State of the Union Address: Part 2 – Does it still matter? The aftermath.

Today, in part two of our notes on the relevance of the State of the Union address, we focus on whether or not the speech given by President Trump last evening represented a method for presidents to help achieve common ground, or rather in today’s technologically driven world, is simply a political anachronism that time and technology have left behind.  Tomorrow, in part three we will put the same lens on the opposition rebuttals.

The fact is that the speech’s success or lack thereof is probably in the eye of the beholder depending on which side of the political aisle you may be sitting on.  The issues raised by the President last night are not new and have been matters of division for a long time.  Immigration has been a hot button for many years, global terrorism and in particular North Korea have been wrestled with by the last four presidents, economics and wage growth and the relationship to the stock market continue to be a conundrum.  As such, there should have been no expectation that one speech each year by any president or any political figure would solve these issues.  Whether or not you feel this President in this speech offered a roadmap to actually solving these problems is a matter for your personal opinion.

One commentator derided the ceremonial traditions that surround the speech making it seem almost monarchical as well as almost redundant.  Historically this was one of the primary reasons Thomas Jefferson did away with the tradition all together.

Another  commentator suggested that the speech in general no longer has relevance, especially for this President, because whereas in the past it was a moment that allowed a president to be presidential and “forced the presidency into action and helped coordinate the bureaucracy, the congressional agenda, and public attention.” However, with a president that communicates multiple times via Twitter on a daily basis, the speech might be obsolete because his words are no longer “finite.”

There is no doubt that this president has thrust the presidency into the social media morass for better or worse.  However, because of the fact that today’s news is presented in short bursts that do not always allow for  true analysis, perhaps a long form speech that lays out the issues is not necessarily a bad idea.  While the solutions presented might not be to one’s liking, the delineation of the issues can motivate a citizen to do some of their own fact checking and research.

Did you watch the speech? Did you see and hear ideas and issues that led you to either change your mind or at least want to know more?  Does this yearly speech represent a unifier or a chance for the President to simply reinforce a particular partisan stance? If the speech were no longer required, what method would you fashion to replace it?  However, the question at hand is what purpose this annual exercise serves in accordance with helping to achieve common ground in a divided nation?

State of the Union Address: Part 1 – Does it matter?

With the State of the Union address less than 24 hours away, the question of its relevance in today’s polarized political climate is on the minds of all of the major media outlets as well as CGC. Today’s blog post we start a 3-part series about the State of the Union. Today we will focus on the history of the speech to ready ourselves for tomorrows address.

The history of this speech is surprisingly far more politically charged then one would imagine.  The speech has its origins and obligation rooted in the Constitution, Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, which states The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

The first president to make such a speech was George Washington in what was then known as the Annual Message. Jefferson later discontinued the tradition because to him to smacked of the Annual Message presented by the British crown each year (and he didn’t want to make the trip up to the then capital of New York). For some years, it was presented by a clerk and then devolved into a written message.  Woodrow Wilson revived the personal delivery in front of the full Congress.

Wilson’s motives for re-instituting the in person address was due to his belief that the founders erred on making the three branches of government separate and that by doing a in-person delivery he could further his agenda and make a more democratic process. With the exception of Herbert Hoover, all other presidents since Wilson have presented a public speech and used available media to ensure the public had awareness.

While on its face, the presentation of the State of the Union address should be a benign event that has not always been the case.  There have been some humorous moments in recent history caught for posterity by television and kept alive as memes and gifs by the internet (such as Justice Ginsberg taking a nap in 2015 and Vice President Joe Biden grinning and pointing). However, there have also been some moments where unfortunate political polarization has been captured such as when Justice Alito reacted to President Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United decision and President Nixon’s argument that one year of Watergate was enough.

While the historical aspects of the speech are interesting and historians can and do debate which speech was best or worst, CGC would pose the question as to whether or not the speech has a relevance as a way to generate common ground.  Have presidents been able to spark unity and understanding through the speech or is it simply an arcane exercise?

Do you plan on watching the speech or boycotting?  Will you watch with an eye and ear towards understanding the other side’s position?

The Bases are Loaded So How do you hit a Home Run? Evidently with a Stick.

