tug of war

Why is America so Politically Polarized? Part 2

 

Recently we sat down with Common Ground Committee’s co-founder Erik Olsen to discuss why America is so bitterly divided — a gulf separating us by political party, social and economic issues, and willingness to listen to people we disagree with.

We also discussed when this really took hold, and the role the internet has played in fanning tensions.

This week we take a look where loyalties lie, and what it’s going to take to get them more aligned.

Q: What is the bigger source of tension in today’s cultural climate — issues, or party affiliation?

That question is interesting to me, because I do think the parties have drawn away from their focus of being “in it for the people,” and they’ve become much more focused on being in it for the party. Some people have pointed out the fact that up through the ‘80s we had politicians who had close experience with war, or were even WW2 vets themselves. They recognized the difference between a foreign threat — a true physical threat like the USSR and the Cold War —compared to the threat of China, which is viewed as more of a commercial threat.

So instead, people became more focused on party issues and the extension of party control. I think the parties themselves have focused less on issues and more on pitting different interest groups against one another. This has deteriorated the political environment to some extent. And there’s much more of a “winner take all” attitude that rejects working with the opposition more than focusing on solving the issues themselves.

Q: So, you’re saying the party affiliation IS the divisive issue today?

To a certain extent, when looking at the parties today, there are not nearly the same differences between them as in the ‘60s ‘70s. One party favored expanding social programs, one favored lowering taxes. Today, one party supports tax increases, the other supports lowering taxes, but both parties are happy to spend money they don’t have. And neither one seems to recognize the degree that the government has infiltrated our daily lives and created its own winners and losers. I think this is the advent of what we see as crony capitalism, and both parties are equally offensive.

That creates a perspective on issues that I would argue gets distorted. People look at them as winners and losers, and parties are enhancing that view. Both are trying to foster this division because it supports their own power struggle. I would love to be able to say, Here are the good guys in Washington and here are the bad guys, but for me, the good guys are the ones willing to sit down and talk through the problem, and try to resolve it. Those people seem to be few and far between, especially in the leadership — they are much more interested in the defeat of their enemy.

That needs to be repaired in some way. I don’t see it as imminent. Even if we have a change in the White House, I don’t at all anticipate that it will lead to greater unity in Congress. People think Biden is conciliatory, and his demeanor is different from Trump’s. But it’s not like a Biden-Harris presidency is going to lead to handholding and kumbaya singing with the Republicans at all. I don’t think that’s going to change.

Q: Is this the most divided our country has been in recent history, and what is it going to take to get us out of it?

I think first of all the American people are smart enough that they’ll put up with a lot, then stop putting up with it, and things will change. When people say how much more polarized we are today than at any time in history, they point to bipartisan cooperation that took place in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There was a great deal more political cooperation, but the country today is not nearly as divided at the population level as it was in the ‘60s. I’m old enough to remember ‘68 and the Vietnam war and the civil unrest. We have a lot going on today over police use of force, and people are recognizing that we need to be more aware and awake to where racism is in the country and who benefits and why and how. But we were going through very similar angry confrontations in the ‘60s and we had the assassination of a presidential candidate and one of the greatest civil rights leaders. It was a horrible time.

But my hope and expectation is that more and more people are recognizing that this atmosphere in Washington is not useful and not helpful, and serves a minority of political views — not the majority of political views. And so I think to the extent that we can encourage political leaders to recognize the common ground and the value of working with people on the other side of the aisle, that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to encourage people to vote in that manner, and get people who are less partisan and have more interest in working together to take office. I think under the Trump administration, the opposite has taken place. There may be people who are more common-ground oriented returning to Congress and taking steps to try to tone down the rhetoric. We don’t get anywhere by demonizing people on the other side.

Certainly the concern on the Republican side is that a Democratic majority would push through their agenda in a partisan way. But they would get voted out in the next election with a resounding loss — that’s what happens if they exerted that kind of authority without trying to take into account the views of the minority. So let’s get people in here with differences of views and outlooks, and encourage them to work together. That’s ultimately what’s going to get us out of our current problems.

 

Want to hear more? Be sure to check out our new podcast “Let’s Find Common Ground” where we seek common solutions to today’s vital issues.

Election Briefing: “Why I’m Voting For….”

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With an election just around the corner, can a Trump supporter and Biden backer reach common ground?

With just days to go before the 2020 election, we invited a Trump supporter and a Biden backer to join us in the same (virtual) room, and share the personal reasons behind their vote. We have a lively, spontaneous and friendly discussion about the President’s controversial personality, the final debate, and the big policy and leadership differences between the two candidates.

