Dining across the divide US special: ‘We were on the brink of an uncomfortable conversation’

They are both Democrats, but what subjects – from Ukraine to defunding the police – would leave them at odds?


Jordan, 30, Providence, Rhode Island

Occupation Works at the progressive Jewish Liberation Fund, which aims to make Jewish philanthropy more effective. Member of Team USA at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships

Voting Record Progressive Democratic – about “as far left as you can go, but stopping short of radical or revolution”

Amuse bouche Regularly meets up with a couple of Japanese housewives to practise his Japanese


Judith, 65, Branford, Connecticut

Occupation Retired professor of contemporary literature at Yale. Poet

Voting record Democrat

Amuse bouche Designs pocket parks in her home town

For starters

Jordan I had duck confit, lobster pasta, chocolate cake, chamomile tea. We found a lot of common ground on teaching more about slavery in schools. Judith thinks we should focus on how humans have been cruel to each other over time, but for me it’s more important to focus on the history in America and how that helps us understand the world we live in now. In a lot of places slavery wasn’t so racially codified as it was here.

Judith I had nougat de foie gras, bass, Grand Marnier souffle for dessert. It was delicious. He was more focused on contemporary discussions of the American experience that I was. The longer, worldwide historical context was more important to me.

Jordan It’s important to teach about chattel slavery. I’m not saying it was worse for us than, say, the Japanese enslaving Koreans, but the racial codification of slavery in America still affects what our world looks like and the narratives that equate people of a certain race to negative habits and stereotypes.

Jordan and Judith sitting at a restaurant table

The big beef

Judith Jordan believes we should take money from the police and give it to other types of social workers to help deal with crime. I don’t. If you want a society based in law that has arisen out of constitutional democracy, you need some way of enforcing the law. The combination of underfunding and lack of respect for the law has exacerbated tendencies we don’t like in the police.

Jordan It doesn’t feel like lack of resources is the issue. I’m from St Louis. Look at Ferguson. Look at Milwaukee. The police that killed Tyre Nichols in Memphis were part of one of these highly trained units. The police should be in a public safety department so they aren’t self-supervised.

Judith We should increase police funding, but it should be based on more stringent training and education, to make it a profession with salaries to match. I would have national regulation of local police. The police who killed Tyre Nichols were Black, so there’s something else going on. Those officers were totally unqualified for a job that puts the power of life and death in their hands. That’s not a racial issue.

Jordan We were on the brink of an uncomfortable conversation. Judith was saying we live in a violent society and there are cultural differences between groups. Judith grew up in a more working-class background; mine is more bourgeois. But I don’t think she experienced a reckoning of concentrated poverty and trauma, and how that affects and drives people.

Jordan and Judith sitting at a restaurant table

Sharing plate

Judith My grandparents fled Ukraine during the pogroms. We need to look at Ukraine as fighting for the ideals we have now and give them support.

Jordan It’s complicated. I don’t think we should be diverting funds, and Russia is clearly a bad actor. But I find the lack of dissent a little surprising. The left-wing progressive space is generally anti-war, so we should be thinking about this.

Jordan and Judith sitting at a restaurant table

For afters

Judith We got into some interesting things, like do you want a national police force so you don’t have these little islands of police where the culture is leaning toward violence? That makes me uncomfortable because wherever there is a national police force, there is a potential for danger.

Jordan Whatever our public safety force looks like, it shouldn’t be the free-for-all it is now. As Jewish people, we agreed a national public force could be a scary thing. It doesn’t feel like police forces have a lack of resources. I don’t qualify as a police abolitionist but I have serious questions about police departments and what they look like right now.

Jordan and Judith sitting at a restaurant table


Jordan Judith reminded me of my grandma, which I loved. But I disagreed with this idea of cultural differences being one of the causes of crime.

Judith Jordan is a very delightful person. These questions are complex, and we need more context and nuance. We’re always focused on the minute-to-minute catastrophe.
Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Jordan and Judith ate at Union League Cafe, New Haven, Connecticut.

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

This article was amended on 1 March 2023. An earlier version mistakenly identified Jordan as the captain of the US cross country team.


Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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