As we continue in shutdown limbo, it is worth asking whether or not common ground is possible when our representatives are catering to their base as opposed to the country as a whole.  Right now, progressives are angry that the Democratic leadership did not keep the shutdown going on the supposition that a protracted shutdown would have resulted in legislation that would protect the Dreamers.  Alternatively, partisans on the opposite side are holding firm, at least in the House of Representatives, to the idea that what the Democrats essential want is amnesty and they have no intention of agreeing to that.  President Trump has signaled some degree of movement on the path to citizenship for the Dreamers but it is still not clear what concessions he will actually want to agree to a solution.

Trust between the parties is almost nonexistent. Each side feels compelled to adhere to what their base is demanding. While the base on each side may well not represent the majority, it is well known that those who comprise the base are often the most ardent supporters who go out and vote in primaries and with election season soon upon us, representatives are often politicians first and statesmen secondarily.  So long as moderate voices are not in the forefront, the base will dominate.

How many of you have heard of the talking stick? We are sure for some this might hearken back to elementary school days circle time when your teacher would give a student an object, such as a stick or small ball that would indicate who could talk and when they could talk, and would be passed around the class to allow for a controlled but constructive speaking environment.  During the negotiations to end the shutdown, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the centrist senatorial group calling themselves the Common Sense Coalition, held meetings in her office and utilized the talking stick which had been a gift to her from Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota.

This was a mechanism to ensure that all voices had a chance to be heard.  While some of the discussions were heated because even centrists have a base, the use of this tool resulted in everyone present at last making their point known and resolution occurred.  Were the bases happy-no.  However, moderates put aside their partisanship to some degree and acted less like politicians and more like representatives of the whole.

It is moments like this that we should be encouraging as the norm rather than as an outlier. Yes we send people to Congress to enact legislation about special causes we care about. However, when the bases dominate and moderate voices are drowned out we all potentially lose.

What are your thoughts about the influence that the bases have on our current government? Just how much influence should they have? At what point should the base be ignored in favor of the center?

What talking sticks do you use in your life to make sure that you are heard and that you are listening?

(Photo Credit: WGME.com )

2018: Getting to really know your government is the first step

2018 is barely out of the gate and I think we can all agree that is seems this year is going to reap what 2017 sewed. With our current government wrestling with shutdowns, trust issues and this last weekend again seeing marches on opposing sides, it seems the polarization has finally manifested itself in its full form.

CGC would like to first give our support to those military and government workers who were effected monetarily that have little to no power when shutdowns like these occur. There are many people in our country who work hard to make all of our lives better. They run the gamut from those who work on environmental, medical, education, sanitation, agriculture, etc., who can be hurt by these shutdowns and deserve our support and recognition for being caught between this partisan morass.

While CGC condemns unnecessary governmental shutdowns, we understand that these issues involved are not new and have been festering for many years. There are no easy fixes, however, CGC would suggest that everyone take a moment to consider that while the worst case scenario seems to be happened, and currently we have been put in limbo until Feb 8th. What as citizens can we do to mitigate the fallout?

We believe that during times like these we should all be productive in our understanding of how the government works, how shutdowns like these happen and both their short and long term effects on our country.  It is never too early to begin to think about the 2018 elections and your options for representation. Were your representatives providing constructive suggestions and appropriate civil behavior during the negotiating process? When it came to this shutdown and leading up to it in 2017, did they try to work toward bipartisanship within Congress? If they didn’t, what were their reasons behind it and were they sufficient enough that it made sense to you?

So to start this examination, CGC will focus this week on proactive information to help educate our followers about the consequences of shutdowns, about how our government works and what early steps as a citizen you can take to hold your representative to civil responsibility.

We recommend that everyone watch Crash Course from PBS Digital Studios.  This on going multi-generational 48 episode series of short, less than 10 minute vignettes will provide the concrete information to help you understand your government’s workings and help place the events into context.

While we all wait to see what will come in the next few weeks, we ask what productive things you as a citizens feel you can and will do to prevent future shutdowns from happening. What do you plan to do now in January to prepare for the elections happening in November and to make yourself more informed. What would you like to see from organizations like ours in facilitating in areas such as how we can better hold our elected officials accountable for civility.

Divided they stand, United we…. or How the DACA meeting showed us what could have been if common ground had been taken seriously and what we as citizens need to do about it.

One of our core beliefs is that, given the opportunity and a supporting environment, leaders with strongly held opposite views can and will work together to make tangible progress on important issues.