John Pudner is voting for Donald Trump. He is Executive Director of Take Back Our Republic, a non-profit group and a member of Bridge Alliance. John spent three decades managing Republican political campaigns, and was the eldest of 9 children growing up in a 3 bedroom house in inner city Richmond, VA where he attended a conservative, Catholic high school whose alumni included Steve Bannon. Now John is the father of 9 children.

Philippa P.B. Hughes is voting for Joe Biden. She produces and creates art projects, and is CEO, Chief Creative Strategist and Social Sculptor at CuriosityConnects.us, a non-profit organization that designs pop-up galleries and physical spaces that bring people together who might not normally engage in dialogue and thoughtful interaction. Philippa is the daughter of a conservative Vietnamese mother and a white father who was a lifelong union member. She also grew up in Richmond, but until our podcast conversation had never met John.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep.16- Election Briefing-Why I’m Voting For….

John Pudner

John Pudner has a history of fighting for the underdog. Known for his testimony resulting in a unanimous Federal Elections Commission decision that voters have a right to know who is paying for digital political advertising on the nation’s premier social media platform, Facebook, to building broad coalitions in support of conservative principles, Pudner’s rich history in politics has been recognized among his peers as revolutionary.

In 2014, National Review announced that Dave Brat hired Pudner to advise the first congressional campaign to ever unseat an incumbent House majority leader. Despite being outspent 40:1, Brat defeated Eric Cantor in one of the most unprecedented upsets in political history. For more than three decades, Pudner managed and consulted political candidates and policy campaigns where he developed a renowned strategy in outsmarting, rather than outspending, the opposition. What began as a statistical hobby of extrapolating sports data translated into unprecedented victories for his clients.

With a lifetime of achievement on the campaign trail, Pudner witnessed firsthand the influence of money on politics. Dark money, campaign finance loopholes and a system of manipulation stifles transparency and favors the political elite and union bosses—placing our democracy and liberty at risk.

Combining his experience elevating the grassroots voice with his strong national network of influencers, Pudner leads a team of policy experts, grassroots activists, creative minds and innovative strategists. Founded in 2014, TAKE BACK OUR REPUBLIC focuses on harnessing the power of everyday Americans to change the way we conduct elections and discuss policy.

Pudner serves on the board of directors for Voters’ Right to Know.

A graduate of Marquette University and proud father, Pudner and his wife reside in Auburn, Alabama.

Philippa P.B. Hughes

Philippa P.B. Hughes is a Social Sculptor and Creative Strategist who produces art-fueled projects to spark humanizing and authentic conversations between people who might not normally meet. She has designed and produced hundreds of creative activations since 2007 for curious folks to engage with art and with one another in unconventional and meaningful ways. She leads CuriosityConnects.us, a partner in Looking For America a national series inviting politically diverse guests to break bread and talk to each other face-to-face using art as a starting point for relationship-building conversations.

2020 Election Briefing: U.S. Foreign Policy

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The “America First” policy has reshaped many global institutions. What is the future of America’s role in the world?

President Trump’s “America First” policy has led to a U.S. withdrawal from many global institutions. For decades after World War II, American leadership in the world was taken for granted. Today, the future of American hegemony is deeply uncertain.

In this episode, we explore the future of foreign policy with two highly experienced journalists, Peter Ford and Howard LaFranchi. Based in Paris, Peter is global affairs correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. Prior to his current job, he spent a decade as Beijing Bureau Chief. Howard has been The Monitor’s diplomacy correspondent in Washington D.C. since 2001.

We discuss the U.S. pullback from the World Health Organization during the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s exit from the Paris climate accord, deteriorating relations with China, and the differences between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on America’s role in the world.

Peter Ford

Peter Ford is The Christian Science Monitor’s global affairs correspondent, based in Paris. Prior to his current posting, Peter served for a decade as the Monitor’s Beijing bureau chief, covering news and features throughout China and also makes reporting trips to Japan and the Korean peninsula. Before that, he spent six years as the Monitor’s Chief European Correspondent. Based in Paris, he covered news and features from the continent and also followed global trends in justice, religion and security, among other issues. Earlier, Peter served for four years as the Monitor’s Moscow bureau chief, reporting throughout Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Peter also worked as the Monitor’s Middle East correspondent, based in Jerusalem, arriving in the region in December 1990 just in time to cover the Gulf War from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. From his home base, he traveled widely and regularly throughout the Middle East, focusing on the developing peace process and the interplay of religion and politics in Muslim countries. As a special correspondent based in Buenos Aires in 1989 and 1990, Ford covered Argentina and neighboring countries for The Independent of London and The Christian Science Monitor. Ford lived and worked in Central America from 1985-1989, writing for the Monitor, the Financial Times, and The Economist during the civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Prior to this, Ford was an editor with Inter Press Service, a news agency specializing in the affairs of developing countries. Ford is the author of “Around the Edge,” a book about a journey he made on foot and by small boat along the Caribbean coast of Central America published by Viking Penguin in 1991.

