Common ground in politics is possible. It just needs coverage.

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee seek to promote productive public discourse in this op-ed discussing the big picture of politics and civility in our events. 

Turn on any cable news channel and you’ll likely hear talk about the divisiveness of our politics, and there are numbers to back that up. Only 38 percent of Americans say the United States is heading in the right direction, and an annual poll tracking discourse shows 93 percent say America has a civility problem. As discouraging as these numbers seem, the tide may be turning.

A recent poll from Georgetown University found that 85 percent of voters want finding common ground to be a main goal of politicians. A survey from Hidden Tribes of America found that 77 percent of Americans believe that the differences between us are not so big that they cannot be bridged.

As the co-founders of Common Ground Committee, we’ve repeatedly seen this shift first-hand. Whether it’s at one of our forums with political leaders or in conversations with family, friends and colleagues, we’ve found that people actually agree on more than they realize. They just have to engage in the conversation. What’s more, people will often share experiences of seeking and finding common ground with those who hold different political beliefs.

Unfortunately, we rarely get the chance to witness agreement between political leaders from different parties. The media portrays politicians as constant adversaries rather than collaborators. This representation has consequences: Research suggests that negative feelings toward the opposite party’s leadership are much stronger than those directed at individuals.

That’s why it’s important to show the country that leaders from the two parties can agree — and not just on “little stuff.” When that happens, you can instantly see people light up. When we held a public forum earlier this year at the University of Notre Dame, the campus was abuzz after seeing former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Condoleezza Rice find consensus on a wide range of issues. Students walked in prepared to see them search for grains of agreement, but instead saw consistent agreement on issues including North Korea, climate change and Middle East policy. Following the event, students told us they would have assumed the Democrat Kerry and the Republican Rice were from the same political party if they hadn’t known better.

At a striking point in the forum, Rice provided an in-depth explanation of her views on immigration policy. Kerry had a two-word response: “I agree.”

Mainstream media rarely represents this aspect of our political leaders’ lives: the vast areas of agreement, compromise, and collaboration that go into productive governing.

We recognize that healthy debate is necessary for democracy; Kerry and Rice certainly didn’t agree on everything. Their perspectives differed sharply when the conversation turned to what to do about voter suppression. Still, the respect and rapport they had established earlier remained firmly intact and they kept their disagreement focused on the issues, not each other.

There’s very little of this type of collegiality found in discussions that focus on rapid-fire debates, and this colors the way citizens view politics.

The more we see political leaders engaging civilly and empathetically with ideologies different from their own, the more the American people will be inspired to do the same. Earlier this year, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, In., participated in a town hall on Fox News, even though the Democratic presidential candidate knew he was communicating his policy stances not to a partisan base, but to an audience of over 2.5 million assumed to be completely antithetical to his approach. Former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona started a series for CBS highlighting areas of political unity for Democrats and Republicans. What this signals: Viewers from both sides of the aisle want to see more than polarization from their news sources.

When we get lost in the rhetoric of polarization, we forget that we’re all on the same team. We’re all Americans. While we have different ideologies and beliefs that should not be compromised, there is more that brings us together than drives us apart. The more those points of common ground are found by leaders — and highlighted in the media — the better chance we have to heal the anger and polarization that weaken our nation.

— This article was published in The Fulcrum on October 24, 2019

Avoiding the snake in the grass: Let’s not allow impeachment to divide us

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee seek to promote productive public discourse on the upcoming impeachment talks and hearings in this op-ed


Say you’re at a race track, watching a horse come around the bend when, all of a sudden, the rider is thrown off. You may be tempted to jump to any number of conclusions about what happened — the rider was careless, the horse was not sufficiently trained. But if you look closer, you’ll see the real problem: There was a snake in the grass.

Whether one supports or opposes the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, we should all agree that we need to avoid that snake in the grass — in this case, the demonization of the other side. Former UN Ambassador Susan Rice said it best in an appearance on MSNBC last week: The biggest threat to our national security is domestic political divisions.