On January 9, 2018 the President and bipartisan group of 25 members of Congress met to work together on formulating an immigration bill that all could live with. With cameras rolling, different participants demonstrated a give-and-take spirit and a desire to make real progress that we have not seen for a while and certainly did not expect. It was a notable data point in support of our aforementioned core belief.

Unfortunately, the events of subsequent days have at best dimmed if not erased the ray of hope that emerged. As we write this post, the public’s attention has shifted from the real possibility of a bipartisan agreement to the outrage caused by the President’s reported response to a follow-up immigration bill proposal submitted to him by a bipartisan group of six senators.

We condemn and find no excuse for the statements attributed to the President.  However, our hope is that, as a nation and as individuals, we do not discard the possibilities of progress raised by the January 8 meeting in an angry rage against the offensive, thoughtless comments reported thereafter. Regardless of your individual views about this issue or the comments, the January 8 meeting provided a glimpse of what is possible when political leaders sit down together, listen to one another and work to find common ground.

We need to build on what happened in that meeting. As citizens, let us ask our elected officials to follow the high minded, good faith efforts we saw in it and seek to consistently work with their peers in this manner on all issues, not just the easy ones. As voters, let us reward those who make efforts to find solutions by giving our support and votes to candidates we believe will work most to find common ground without sacrificing core principles, even if the candidates are not members of the party to which we belong.

Regardless of the aftermath, the January 8 meeting proved that elected leaders, working in a spirit of collaboration and common ground on important issues can find agreement. Let’s act and vote for individuals who’s will to follow that lead and consistently work in that spirit.

A follow up on discernment in our schools about fake media.

A few posts back we talked about a teacher who had begun an initiative with his class to be able to discern fake news from real news and the critical importance of this skill to ensuring a sound democracy.  This initiative is becoming a movement among educators and legislators including programs in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Mexico and the state of Washington.  Arizona, New York and Hawaii are expected to join the cause this year. These bills focus on media and in particular digital literacy.  Many of the bills’ authors are using models from groups such as Media Literacy Now and the Digital Citizenship Institute  .  Opposition has been limited and mostly surrounding the possible costs to school funding of any additional mandates so many of the rules are framed as voluntary.

This movement comes at a time when there is increasing recognition that no matter what side of the aisle you may be on, it is necessary to try to ensure that our populace, especially young people who spend a substantial amount of time online, have discernment skills.  This follows a recent study by Stanford University researchers which “warned that students from middle school to college were ill-equipped to use reason with online information.

CGC believes that such efforts to make a better informed citizenry can and should be supported. “I don’t think it’s a partisan issue to appreciate the importance of good information and the teaching of tools for navigating the information environment,” said Hans Zeiger, a Republican state senator in Washington who co-sponsored a bill that passed in his state earlier this year. “There is such a thing as an objective source versus other kinds of sources, and that’s an appropriate thing for schools to be teaching.”

CGC will update as more information on this movement continues.  Are you aware of any legislation in your community on this issue?  Do you feel well equipped to speak to those who have the ability to sponsor this type of legislation?  Do you feel you have the skills and information to be able to discern fact from fake and how to approach your child on this?

Reflections on the Commitment to Civility Pledge and where we go from there.

Is bipartisanship possible or the ongoing story of America?  Last year on Jan 10th nearly all of the incoming members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a Commitment to Civility which outlined their dedication to showing “proper respect to one another and all others, encouraging productive dialogue, and modeling civility in our public and private actions.” Following the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) 120 members signed on. Click here for the signed commitment to civility document.

How well did the commitment do and just how many took the pledge to heart?  According to recent interviews with 18 freshmen members who signed the original pledge, the result was in some cases friendships and partnerships that were formed, despite deep political divisions.  The author of the commitment was Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA) who used the relationship between President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill as the model.

The pledge was borne out of a recognition that occurred to Johnson during a retreat for freshman members.

“We just went around a U-shaped table, and everyone shared their parting reflections on the weekend and the start of this new Congress,” he said. “Every single person said basically the same thing: That they were sick of the tone in Washington, that they were inspired to run for office to do things differently. (Civility pledge reflections across aisle friendships)

However, it turns out that signing a document with the best intentions does not always mean that it will be easy to undo systemic lack of civility.