A native Englishman, Ford was educated in England and graduated from Durham University with an honors degree in politics and sociology. He is married to French journalist-author Edith Coron and is the father of two sons.

Read more by Peter Ford: “Power shift: How America’s retreat is reshaping global affairs.”

Howard LaFranchi

Howard LaFranchi has been the Christian Science Monitor’s diplomacy correspondent in DC since 2001. Previously, he spent 12 years as a reporter in the field; serving five years as the Monitor’s Paris bureau chief from 1989 to 1994, and as a Latin America correspondent in Mexico City from 1994 to 2001. LaFranchi has continued to travel as diplomacy correspondent and covered the Iraq War from the Monitor’s Baghdad bureau on numerous occasions. Prior to joining the Monitor, LaFranchi worked as the City Hall reporter for the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley Journalism School and has a Masters Degree in Journalism from Boston University.

Read more by Howard LaFranchi: “The United Nations: Indispensable or irrelevant?”

Reforming Politics: Civility, Compromise and Common Ground

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Americans say our divisions are getting worse. How can voters lead constructive change?

More than 8-in-10 Americans think the country is divided, and a large majority says public debate has gotten worse in recent years. The deep partisan gap in politics is a major barrier to constructive change.

In this podcast, we explore the need for common ground with Amy Dacey, Executive Director of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University, and Pearce Godwin, CEO of Listen First Project, and a leading member of #WeavingCommunity.

During the 2016 presidential election, Amy served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee. Pearce is from a conservative political background, and formerly worked on Republican Party campaigns.

We speak with both of them about the new Common Ground Scorecard initiative and other recent efforts to boost civic engagement and compromise.

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Ep. 13- Reforming Politics-Civility, Compromise and Common Ground

Amy K. Dacey

Amy K. Dacey is Executive Director of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University. For more than two decades, she managed prominent national organizations, advised leading elected officials and candidates, including President Barack Obama and Senator John Kerry, and counseled a variety of nonprofits and companies.

Before joining AU, Amy was President of AKD Strategies, a strategic firm working with nonprofits, and Foundations in the progressive policy space. During the 2016 presidential election, she served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee. During the 2004 elections, she worked for then-Senator John Kerry on his presidential campaign and, following his narrow loss, helped to lead Kerry’s political operation. She also managed Rep. Louise Slaughter’s congressional campaign in 1998.

From 2010 to 2013, Amy served as Executive Director of EMILY’s List, the organization dedicated to electing Democratic women to national, state, and local offices, and led the organization’s revitalization, restructuring and rebranding efforts. In addition, she served in various leadership positions for several other organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Fund for America, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Recently, Amy served as Executive Vice President and Managing Director for MWWPR, one of the world’s top independent public relations agencies.

A native of Auburn, New York, Amy received her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and her master’s degree in political science from American University.

Pearce Godwin

Pearce Godwin—described as the national voice for bridging divides—is Founder & CEO of Listen First Project, Executive Director of National Conversation Project, and leader of the #ListenFirst Coalition of 300 partner organizations. He catalyzes the #ListenFirst movement to mend the frayed social fabric of America by building relationships and bridging divides. His passion is combating the universally felt crisis of distance, division, and dehumanization across differences with conversations that prioritize understanding.

Pearce graduated from Duke University and received an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill. He spent five years working in Washington, DC—in the U.S. Senate and as a national political consultant for presidential and statewide campaigns. Before moving home to North Carolina in 2013, Pearce spent six months in Uganda, Africa where he wrote It’s Time to Listen. That message—printed in dozens of papers across the United States—launched Listen First Project and led thousands to sign the Listen First Pledge—“I will listen first to understand.”