Unfortunately, what we have seen thus far are conversations packed with vitriol. Recently, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) stated that the president needs to be “imprisoned and placed in solitary confinement.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, said “What we are in the middle of now, folks, is a Cold Civil War,” in describing how he sees Democrats’ approach to the president. This kind of rhetoric doesn’t just throw gas on the fire. It throws a tanker truck on it.

While it may be tempting to become absorbed by the disdain and cynicism that fuels our politics and the growing arguments over impeachment, Susan Rice’s comments about the impact of our political divides reinforce what we have believed for years: We must stop demonizing those with whom we disagree and shift our default model for public discourse from immediately degrading the other side to engaging with them respectfully to better understand their positions and why they hold them.

That means opening our thinking to accept facts that might not fit our narratives. It means disciplining ourselves not to let our favorite pundits reinforce our views without questioning if they are supported by facts. By doing those things, we can engage in more productive, less tense conversations with others about the serious issue of impeachment — an important consideration as the holiday season approaches.

The openness to facts and resistance to demonization are attributes of what we call “common grounders.” We describe common grounders as those seeking points of agreement on social and political issues through listening and productive conversation. Rather than shutting down friends or family members with differing opinions, common grounders listen to others in order to understand them. The goal is not necessarily to come to an agreement but to have a discussion based on facts, not insults. There will be much less risk of damaging relationships and you will be setting an example for others about what good looks like when it comes to political conversations.

While much of the discussion in D.C. has been toxic, there have been some politicians willing to favor facts over rhetoric. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) caused an uproar when he appeared to support an impeachment inquiry. While he later clarified those remarks, he still insisted we “have to respect the process.” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) promised her constituents that she would “look at the facts as they come and… do what my conscience calls me to do.”

Reps Amodei and Slotkin aren’t the only examples of politicians avoiding the trap of demonization. Recently, former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Condoleezza Rice shared a stage during a forum hosted in part by Common Ground Committee, the nonprofit we founded dedicated to bringing light, not heat, to public discourse. The leaders passionately but respectfully discussed high-stakes issues from North Korea to climate change and even found points of consensus.

All of these examples serve as models for our own public discourse as we continue to move deeper into the impeachment process.

We also implore media professionals to make a more concerted effort to not amplify party feuds and follies just for views and clicks. According to a late-2018 Gallup poll, only 45 percent of Americans trust that mass media reports the news “fully, accurately and fairly.” Journalists are supposed to be a check on government power, but fanning the flames of hostility for ratings and subscriptions makes it harder for people to thoughtfully assess the situation.

The snake in the grass that is demonization will always be present, but it’s within our power to avoid it.

As the impeachment inquiry continues, let us not become victims of its bite. Instead, refuse to demonize those with differing opinions. I sincerely seek to remain open to accepting facts as they become available and to understand our associates, friends, and family who disagree with us on the impeachment question.

This way we can heal the anger and polarization that pits us against each other and, as Susan Rice has warned, opens us up to trouble at the hands of America’s adversaries.

–This article was published in The Hill on October 22, 2019.

CGC’s Message Finds a Growing Audience

Common Ground Committee continues to gain momentum. This past year, CGC successfully increased awareness of our mission to spread light, not heat, in the search for common ground in a polarized world. Our efforts to extend our audience have resulted in:

  • Common Ground’s byline in The Hill in August 2019 reached around 11.8 million viewers
  • Common Ground has had 10 pieces placed in major news outlets with an audience of potentially 52,800,679
  • We have seen great growth in our social media with a 738.71% increase in Facebook followers in the past year
  • As of September 2019, Common Ground Committee is leading the way as one of the top liked and followed groups within the nonprofit civic engagement world

We are committed to continuing to deliver the most responsible, non-partisan views across our social media platforms as we move forward. We hope you will join us in working towards achieving common ground.

Common Ground News Roundup: Fall 2019

Looking for a fresh take on finding common ground? Start with our Fall 2019 news roundup.

