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Divided citizenry and government — a call to action for common ground

In this piece written for THE HILL, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen argue that politicians and the media are taking the wrong lessons from a divided electorate.


During a time when millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet, leadership should be driving their members to find solutions not to stubbornly stand their ground.

This election voters turned out in record numbers. Mail-in ballots alone exceeded the number of Americans who voted in 2016. Polling seemed to indicate that we would see a strong repudiation of President Trump and the Republican party. But while former Vice President Joe Biden did take the White House, voters sent another message with their ballots: They are as far apart on the direction of the country as ever.

As the heads of an organization, Common Ground Committee (CGC), that seeks to heal our political divides, you might think we are discouraged by an election that confirmed our divisions. It’s true that in our everyday life we see politics tearing friends and families apart. But we also think that the political class and media take away the wrong lessons from divided elections.

We are most certainly a country divided by politics, but the response to that shouldn’t be to dig-in further on the party line.

Partisans will always hope for that red or blue wave, but history shows it to be a rare occurrence.

When Republicans had control of the White House and Congress after the 2016 elections, it was only the fifth time since 1980. Control of the Senate has flipped six times since 1987, while the House has flipped four times since 1995. It’s time for our leaders to listen to the electorate. They didn’t want President Trump’s abrasive style, but they were also not comfortable with the Democratic party’s perceived leftward shift — as evidenced by unexpected losses in the House and (pending two run-offs in Georgia) a Senate still under Republican control.

This election was a clarion call for the collaborative government our Founding Fathers intended.

Unfortunately, leadership in Washington typically practices a “winner-takes-all” approach to legislation. President-elect Biden has encouragingly stated he wants to be a leader for all Americans, but he also indicated he would sign executive orders on Day 1 to eliminate many of Trump’s policies, when 8 million more voters supported him than in 2016. Republicans, meanwhile, have boasted that their continued control of the Senate gives them a mandate to continue to pursue partisan agendas despite the Biden-Harris ticket getting the most votes in history.

During a time when millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet, leadership should be driving their members to find solutions not to stubbornly stand their ground.

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to spar over the size and scope of a second COVID-19 stimulus bill, some Democrats and Republicans have already agreed on a compromise. The bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus put forward a $1.5 trillion proposal in September. These 50 Democrats and Republicans found a middle ground between their two different ideologies — because they listened to each other’s concerns and ideas instead of dismissing them outright as wrong. Meanwhile, leadership never gave the proposal serious consideration and entered election day with no deal.

To paraphrase Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), two members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus who recently spoke on our “Let’s Find Common Ground” podcast, government can’t function when leadership on both sides dislikes each other. Democrats and Republicans need to make a decision: Would they rather go to their constituents saying they supported a bill they knew would never pass or one that didn’t have everything they wanted but solved some of the problems hurting American families?

We must make it crystal clear to leadership that a divided election does not mean we want the status quo of gridlock.

There are many officials already working to make progress. Prior to the election nine elected officials and challengers made a pledge to uphold the spirit of what we call “common grounders” through the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool designed to provide an objective measure of a candidate’s willingness to work across the aisle. Seven of them won reelection, including Reps. Fitzpatrick and Spanberger. We urge Americans to publicly praise and reward those officials who are committed to common ground — and call on their representatives at all levels of government to work together.

The complete election results prove that the absence of President Trump will not immediately put an end to polarization. But President-elect Biden and Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have a chance to shift the narrative. If they commit to seriously collaborating to achieve solutions for the American people, we can begin the process of restoring competent governance. They ignore this opportunity at their own risk. A repeat of the last four years will promise an endless cycle of shifts in party control where the only winners are those who seek to exploit our differences.

– This article was originally published in THE HILL on November 21, 2020.

Why America needs you to vote for candidates who cooperate, not partisans who fight

In this Opinion Editorial piece for USA Today, Common Ground Committee Co-Founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen make a case for why it’s so important for voters to identify and support candidates in the 2020 election who seek common ground on political issues. 


Voters need a new mindset that makes willingness to find common ground a “must have” quality for any candidate.

The “new normal” that defined 2020 has made its presence known this election season. The upcoming presidential debates will not have in-person audiences. Door-to-door campaigning has mostly vanished. One thing that hasn’t changed in this climate is the rabid partisanship that has been synonymous with our politics for more than a decade.