In 2017, as division turned to violence across the country, Pearce left his marketing job, fully committing to turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division with the #ListenFirst message. In 2018, Pearce helped create the first National Week of Conversation and hosted the kickoff event, Listen First in Charlottesville. Pearce then launched the overarching, collaborative movement platform National Conversation Project, which scales the #ListenFirst movement by promoting annual National Weeks of Conversation, #ListenFirst Fridays, Rapid Response & Featured Conversations on Major Issues, Locally-Focused #ListenFirst Movements, and any conversation creating social connection. This burgeoning movement has already reached millions of people with the #ListenFirst message—5 million during National Week of Conversation 2019 alone as 100+ organizations have adopted the common #ListenFirst message for mainstream scale.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Pearce is leading the #WeavingCommunity campaign in partnership with David Brooks’ Weave Project and powered by hundreds of partner organizations in service to our neighbors and nation, with support from Facebook and other sponsors. America is divided and broken, but we can make it stronger by building relationships starting where we live. #WeavingCommunity is a campaign celebrating acts of bravery, caring and connection that heal the pain and weave the future we want.

The #ListenFirst movement has been recognized by journalists at CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, USA Today, Associated Press, and The New York Times as Pearce has spoken about the mission on national television and to live audiences around the world. Pearce recently shared his perspective on current events in USA Today: “It feels like the American experiment is failing. Here’s how we can still save it.”

WATCH: Introducing Our Common Ground Scorecard

Want more progress and less division in politics? Our new Common Ground Scorecard can help inform your vote.

We all need our government to work effectively – but it won’t unless we elect those with the capacity to reach across the aisle. That’s why we created the Common Ground Scorecard, a free mobile-friendly tool that helps voters of all parties evaluate how well your elected officials are doing at listening, leading productive conversations and finding bipartisan points of agreement.

VIDEO: View our short tutorial on how to use the Common Ground Scorecard.

Give the scorecard a try, and see how it can help inform your vote for candidates who will work for more progress, and less division.

2020 Election Briefing: Can We Hold A Fair Election?

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States are scrambling to manage voting in a pandemic. Is it possible to hold a free and fair election?

With only weeks to go before the 2020 election, many challenges remain to holding a free and fair voting process in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. From an expected surge in mail-in and absentee ballots, to accessible polling places for millions of voters, to the urgent need for accuracy, we discuss some of the most important and complex questions on the next episode of our podcast, “Let’s Find Common Ground.”

David Hawkings, editor in chief and Tristiaña Hinton, audience development editor, of The Fulcrum explain America’s many different statewide systems of voting, and why it could take days or weeks for winners to be declared. We look at the disputes between Republicans and Democrats, including the possibility of a disputed result, and explore why many local election officials from both parties share common ground on the need for fair and accurate results.

The Fulcrum is a non-profit, non-partisan digital news organization focused exclusively on efforts to reverse the dysfunctions plaguing American democracy. The Fulcrum and Common Ground Committee are members of Bridge Alliance, which acts as a connectivity hub for over 90 civic action organizations.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 12 – 2020 Election Briefing: Can We Hold A Fair Election?

Tristiaña Hinton

Tristiaña Hinton is an audience development editor at The Fulcrum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news outlet that covers democracy reform. She is also an associate producer on MLB Network Radio at SiriusXM. She started her career at WTOP Radio in Washington, DC. In her free time, she likes hanging out with her pets and pretending to play the guitar.

David Hawkings

David Hawkings is the founding editor in chief of The Fulcrum, a nonprofit and nonpartisan digital news organization focused exclusively on efforts to reverse the dysfunctions plaguing American democracy. Before starting The Fulcrum in 2018 he was the senior editor of CQ Roll Call, writing columns for each publication and hosting the “Roll Call Decoder” series of videos and podcasts. He spent six years as managing editor of CQ Weekly, when the magazine won two Dirksen Awards for coverage of Congress, and before that supervised all legislative coverage and was managing editor for daily news.

2020 Election Briefing: Climate Change

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Climate change is increasingly important to voters. But can we find a common path forward?

Climate change is a much more important issue for many voters in the November election than it was in 2016. According to a recent poll by Pew Research Center, a record-high 60% of Americans say it is a major threat to the well-being of the United States.

To gain a deeper understanding, we focus on controversial questions about climate, from the role played by government and the private sector to questions about fracking, renewable energy and nuclear power.

Our guests are journalists Eoin O’Carroll & Eva Botkin-Kowacki of The Christian Science Monitor. Eva and Eoin are staff reporters on the newspaper’s science, technology and environment team.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 11 – 2020 Election Briefing: Climate Change

Eva Botkin-Kowacki

Eva Botkin-Kowacki is a staff reporter on The Christian Science Monitor’s science, environment, and technology team. Previously, she was the Robert Cowen Science Journalism Fellow at the Monitor. She first joined the Monitor as an intern in June 2014.

