How Do We Fix It?  You and Me.  Our Role in Partisan Divide

 How many times have you heard someone say: “I’m fed up with the campaign and politics in general.”

That’s hardly surprising at a time when media coverage has focused on personal insults, name-calling and partisan gridlock, instead of governance and compromise.

But much of this is our fault. Not just the politicians.  From older angry white men (Trump supporters) to idealistic Millennials (Bernie backers), voters have repeatedly rewarded candidates who use angry rhetoric and blame others for the country’s problems.  Sanders bashes Wall Street “crooks”, while Trump attacks Mexican immigrants and Muslims.

Among the candidates of left and right who have pushed back against this trend, only Ohio Governor John Kasich has won more support than expected.  

“We live with the dysfunction of partisan behaviors and believe we must and can do better,” says Joan Blades, co-founder of the non-profit group, LivingRoomConversations.org.  She makes the case for personal dialog across party lines, arguing that it’s a key part of changing the way all of us think about politics.

A strong progressive, who co-founded the liberal activist group, MoveOn.org in the late 90’s, Joan says you’ll never convince anyone with an opposing viewpoint unless you listen to them first. 

“One of the problems progressives have right now is that if they run into someone who doesn’t believe in climate science, they roll their eyes.” As soon as you do that, “you’ve lost your conversation,” Joan says. “Nobody listens to anybody.”

Americans need to find new ways to speak about our differences and visit websites with opposing political opinions from their own.  Speaking with those you don’t agree with is part of the solution.

 “It’s actually really fun having a living room conversation,” she tells us on episode 44 of our podcast, How Do We Fix It? “They’re more fun than if you have a bunch of people around and you what they’re going to say.”

LivingRoom Conversations.org has simple for ground rules for each meeting – encouraging participants to be curious, show respect and take turns.  

Listening to people is the best way to get people to listen to you. These conversations are not debates. Instead of winning, the aim is come up with solutions.

The group’s guidelines are open-source. People can use whatever works for them. I want to host one.  What about you?  And what topics might work in these settings?  You can find examples at  LivingRoomConverstions.org.
   

How Do We Fix It? What Elites and Pundits Don’t Know About The Rest of Us.

  

The results are in from the latest batch of primaries.  Once again, the year’s most surprising trends persist: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are doing far better than pundits, pollsters and elites had expected.

Despite a furious and well-funded campaign against him by the Republican establishment, Trump trounced his rivals in Mississippi and Michigan.  Sanders scored a major upset win in Michigan.

Both are the blame-the-other-guy-candidates.  

For Trump, it’s poor Mexican migrants who are storming across the border and taking our jobs. Or crazy Muslims who are claimed to be a danger to us all.

For Bernie, wicked Wall Street and evil billionaires are to blame for our troubles.  And it’s time to teach them a lesson, even if business is crippled as a result. 

Both are dishing out what their worried, weary, and above all distracted, followers want to hear.  

And the rest of us, who are either stunned or appalled by the election results so far, can learn something very interesting about how most people form opinions and make up their minds on the big decisions in life. 

Emotions and feelings play a much bigger role than most of us realize. 

In his recent book, “Copy, Copy, Copy,” Mark Earls, a British writer and well-known consultant on marketing, communications and human behavior talks about the  “I’ll have what she’s having” phenomenon from the 1989 movie, “When Harry Met Sally“.  That’s what the woman who’s sitting nearby says after Meg Ryan’s very public and fake orgasm. 

The widely held view that we make decisions on our own and in a rational way is a complete myth.  Instead, we vote and buy stuff by copying others – our friends, family and our neighbors.

Donald Trump is “much smarter than we give him credit for,” says Mark on our podcast. “He gets that people need to feel stuff rather than think about it.” 

Much of Bernie Sanders’ appeal is about personal integrity and authenticity. He clearly says what he believes and that may seem very refreshing, even though his left-wing policies made in a loner in the U.S. Senate. But that doesn’t matter one bit to his adoring tribe. Sanders won a stunning 80% of the millennial vote in Michigan.

With Donald and Bernie it’s not about detailed policies.  Or what might happen after Election Day. Their appeal is based on group identity and emotions. 

The sooner “rationalists” and “experts” realize that, the better.

Top: Front page of “The Economist” magazine.

How Do We Fix It? 2 Cheers For Compromise 

  
Ready for a word that Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders would consider to be an obscenity?  

Compromise.

Insults, anger and disgust are in, while deal-making, compromise and governance are so old school.  We’re all too busy having a national hissy fit to sit down and do the boring, important stuff. 

My friend Mark Gerzon, author of the fine new book, “The Reunited States of America“,  puts it this way. “We can’t solve any of the problems we face if we’re tearing each other down the whole time.”

Ratings for the Republican debates shot up this year and cable TV networks are loving the slugfest. Watching candidates exchange insults can be entertaining, even if we are appalled by the spectacle. 

But the news media obsession with clashes, controversy and contests only get us so far.  If politics is a permanent campaign, when is it time to govern?

“There’s a whole America out there that’s not getting any news coverage. And that’s the America where Americans work together,” Mark tells us in the latest episode of our podcast, “How Do We Fix It?

He’s right. My years of business reporting taught me that when successful executives face four bad quarters, they throw out the old rule book and re-think what they’re doing. Flexibility and pragmatism are essential to their survival.

Only if Congress would do the same.  

For the past 4, 8, 16 years, mainstream politicians have been fighting over the same old stuff. Their goal is simply to score points at the expense of the other guy. 

No wonder we’re fed up.  

But outrage will only get us so far.  What’s really constructive in the messages and speeches that we’re hearing from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?   Beyond talk of building walls or making health care and college free, how will these “outsiders” turn their promises into reality? After all, the nation’s founders did invent separation of powers with checks and balances.

The first step to radical reform of government, Congress and our political culture is to reform ourselves. The most radical thing many of us could do right now is to ask questions.  

In business it’s often called brainstorming.  

“Do you want to get drunk on being right and enjoy that feeling of being with the people you agree with and bad mouth the people you don’t?,” asks Mark. Maybe yes. But a nasty hangover may be the result.

Perhaps we’re at a national turning point. It’s time to sit down and spend time with those we disagree with.  Listen and learn from the other tribe. Not declare and defame.

Smoke filled rooms, anyone?  

(If not, maybe vape-filled rooms would do.)