From clarion calls to cultivate more informed citizens and encourage a return to tact, to a look at what can happen when we hold intentional conversations, here’s a look at the top five stories from our Fall 2019 reading list.

1. Young Americans demand civic education — for good reason

The Hill – A democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive. Read more.

2. Quiet mediators in noisy places

The Christian Science Monitor – From Sudan to Venezuela, honest brokers are bringing a special skill set to ending conflicts. Not all succeed. Yet their quiet force of moral persuasion can be effective. Read more.

3. America Needs to Rediscover Tact

Wall Street Journal – In our politics, holding back and minimizing pain has given way to rubbing people’s noses in defeat. Read more.

4. Searching for common ground? Start with the Constitution

The Christian Science Monitor – Amid widespread Democratic concerns about the country’s direction, former Senate staffer Janet Breslin is reaching out to local Republicans. Part 5 in a summer series on people who are facing – and successfully navigating – America’s most intractable challenges. Read more.

5. Political polarization is about feelings, not facts

The Conversation – Robert B. Talisse argues in his conversation piece that polarization isn’t about where you get your news or how politicians are divided – it’s about how a person’s political identity is wrapped up with almost everything they do. Read more.

Community Takeaway : Roy Mathew

Finding Common Ground is more than just people on stage, it is about the lasting takeaways the communities and audiences have after each event.

Roy Mathew on what he took away from our Frank Conversation event:

 

A Frank Interview with Chris Shays and Barney Frank on Finding Common Ground

Below are some of our interviews with Barney Frank and Chris Shays from after our Frank Conversation event on July 9th, 2019 where they shared their thoughts and feelings about Common Ground Committee and the process of Finding Common Ground.

Frank: There’s one thing we can all do to reduce excessive polarization

Shays: Finding common ground is key to restoring faith in democracy

Common Ground News Roundup: August 2019

Can left and right find common ground? Our news roundup says there’s hope.

Looking for good news on bipartisan progress and new research on solutions for overcoming the polarization of today’s politics? Read the top five stories from our August 2019 reading list.

1.) Senators: Here’s a bipartisan plan to fix America’s roads and bridges

CNN – Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Tom Carper (D-DE) of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works issue a call to get a major bipartisan highway infrastructure bill done. Read more.

2.) New voices of moderation: the ‘alterna-squad’ Democrats

Christian Science Monitor – Five freshman women lawmakers in Congress have built an identity around moderation in a party often portrayed as veering sharply left. Read more.

3.) Republicans don’t understand Democrats—and Democrats don’t understand Republicans

The Atlantic – America’s political divisions are driven by hatred of an out-group, rather than love of the in-group. The question is: Why? Read more.

4.) How to increase empathy and unite society

The Economist – Expressions of political differences have become less cordial, making it harder to find common ground. But we can design institutions and interactions so people get along better. Read more.

5.) What are the solutions to political polarization?

Greater Good Magazine – What creates conflicts among groups? Here are five solutions to political polarization grounded in the psychological processes that shape how we interpret identity. Read more.

Power & Politics: A News 12 Interview with Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen were featured on News 12 Connecticut speaking about our country’s crisis of political polarization and how we can fix it.

 

The Middle Shelf: Part 16- A CGC Guide to Finding Common Ground through Reading

Hello Middleshelfers, Happy Labor Day weekend!

Here at the Common Ground Committee we are always looking for ways to bring positive discourse, and as our mission states,  we look to” pursue initiatives which will reveal common ground for finding truth, clarity, understanding, and progress on issues of importance in a civil manner that does not require compromise of fundamental principles.” Among those initiatives are encouraging people to vote and to read.  Reading allows us to understand not just ourselves but others and voting is a way to take the knowledge gained to further our Democracy.

The last few weeks have been difficult ones for our country as we have sustained losses of icons admired by many.  As such, we thought that this week’s book focus would be something a little lighter in nature but still focusing on the initiatives outlined above. A while back we mentioned The Great American Read sponsored by PBS and as it winds down, we are suggesting that you not only check out the list but VOTE!