Elections are known for partisan bickering, and that has been on full display. But the issue goes much deeper. Negotiations over a second stimulus remain stalled and action now seems unlikely until after the election. After the killing of George Floyd, Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s police reform bill couldn’t get past even a procedural vote to begin debate. And most disturbing of all, partisan rhetoric has devolved into violence in cities like Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wisc.

To be sure, there are hints of cooperation on the federal level. Congressional leaders are attempting to revive negotiations following the shooting of Jacob Blake, as the nation cries out for action. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the 2020 Health Statistics Act, which would improve our government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

But when our disagreements turn into violence and critical legislation is stalled, we can’t afford piecemeal progress. Voters need a new mindset that makes willingness to find common ground a “must have” quality for any candidate.

Politics has always had some degree of hostility, but it has not always been such a lightning rod. In 1960, just 4% of Democrats and 4% of Republicans said they would be disappointed if their child married someone from the opposite party, according to the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. By 2018, that number jumped to 45% and 35%, respectively per Public Religion Research Institute.

Voters’ attitudes have shifted

This thinking has also seeped into our voting habits. After the 2018 midterms, Pew Research found that voters from both parties cited opposition to the other party as a reason for their vote, more so than support of that particular candidate. Just 10 years earlier, Pew found that votes for Barack Obama and John McCain were made primarily in support of those candidates.

It would be easy to solely blame our leaders for this shift. After all, the behavior we witness on a near daily basis on our screens or in our papers feeds into the idea that the other side is an enemy to be defeated rather than a potential partner. But politicians reflect the behavior they think voters want to see. It’s become clear that many see demonization as a required step along the path to victory.

To paraphrase Rep. Barney Frank, who spoke last year at an event hosted by our organization, Common Ground Committee, we are not calling for Americans to vote for candidates they don’t believe in. But we’ve reached a point where we need to strongly consider those who have demonstrated a commitment to working across the aisle — because what we’re doing now is not working.

Politicians who are not interested in hearing what the other side has to say are not interested in making progress, they are simply interested in getting their way.

If we had told you this time last year that most of our workforce was remote, or that the majority of Americans have rallied behind significant police reforms, you may not have believed us. A shift in thinking is never easy, but if there was ever a time, it’s this moment.

Consider actions, not just words

When you go to the polls in November or send in your mail-in ballot, don’t immediately flock to the candidate you think will best dominate the other side. Consider the individual who best represents your ideals but also knows that collaboration is essential in getting things done. Consider their concrete actions rather than just their words.

Find open-minded politicians with the Common Ground Scorecard

This new mindset will require a new set of tools to cut through the noise. That’s why we introduced the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool that measures the degree to which officeholders and candidates for elected office embody the spirit and practice of what we call Common Grounders — people who seek solutions through listening and productive conversation.

The same way voters would research where a candidate for public office stands on issues like climate change, the Scorecard provides a venue to see where they stand on common ground.

Along with the Scorecard, we urge voters to use other voting tools available to help them make informed decisions. Examples include Vote Smart, the Bipartisan Index from the Lugar Center and Ballotpedia.

The historic challenges our nation faces won’t be solved by partisan shots in the coming weeks and months. And they won’t be solved by treating this election like any other.

It is long past time to head to the polls with a new mindset that prioritizes solutions and ideas over demonization and tribalism. With new tools and thinking, we can begin to move the incentive needle away from demonizing the opposition and toward working together to make progress on the tough issues our nation faces.

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen are co-founders of Common Ground Committee, a citizen-led initiative focused on demonstrating productive public discourse.

– This article was published in USA Today on September 17th, 2020.

America needs vote-by-mail in November. Here’s why both parties can embrace it.

In this piece written for USA Today, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen call for bipartisan support for voting by mail to preserve the health of voters – and our democracy.


We’re facing a scenario where many people may decide not to vote in November because of the pandemic. This doesn’t have to happen.

Last month, Lee McFadden Jr., 63, made a choice. After recovering from COVID-19, he made the trek to vote in Wisconsin’s primary. He told a PBS reporter he confronted long lines and, unable to stand for long, went home. McFadden’s decision could be a portent of things to come in November.

The risks related to COVID-19 are considered more acute for seniors. This means long-term, faithful voters, who for decades have done their civic duty, are being asked to choose between voting and their health concerns. A record number of voters cast their vote by absentee ballot in Wisconsin’s primary election, but partisan bickering, legal maneuvering and an overwhelmed system made it so voters like McFadden didn’t have a choice.

