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10 Steps to Finding Common Ground

What can we do–all of us–to begin talking across the great divide?

"Start instead with “kitchen table” issues like stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, the escalating costs of health care, college, pharmaceuticals, housing." (Photo: Screenshot)

"Start instead with “kitchen table” issues like stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, the escalating costs of health care, college, pharmaceuticals, housing." (Photo: Screenshot)

Trump has intentionally cleaved America into two warring camps: pro-Trump or anti-Trump. Most Americans aren’t passionate conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats. But they have become impassioned for or against Trump.

As a result, people with different political views have stopped talking with each other. This is a huge problem because democracy depends on our capacity to deliberate together. 

So what can we do–all of us–to begin talking across the great divide? Here are 10 suggestions:

1. Don’t avoid political conversations with people who are likely to disagree with you, even in your own family. To the contrary, seek them out and have those discussions.

2. Don’t start by talking about Trump. Start instead with “kitchen table” issues like stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, the escalating costs of health care, college, pharmaceuticals, housing.

3. Make it personal. Ask them about their own experiences and stories. Share yours. Try to find common ground.

4. Ask them why they think all this has happened. Listen carefully and let them know you’ve heard them. 

5. If they start blaming immigrants or African-Americans, or elites, or Democrats, or even Obama – stay cool. Don’t tune out. Ask them about why they think these people are responsible. 

6. Gradually turn the conversation into one about power – who has it, who doesn’t. Ask about their own experiences at work, what’s happened to their jobs, how others among their families and friends are treated.

7. Ask them about the roles of big corporations and Wall Street. For example: 

–Why is it that when corporations and Wall Street firms violate the law, no executive goes to jail? 

–Why did Wall Street get bailed out during the financial crisis but homeowners caught in the downdraft didn’t get help? 

–Why do big oil, big agriculture, big Pharma, and Wall Street hedge-fund managers get special subsidies and tax loopholes?

8. Get a discussion going about how the system is organized, for whom, and how it’s been changing. For example: 

–Why is it that only 4 major airlines fly today when a few years ago there were 12? Why are there only 4 Internet service providers? 

–How is this increasing concentration of economic power across the entire economy driving up prices?

–Why are pharmaceutical companies and health insurers able to charge more and more? 

–Why can corporations and their top executives declare bankruptcy and have their debts forgiven, when bankruptcy isn’t available to people laden with student debt or to homeowners who can’t meet their payments? 

–Why are the biggest benefits from the tax cut going to billionaires? 

9. Then get to the core issue: Do they think any of this has to do with big money in politics? 

–Is the system rigged? And if so, who’s doing the rigging, and why? 

–How can average people be heard when there’s so much big money in politics? Should we try to get big money out of politics? 

–And if so, how do we do it? 

Notice, you’re not using labels. You’re not talking about Democrats or Republicans, left or right, capitalism or socialism, government or free market. You’re not even talking about Trump. 

You’re starting with the everyday experiences of most people–with their wages and living expenses and experiences on the job– and from there moving to economic and political power.  

10. Oh, and don’t forget to use humor. Humor is the great disinfectant. For example, the Supreme Court says corporations are people. Well, you’ll believe they’re people when Texas executes a corporation.

Remember, the point isn’t to convince them you’re right and they’re wrong. It’s to get us thinking about what’s really happening to America. It’s exposing the abuses of power all around us. 

If we can join together around these fundamental issues, we will all win

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Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the the twentieth century. He has written fiften books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations, Beyond Outrage and, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

 
 

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