said: “Show me a good leader in your party. For the last eight years you have not been able to produce one.” Biden’s a nice guy, but he’s a doddering old man.

Lali and Jozsef sitting at a restaurant table

Sharing plate

Jozsef We agreed that something has to happen with healthcare in America. It’s a disgrace that the richest country in the world can’t keep people healthy. She said the government should control healthcare. I said I’d be afraid for our government, as it stands, to run it.

Lali In my view, healthcare should not be a for-profit enterprise. His view was that it shouldn’t be for profit, but it could be in the private sector. I didn’t fully understand what that meant.

Lali and Jozsef sitting at a restaurant table

For afters

Jozsef We talked about immigration as we’re both immigrants. She wants an open policy: “Let’s get ’em all in here.” I said: “I want to build a 1,000-mile wall on the southern border with a five-mile gate and put Transport Security Administration machines in the gate.” Whoever wants to come over and work can come in, but let’s make them go through the security turnstile like at the airport. Let’s have stronger security.

Lali We overlapped on the need for immigrants. Where we disagreed was on his views about immigrants being forced to work. He said his father had been forced to work in a coalmine in Belgium. I pointed out that all immigrants need sponsors to make sure they’re not a public charge. And he was like: “You’re probably right about that. But they should be made to work.”

Lali and Jozsef sitting at a restaurant table


Jozsef When we were leaving, she accused me of being a closet liberal. And honestly, I am getting to be a pinko as I want a woman to be president next. It’s time somebody used their brain instead of their testosterone.

Lali I really enjoyed the lunch, but was a little frustrated that he didn’t have more fact-based rejoinders to what I was saying. I was working with a set of facts; he was working with a set of views.
Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• Lali and Jozsef ate at La Rana Bistro in Decorah, Iowa.

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part


Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

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