We’re facing a scenario where a significant part of the population may decide not to vote in November. This doesn’t have to happen. The organization we co-founded, Common Ground Committee, is dedicated to bringing healing to the challenges of incivility and polarization by showing Americans that consensus can be found and progress made through passionate but civil debate. In the case of vote-by-mail the common ground is right in front of us: At least for November, surely we can all agree that voters like McFadden should feel safe when casting their ballots.

The bickering over how to expand vote-by-mail is more intense than it ought to be. Both sides are seemingly entrenched in their positions — Republicans that the system is vulnerable to voter fraud and Democrats that not offering universal vote-by-mail is another form of voter suppression. But if the two parties look beyond their talking points, they will see there are ways to implement vote-by-mail they can get behind.

Some states have already realized that vote-by-mail, if properly implemented, can enable both secure elections and allow eligible voters to legitimately cast their ballots. Ohio, for the first time, held its primary election by mail. Two-thirds of states allow voters to request a mail-in ballot without having to give a reason. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — vote almost entirely by mail. Vote-by-mail enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in all five. Utah, a state with a predominantly conservative electorate, has the second highest rate of support among that group.

Concerns about fraud are legitimate and should be bipartisan. Across counties in red and blue states, Judicial Watch found at least 2.5 million voter registrations incorrectly listed as valid. Proposals that advocate absentee ballots for all without verification of eligibility would make it easier for bad actors to commit fraud.

Fortunately, we’ve seen there are ways to balance safety and security. Data has shown almost no reported incidents of voter fraud in the five states that employ vote-by-mail. Most importantly, no election results have been overturned, according to data from conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. In Washington, the office of Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, crosschecks ballot and voter registration signatures and uses national data sets to verify voter identity.

A 2005 report authored by former President Jimmy Carter and James Baker is often cited by those with reservations about vote-by-mail. It found absentee ballots are more susceptible to voter fraud and intimidation. Yet it also notes Oregon avoided significant fraud through its safeguards.

Now, President Carter, in part because of concern that the pandemic will discourage the most vulnerable from voting, has called for expanded access to absentee ballots saying, “since 2005, many states have gained substantial experience in vote-by-mail and have shown how key concerns can be effectively addressed through appropriate planning, resources, training, and messaging.”

Both parties can benefit

The general perception is that vote-by-mail would benefit Democrats. At least in 2020, this is a questionable premise. Polls show Republicans typically do well with voters over 65, the demographic most likely to avoid showing up at polls because of the coronavirus. Utah implemented vote-by-mail in 2012 and still has a Republican controlled state legislature. And in 2018, turnout in the state exceeded the national average for the first time in 20 years.

To be sure, vote-by-mail is not perfect and there are real hurdles to overcome. The experiences of the five states notwithstanding, there is always a risk of voter fraud and states will have to invest significant money and resources to minimize that risk. We also recognize that many voters will insist on the need for transparency regarding how disputes would be settled and what constitutes a valid ballot. Even though Congress has provided vote-by-mail funding for states for some, it isn’t enough.

Voters need to feel safe

Still, these hurdles are outweighed by the need to ensure folks, who have voted for years and now fear doing so, can feel safe casting their ballots. We hope states that cannot overcome those hurdles will work to find ways to get mail-in ballots to their most vulnerable, eligible citizens.

Secretary Wyman recently told KIRO Radio that we shouldn’t view this issue through the lens of our parties. “We need to make policy that’s good for our voters, allows a lot of access, and is secure,” she said. We couldn’t agree more.

Vote-by-mail may or may not be the best election system over time. But in this election, it is worth the investment so states that have the means to implement it can help their most vulnerable citizens feel safe.

There will be time after November to assess the lessons learned to determine vote-by-mail’s long-term viability. Now, there is enough common ground for both parties to feel comfortable doing right by our long-term, faithful voters. We hope the states that can will seize this opportunity and implement vote-by-mail for November.

– This article was originally published in USA Today on May 12, 2020.

To stop coronavirus, we must set aside partisanship. Here’s how we can do it.

This USA Today piece by CGC Co-Founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen calls for citizens and politicians to stop using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to push partisan politics and cites cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians as an example we can follow. Three of the Common Grounder Attributes are used to show how we can put our differences aside.


– This article was published in USA TODAY on March 20, 2020.

Engaging in tough conversations is worth it. Even if we can’t find agreement.

In this opinion piece Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee argued that the point of common ground is not to force an agreement on issues – it’s to foster conversations that lead to greater understanding.