Eva has also reported for The Reading Eagle in Reading, Penn., The Tennessean in Nashville, Tenn. and The Recorder in Greenfield, Mass. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Vanderbilt University.

At the Monitor, Eva covers everything under the sun and beyond. She is particularly interested in space, anthropology, human impacts on the Earth, and the relationship between non-scientists and science.

During her stint at The Reading Eagle, Eva was part of a reporting team that dug into the story behind the trash piling up in the county. The resulting piece, “Landfill capital of Pennsylvania,” won first place in the Special Project category at the Pennsylvania Keystone Press Awards.

Twitter: @EBotkinKowacki

Facebook: @eva.botkinkowacki

Eoin O’Carroll

Eoin O’Carroll is a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor’s science, technology, and environment desk. He began working at the Monitor in 2005 as an HTML producer. Since then, he has worked as an environment blogger, web producer, SEO coach, and science editor.

Before joining the science desk as a writer, Eoin was an editor for the Monitor’s Rapid Response Team, where he trained early-career journalists in writing and web production.

Eoin holds a Master’s degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication and a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Wesleyan University.

Twitter: @eoinocarroll

Website: http://www.eoinocarroll.com/

WATCH: Finding Common Ground & New Hope Through Music

In this hyper-partisan age, where can we find the inspiration to move past our division? Former Christian Science Monitor politics editor Gail Russell Chaddock recently sat down for a virtual conversation with Common Ground Committee co-founder Bruce Bond and musicians Adam Gussow and Rod Patterson. They explore the power of music to uplift us, invite us to think differently and renew our hope for a shared future.

Watch the highlights now for a thought-provoking conversation on America’s path forward and the story behind the making of Come Together, a new music video jointly produced by Common Ground Committee and Sir Rod & The Blues Doctors that issues a rousing call to open our ears and our hearts – whether we wear red, or we wear blue.

Want more? Tune in to the full hourlong conversation: “Behind the Scenes of the New Music Video ‘Come Together.'”

Dreading Election Season? Get 5 Tips for Better Political Conversations

Our series of monthly actions invite Common Grounders to bring light, not heat, to the work of leading progress on America’s most pressing issues. This month: as tensions rise during election season, prepare yourself with tools for leading better political conversations.

August 2020 Action: Find More Common Ground in Your Political Conversations

With the countdown to the general election now underway, political divisions can be more fraught than ever – particularly at home, where the emotional stakes are high. This month, prepare yourself to lead better conversations with family and friends who may hold opposing political views.

5 tips for better political talks

Turns out, (nearly) everything we need to know about successful political conversations we learned in Kindergarten: take turns, be curious, and be respectful.

Looking to go a bit further? These five simple tips from Common Ground Committee co-founder Bruce Bond, Living Room Conversations co-founder Joan Blades and Bridges USA co-founder Manu Meel will set you up for more successful conversations with loved ones on some of today’s most divisive issues.

  1. Examine your motives. Before engaging in conversation on a politically charged topic, be honest with yourself about what you hope to achieve. Is your goal to change the other person’s mind, or to understand them better so you can begin to bridge divides? (The latter, as you might guess, has a much greater chance of success.)
  2. Don’t go in cold. The first step in any successful conversation is relating to the other person as a human being. Before delving into a politically sensitive topic, look for a way to break the ice and reinforce your personal connection.
  3. Listen to understand, and show it. When it comes to political conversations, are you simply listening for points you can successfully argue? Or to truly understand the other person’s motivations and perspective? To have a productive discussion, you must first understand the personal reasons someone holds a certain view; then show you’ve really heard their contribution to the conversation. That can open the door to an “a-ha moment.”
  4. Look for shared values. Conflict resolution experts who utilize interest-based bargaining offer a good lesson on navigating high-stakes issues. Rather than delving into where each of you stand on specific policy positions – for instance, immigration reform – go deeper. Try to identify shared values, such as your support of an inclusive society or the pursuit of the American dream. From there, it can be easier to find areas of common ground.
  5. Know when to redirect. The ability to use and accept facts is a prerequisite for productive conversation. So, if your trusted experts are different and there are no shared facts, it may not be possible to have healthy discussion with someone on a divisive political issue. Accept that we all must live with and love people with different viewpoints, and that de-escalating a heated situation may be the most constructive action you can take.

In a polarized political atmosphere and heated election season, we can each play a role in bringing light, not heat, to the nation’s civil discourse. Get more insight on how you can heal the divide (and talk politics) by watching our full webinar with Living Room Conversations and Bridge USA, and by downloading our Common Grounder guide.