“It’s been a very contentious first year for a freshman in this environment,” Minnesota Republican Jason Lewis said. “But I think if you stay focused on the issues and why you came here — to leave the place a little better than you found it — it becomes a lot easier.” (Across the aisle in a tumultuous congress)

 

It is a new year. Some new faces are arriving in Washington and in local and state legislatures. There will be times when leaders should stand their ground but, we believe, far more opportunities to find common ground that leads to real progress on our toughest issues. To capitalize on those opportunities, it is crucial to create relationships among leaders is crucial. So, we say “thank you for a job well done” to those leaders who are forging new relationships and mentor-ships – even friendships – with their new colleagues.

The Good Samaritan

In the past few months, our nation has been faced with many challenges, most recently the events in Charlottesville.  CGC sends their condolences to those who have suffered.  In an effort to offer healing, we believe that lessons can be learned from the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament is the story of The Good Samaritan. The term “Good Samaritan” has come to mean someone who does a good act towards someone in need. But the original story has a broader meaning that is relevant in these times. And it’s relevant to relate the parable of the Good Samaritan in the context in which it was given.

As Jesus was preaching a young man identified as a lawyer (one who is familiar with the law) asked Jesus what he should do to “inherit eternal life”. Jesus turned it around and said to him, “well, what does the law say?” The young man repeats, probably by rote, a quick summary of the ten commandments, “Love God with all our being, and our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus responds, “That’s correct, you probably have a future as a lawyer. So, do this and you will live.”

But then the young lawyer presses further challenging Jesus by asking, “And just who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responds with the famous story of a man (presumably a Jew like Jesus) who is robbed and beaten on a lonely stretch of road and left for dead. As he is lying there dying a man of the church comes by (like Jesus probably a Jew, so this would have been someone from the temple presumably). He sees a body lying in the path and moves as far away as possible to pass on the other side. Then a Levite (probably a judge – like the young lawyer might aspire to be) walks by, takes a look at the man, and then moves away wanting nothing to do with this sordid situation. Finally, a Samaritan – a man from a group of people that has nothing to do with Jesus, his audience, or any Jew – comes by and sees the dying victim. He stops, gets off his donkey and tends to the man, caring for his injuries, pouring in oil and water (costly commodities of the day) and helps him onto his donkey. He then takes him to an inn so that he can rest. Presumably he gives him clothes, since the man’s clothes were stolen. And the next day when he has to leave, he tells the innkeeper to take care of the man, paying him in advance for the cost and assuring him that if it is not enough he will reimburse him when returns to the inn.

Jesus turns to the young lawyer and says, “Now you tell me: which of these there was a neighbor to the man?” The lawyer quietly says, “He that showed mercy on him.” Jesus then tells the young man, “Now you go out and do the same.”

Samaritans are descended from the sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel according to the Bible and the Hebrew Bible. Their ancestors took issue with the religious teaching of the rest of the Jewish people and so broke away.  This difference led to the two tribes having nothing to do with one another

The story of the Good Samaritan is largely about tribalism, and the importance of refuting it and looking past it. It’s about recognizing that race, class, religion, and culture are not what unites us. Its relevance to the audience that Jesus was speaking to is that these things don’t matter. We are all people.  We can and should care for each other always.

Being a member of a church or religious group does not make us Christian. Being Christian is about following the lessons and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. He embodied the lessons of humility, love for his fellow man, caring for all mankind, and most of all, following the will of God, the will of Love. And these lessons are not limited to those who align themselves with any religious organization or group. They are universal lessons that all mankind will benefit from.

For all of us it is important to recognize this, and not to descend into tribalism, into prejudice, into name calling and into hatred. This is true today as it has been throughout the history of mankind. Please, take a moment to think about who is our neighbor and let that be defined by our actions and not the actions of others.

Beyond Tolerance- Video

“People are recognizing this is very dangerous.” This CBS news video tackles current problems with racial intolerance in wake of the 2016 election, and addresses possible solutions. Watch it HERE

The Case for Civil Discourse

In this Huffpost piece, author Billy Binion offers possible solutions to mend our current state of discourse , including building relationships, seeking to understand differing viewpoints, and seeking out examples where people came together from different sides to solve problems. All great suggestions, all things every one of us – leader and citizen – can do. Read more about it HERE