They also position CGC as one of many members of the common grounder movement, and a link to the 10 attributes of a common grounder is included.


— This article was published in USA Today on January 23, 2020.

Finding common ground isn’t about ‘being nice’ or losing values. It’s about understanding.

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee wrote a letter is in response to the new poll numbers from the Hidden Common Ground initiative.

They write that common ground can be found between Democrats and Republicans but, in order for that to happen, we have to dispel the myth that finding common ground is somehow compromising your values.

The letter also includes mention of the 10 common grounder initiatives and includes a link


As co-founders of an organization focused on the state of our political discourse, we are not surprised by the results of the newly-released USA TODAY/Public Agenda/Ipsos poll published in “America is dangerously divided. USA TODAY and partners launch ‘Hidden Common Ground’ to find solutions.” Common ground can certainly be found between Republicans and Democrats — but first, we need to dispel a common myth.

One of the most consistent critiques we hear is that finding common ground means “being nice” at the expense of one’s values. The real point of common ground is not to force-feed agreement on a particular issue — it’s about a conversation that leads to understanding each other.

Before Thanksgiving, we released the 10 attributes of what we call common grounders. One of those attributes is to listen and learn from personal experiences. This is the essence of the common ground movement. When we brought Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Susan Rice on stage for an event recently, the audience was inspired by just how much they found agreement despite their different backgrounds.

–This article was published in USA Today on December 13, 2019.

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.

Trump administration is in a unique position to make real change on gun control policy

This month co-founders, Bruce Bond and  Erik Olsen, shared their thoughts in this poignant piece about gun control.

Bruce and Erik identified that the Trump administration is in a unique position to implement measures to reduce the prevalence of mass shootings and that preventing this type of tragedy is somewhere the nation can find common ground.

As we continue to struggle with the events in El Paso and Dayton, we all must face the fact that the problem of mass shootings in America has been in the headlines for over 30 years, through numerous administrations, with virtually no progress made. In fact, the situation has never been worse.

That shouldn’t be. Virtually all Americans, regardless of demographic characteristics, political views, positions on gun ownership and regulation, political party or political office want to see this escalating violence come to an end.

In our work to “bring light not heat to public discourse” and to demonstrate that people can come together in passionate but respectful debate to find common ground on issues that matter, we see clearly that the lack of progress on this issue is caused by its complexity and the fact that the divisive issue of guns is at the heart of the debate.

The Trump administration is in a unique position to make tangible and significant progress on this problem and move us down the path to eliminating mass shootings. We believe this because:

  • Law-abiding gun owners often do not trust that their government will allow them to keep their weapons — but the support of the Trump administration among gun owners is strong. Gun owners recognize this administration as someone looking out for their interests.
  • The Trump administration demonstrated work to reduce mass shootings when President Trump issued an executive order in December 2018 effectively banning bump stocks.

We believe this administration is in much the same position as President Richard Nixon, a staunch anti-communist, was when presented with the opportunity to open relations with Communist China. That apparent conflict was key to his success, ultimately cooling tensions between the two countries and getting American businesses to access the China market. As the Nixon administration did, we urge our current leaders to seize the opportunity.

But the 30 years of no progress mandate that a new approach is needed. Specifically:

  • The conversation cannot be a referendum on guns and the 2nd Amendment because gun owners and their representatives will not engage.
  • It must acknowledge the complexity of the problem. Researchers and law enforcement are working to determine why individuals become shooters, but there is as yet no consensus. And there are different types of mass shootings. Gang-related killings are not the same as what happened in El Paso and Dayton.
  • It needs to include these four basic principles:
  1. Hear from all sides of the issue, including mass shooting victims and those dedicated to saving lives through strict gun control as well as gun owners who are concerned that their Constitutional right to ownership will be effectively eliminated. Seek to understand and account for the different perspectives, particularly of these two groups.
  2. When forming solutions, set ideology aside in favor of facts presented by credible experts.
  3. Outside of assailants, do not assign blame. Instead, seek to identify what individuals, organizations, companies, etc. can do to address the parts of the problem they contribute to. (Note to the media: We believe that assigning blame without reporting on potential solutions or points of progress serves to further divide the nation, making it more difficult to achieve the goal, which is to save innocent lives).
  4. Focus on what is possible and what can be done now. Find the 10-20 percent of the issue the different sides can agree on and take action accordingly. Build on that momentum moving forward.