The idea behind the Great American Read was not to find the greatest novel ever written, but rather a way to find out “what Americans actually care about.”  The list was compiled through a “demographically diverse national survey of 7,200 Americans asked to name their favorite novels, conducted by YouGov.”  PBS has acknowledged that the list is both eclectic and diverse and offers some surprises of what did and did not make the list. Bill Gardner, vice president of programming and development at PBS said that “If the series prompts a “positive” conversation about books, PBS will have fulfilled its mission. Let’s talk about what’s good about America, what brings us together — especially now.”

 

So we would urge you to take the time to review the list and the various interviews that PBS has done with some of the authors and to GO AND VOTE! Voting ends soon.

The multi-platform series about the books begins on September 11th. There will be “five one-hour theme episodes that examine concepts common to groups of books on the list”, and a finale on October 23rd when the winner will be announced. You can also purchase the book, The Great American Read: The Book of Books which offers information about each of the books on the list and the social relevance each book and author holds for readers.

While you are at it, why not look into some of the book groups at your local library.  These groups offer a great way to engage in the type of conversations that result in finding common ground with your neighbors.  Many libraries also sponsor the One Book One Community or Big Read series where people read the same book and then engage in events to discuss.

The Middle Shelf: Part 15- A CGC Guide to Finding Common Ground through Reading

Hello Middleshelfers, Happy weekend.

 

August is International Peace Month and should not be confused with International Peace Day which is held every year in September, each having a different impetus for their creation.  International Peace Month was formed in 1926 as a way to remember the causes and outcomes of World War I We regularly note that the road to common ground can and must benefit from looking back to where we have been so as to learn how we wound up where we are now and how best to take lessons from our history.

Given that August is International Peace Month this week’s book recommendations look back at World War I.  The declaration as Peace Month was made at the Fifth International Democratic Peace Conference attended by over 4,000 delegates. Held at Rheims, site of some of the greatest losses of the War, a quarter of the delegates were of German descent, and those present votes to encamp at battlefields across France to concentrate on how to achieve international peace.

But, as Time Magazine which covered the Conference, later wrote:

“International Peace Month was born of a series of tragic miscalculations, the war killed millions and ravaged Europe on a scale once considered unthinkable. The war not only set the stage for a century of violence and conflict but forever altered the human mindset, ushering in an age of cynicism, fatalism and lowered expectations for the future. As memory of the war recedes, it’s increasingly important that we educate new generations about the horrors of that conflict and learn whatever lessons we can, so we may not repeat the mistakes that led to the Great War”  

 

To that end, Time created a reading list about World War I to help those who served and later generations come to terms with the War and the aftermath as peace has remained elusive.  Below is their list and comments:

  • All Quiet On the Western Frontby E.M. Remarque is a novel about the effects of the war on the men fighting it.
  • Paths of Gloryby Humphrey Cobb is a novel about corruption and injustice in the military. This piece of literature later became the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s classic film Paths of Glory.
  • The Great War And Modern Memoryby Paul Fussell was a study of how the war changed Western culture.
  • The Guns of Augustby Barbara Tuchman is a poignant story of how the war started.
  • Johnny Got His Gunby Dalton Trumbo is a graphic look at the horrors of war told through the perspective of one soldier, the ultimate victim.

 

Another worthwhile and more expansive list can be found at BookBrowse that explained the necessity of reading about the War:

“In many ways, we are still engaged in this war and the maps are still flowing. Though there was a period of ‘entre deux guerres’ in the 1920s and early 1930s–a false peace at best–the world has for the most part been on a war-time footing and economy for the past hundred years. It’s important to remember that time, to understand the people who lived through it, and to enter into the dynamics, the reverberations of which are still felt in our own time.”

It is also worth noting that 2018 is the Centennial of the end of World War I, and while there will be many international commemorations of what was once called the “Great War” or “war to end all wars”, we remain a world that still is not at peace.  Peace, like common ground, requires compassion, negotiations, and thoughtful discourse.  Take some time to read, reflect and remember.