How to reunite America by disagreeing agreeably

Is there any hope the deep wounds in our public discourse can be healed?

Common Ground Committee is about doing just that. A skeptic might say that this organization, while well-meaning, is just a “voice crying in the wilderness”. We would, respectfully, disagree. We believe that the level and intensity of polarization is so bad that the pendulum of public discourse is now starting to swing back toward civility and respect. Citizens like us and even some political leaders are deciding “enough already”.

In this Christian Science Monitor piece, “How to reunite America by disagreeing agreeably”, Ralph Benko examines the notion that polarization could be a prelude to a renewal of “From many, one.” We found it encouraging. We hope you do, too.

The Algorithms of Fear

The Algorithms of Fear recently published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review brings new and needed insight to the insidious tendency in today’s political landscape to maintain the division between people who hold different views and have different paradigms. As we learned when Facebook was accused of a politically left bias in its “trending” news section, the media world heavily relies on algorithms to address its audiences. Algorithms are pieces of computer software that follow sets of rules to make calculations or solve problems. They are very good at “automatically” delivering content and information that people’s past online activity suggests they want.

But in this emotionally-charged political climate that’s a problem. If we are to make any progress on the tough issues that face us what’s needed is for people to be exposed to the other side of issues, to understand the reasoning and supporting evidence for the other person’s position.

The solution? The article suggests that government regulation combined with additional tools armed with algorithms “with new kinds of social values” are needed. Those solutions could very well make a difference.

But when passionate about an issue we would encourage people to take advantage of today’s technology and diverse media outlets to expose themselves to the dynamics that drive the opposing view. It doesn’t take much time and it will better position people to be part of a solution rather than put more fuel on the fire of the problem.

Trump and Ryan Work to Find Common Ground

What a potentially great example of finding common ground. Donald Trump surprised the entire Republican elite by becoming the presumptive presidential candidate. His positions are changeable and many not aligned with conservative principals. Trump says the party is the Republican party, not the conservative party. Paul Ryan says he is not there in endorsing Trump. This has all the makings of a knock-down confrontation.

Instead, they are committed to seeking common ground to reach a goal; electing a Republican president and ensuring a successful down ticket win. At the end of their meeting, they both remarked that the meeting was good and helpful. The meeting was civil. Although they are not quite where they need to be, the process of civil discourse to reach a common goal is on display during this process. Will they find common ground? Not certain yet. Are they working a process to see if they can find common ground? Yes.

The Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index

The Lugar Center, founded by former Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) is a “platform for informed debate on global issues.” The Center recently published its Bipartisan Index which ranks each member of Congress on his or her ability to work with colleagues from across the aisle. The report uses bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship data rather than a subjective methodology.

Some will challenge the methodology because it does not account for the substance of a bills. It is far easier to co-sponsor with a colleague from the opposing party a bill that, say, honors veterans than one that proposes reforms to social security. Senator Lugar freely acknowledges this in his introduction to the report.

Even so, we believe the Bipartisan Index adds great value. It names names, effectively praising (and reinforcing the behavior of) those who practice bipartisanship and dinging those who don’t. In so doing, it raises awareness in a tangible way to the need for our leaders to improve their ability to govern, not just posture.

Conduct Unbecoming

We normally do not like to bring attention to situations where people get caught up in “negative politics” and consequently fail to achieve common ground. There are too many instances of this sort of thing going on every day. But this editorial in the April 9, 2016 Cape Cod Times captures some principles at the heart of Common Ground Committee’s work.

Both leaders and the public have responsibilities when it comes to political discourse. Leaders must serve as role models for the public in how to work through the tough issues. The public must not only recognize and appreciate the leaders who do so but also resist the temptation to get caught up in the rancor and hatred that feels good but ultimately serves to worsen the situation and make it harder to move forward.

The New Common Ground Between Populist Left and Right

In a unique video presentation, Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, sees the emergence of a new debate where the populist left and right discover common ground on a number of critical issues and together can “make things happen”.

Fight the fear. Share hope.

Just how at risk are you and I of being victims of terrorism? Is ISIS truly gaining strength? For the answer, check out “Redirect”, a new initiative launched by our media partner, The Christian Science Monitor. Redirect is about fighting with facts the fear that would hold us back or lead to unwise action. It’s motto: “Change the conversation”. In so doing, Redirect aims to inspire hope and move us to a better, more positive mindset, one that will make it easier to finding lasting solutions to our biggest challenges.

Redirect is 100 percent aligned with the mission of Common Ground Committee to “bring light not heat to public discourse”. A primary principle of our work is “using facts, not emotionally-charged talking points” when debating and working on solutions to the problems of the day. Redirect demonstrates that principle in spades. It reminds us that fear is an obstacle that truth can remove. With fear gone, we can walk with assurance the path to progress.

We are very excited about Redirect and hope you will be, too. Check it out. Be inspired. Share it.

Speaker Ryan on the State of American Politics

Hats off to House Speaker Paul Ryan for his strong plea for greater civility in our tumultuous electoral cycle. “Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults,” he said in an upbeat speech to Congressional interns on March 23. “Ideas passionately expressed and put to the test, that’s what politics can be. All of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standard.” Of course, civility is only the first, although a necessary step, to achieving common ground. Civility encourages mutual respect and respect becomes an essential pathway to trust. Then deals can be made and compromises struck. But if mutual acrimony and insults rise to the point where negotiation is no longer possible, everybody loses.

At Common Ground Committee we share Representative Ryan’s optimism that political discourse can rise to higher level. Partisan bickering and gridlock should not be the norm. Our forums have shown that passionate yet civil debate where facts are valued and participants listen to each other are achievable and can lead to common ground. Read the full article here.

Bipartisanship Isn’t For Wimps, After All

The following NYT op-ed piece by Arthur Brooks makes a compelling case that solutions to our most challenging problems must include key elements of opposing positions. Not just because rigid partisanship prevents fruitful discussion but because the solutions that will actually work intrinsically require key elements of philosophy and practice from all sides, not just one.

That notion is a principle we have held as a foundation of our work. While civility is required and sorely needed today, finding common ground is not about playing nice in the sandbox. It’s about being willing to accept that those you disagree with are likely to be bringing key elements to a problem’s solution to the table. Including those elements with yours is bound to yield a better solution than one forged solely from solely yours or theirs.

But, as Brooks points out, that’s the hard part. It shouldn’t be. What’s required is to shift our true motive from demonstrating we are right (and they are wrong) to actually solving the problem. How hard is that? Read the complete article here.

Justice Ginsburg Pens a Moving Tribute to Justice Scalia

The intensity of the political noise caused by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia reminds us of the Spinal Tap amplifiers turned up to “11”. Painful to the ears. But amid that noise is the outpouring of respect and admiration from a host of people representing all bands of the political spectrum. To us no tribute to Scalia was as noteworthy as that paid to him by his SCOTUS colleague and ideological adversary, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In any debate, bringing light, not heat requires a willingness to listen to and respect the views of those who one might vehemently disagree with. In a relationship similar to but even deeper than that of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil Justices Ginsburg and Scalia not only respected and listened to each other but they were able to build a strong friendship that both clearly treasured. In this 2016 election year, they serve as a reminder that we can expect better not only from our leaders but also from ourselves in how we go about debating issues both public and personal.