There are probably a few mechanisms that could work, and we hope our elected officials choose one and get it going. When the findings and recommendations are delivered, we encourage the Trump administration to be the leading and loudest voice convincing citizens and elected officials to embrace the results and support them in speech and action.

We believe this administration has a substantially better opportunity than previous presidents. We implore them to seize it and set us on the path to the elimination of this horrific problem. They will be saving the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, may otherwise be included on the list of mass shooting victims.

— This article was published in The Hill on August 21, 2019

 

Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz’s dialogue shows common ground isn’t just for moderates

Common Ground Committee co-founder, Erik Olsen, shares his thoughts and views on two of the countries current most polarizing political figures Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and  Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) coming together through an unlikely dialogue and shows how common ground can be found between both sides of the aisle.


The week of May 27, 2019, seemed like a typical one for U.S. political discourse. Fox News Host Sean Hannity accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller of being “full of crap” while a columnist for the Nation referred to President Trump as the “narcissist-in-chief.” One simple Twitter exchange stood out among the noise.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) made a call on Twitter to ban former members of Congress from lobbying. Not long after, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) chimed in, suggesting the two start a dialogue and team up for a bill. It was a rare moment of civil dialogue and agreement between two leaders typically seen as the most extreme in their respective parties. It was followed by the two also finding some agreement on the issue of birth control and beginning to collaborate outside Twitter.

It shows that common ground is not just for moderates.

Banning members of Congress from going into lobbying is something that should have bipartisan support. But action hasn’t been taken since 2007 when the Senate passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. This fact is a reflection of a toxic culture of polarization that has plagued our politics — both inside and outside of DC — and has caused members of the opposite party to be viewed first with suspicion, and then as enemies rather than potential partners.

The numbers back this up. The percentage of Americans who view the opposing side as unfavorable has doubled in the last two decades. And a recent poll from Georgetown University found that 90 percent of voters are concerned about incivility in politics.

To be sure, dialogue between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Cruz will not solve our country’s civility problem. In fact, since their initial dialogue, Sen. Cruz called a critic from The New York Times a “leftist” and accused her of racist tweets. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, dismissed a presidential candidate who disagreed with her about Medicare for All. But while the agreement between the two may not solve all our problems or lead to a substantive policy change, it sets the stage for less vitriol and more civil dialogue.

It’s true that the ultimate goal of finding common ground is to find agreement on policy issues. But before that can happen, you have to understand and empathize with the other side. Conversation in and of itself will not solve all our problems, but without it, we eliminate an important step towards tearing down the stereotypes that exist about the other side.

Conservative media has denigrated Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as a “little girl” and compared her policies to Joseph Stalin. Sen. Cruz has been on the receiving end of his share of attacks, too. Beto O’Rourke echoed President Trump by calling him “lyin’ Ted” during Cruz’s successful re-election campaign. Perhaps by having this dialogue on lobbying, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Cruz will see beyond these negative portrayals of each other and find areas of agreement.

There has been a long and fruitful history of ongoing civil dialogue between opposite sides in government. During a recent forum held by Common Ground Committee, a nonprofit I co-founded to promote civility in politics, former Secretary of State John Kerry reflected on a time when he and his Republican colleagues could have dinner at Sen. Ted Kennedy’s house and have thoughtful civil discussions. At another event, Chris Matthews and David Gergen detailed how Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and President Reagan, despite their tremendous differences, maintained a robust friendship with open lines of communication.

We know open and productive dialogue is possible, even between politicians who are on the far left and right of their parties. So how do we ensure that it’s more of a common occurrence than a pleasant surprise? It starts with getting out of our own echo chambers. Accept the truth that including more than one view contributes to a stronger position and a better, more effective solution. Be open-minded to facts that might conflict with your narrative, listen to others without rushing to judgment and seek to understand why those we disagree withhold the views they do. You may discover there are areas where you actually agree.

Change can also come from citizens. Elected officials represent the mindset of their constituents. They see there is little to no consequence for disparaging and refusing to engage with the other side. We can change that with our actions and votes. Cast ballots for candidates with strong track records of working with those holding different political views. Regardless of their party, choose candidates who speak out against the speech and policies designed to divide us.

It’s too early to say whether the dialogue between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Cruz will lead to a change in tone in our politics, let alone a change in policy. But even if this interaction doesn’t move beyond Twitter, it highlights an important point: If members of the far left and right can find a way to put their differences aside, there’s no reason the rest of us can’t as well.

— This article was published in The Hill on June 15, 2019