1. Executive Summary
The United States of America is in a state of long-term and worsening crisis. In a perfect storm of dysfunction, our government has been captured by selfish political and corporate special interests, American media has largely abandoned traditional journalistic standards in favor of political, sensationalist and profit-driven narratives, high tech platforms are censoring dissent, and higher education is increasingly dominated by political ideology and intellectual intolerance. The American Common Ground Alliance will organize Left-Right leadership teams dedicated to restoring the integrity of America’s vital institutions and building a depolarized popular movement for government that is of, by and for the people.
2. Introduction: A Time for “Concerted Action.”
James Madison, often called the “father of the Constitution,” had one overriding fear for the American political system he did so much to create. He worried that special, narrow, short-term, and/or irrational selfish interest might come to dominate the republic at the common and long-term expense of the American people. Though the meaning of the word has narrowed over time, Madison called these selfish interests “factions.”
Madison and his fellow founding fathers hoped that only legislation capable of serving the common good would survive the gauntlet of checks and balances that they deliberately built into America’s political system. Today, after revolutionary changes in technology, economy and society unimaginable to the founders, virtually all of the incentive structures, which have grown like deadly cancers on the system, now favor service to selfish interests at the expense of the broad and long-term well-being of the American people. Madison’s vision for a political system capable of serving the common good has been completely reversed.
James Madison believed that the United States had one further defense against the capture of government by selfish interests: the republic’s great size. He reasoned that with so many varied competing interests in a vast republic, none would ever become powerful enough to form a majority and capture the government. Within society itself, interests would check interests. From his perspective in the 18th Century, Madison could not imagine a government big enough and powerful enough to serve a massive hoard of special interests simultaneously, which now feed at the trough of power together.
Still, Madison showed great prescience. His advocacy for the advantages of a large republic is well known by students of history. Far less well-known is an accompanying worry. Writing privately to his friend, Thomas Jefferson, Madison postulated that “As in too small a sphere oppressive combinations may too easily be formed angst. the weaker party, so in too an extensive one, a defensive concert (emphasis added) may be rendered too difficult against the oppression of those trusted with administration.” Madison understood that a large, complex, and diverse society could be more easily splintered and manipulated by those in power, and that unified and coordinated measures, no matter how obvious the need, would be challenging. This is where we find ourselves today, in want of concerted action. Such is the purpose and mission of the American Common Ground Alliance. We will take the concerted action to organize the American people in order to restore their republic.
3. Vision Statement
Restore civility to American life, intellectual diversity and rigor to our vital institutions, and accountability to government that is of, by and for the American people.
4. The Crisis: A “Perfect Storm” of Political and Cultural Systemic Failure
The storm has two malevolent systems combining to destroy the American republic:
Malevolent System #1: A fury of selfish interests have overwhelmed the nation’s constitutional defenses, captured the government, and have been serving themselves at the public’s expense. The corruption is well understood by the American people. Asked if they agreed with the following unattributed statement, 86% of people surveyed responded in the affirmative:
For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have born the cost.
These words were spoken by Donald Trump at his inauguration and suggest why such an unorthodox personality was elected President.
The pernicious system features career politicians, who have entrenched themselves in office by taking campaign contributions from the interests they regulate, gerrymandering their legislative districts, and wielding the institutional advantages of incumbency. Corporate interests either bribe the sitting politicians, thus corrupting legislation, or are extorted by them, in a pay-to-play system that resembles the practices of organized crime. Politicians and their staffs move regularly through revolving doors between lobbying firms, the bureaucracy, the media, political advocacy groups, and government-connected corporations. Whole government agencies appear to be captured by corporate interests. The end result is the establishment of a separate self-serving ruling class, which has become insulated from, and often opposed to, the broad and long-term needs of ordinary citizens.
Malevolent System #2: A culture of intellectual intolerance has taken root in the United States. Dissent is routinely quashed, ridiculed, distorted or ignored. Differences of opinion that should be normal in a free society are treated as mortal threats or moral abominations to be attacked, marginalized and/or silenced. Individuals who express dissenting views have become targets of character assignation; they are made to pay for their non-conformity personally, professionally and even criminally. Virtually every institution on which American society relies for information and sound public policy has been weakened or fatally poisoned by intellectual intolerance and the prioritization of political narratives over the search for objective reality. Powerful forces in politics, cable news, social media, and academia, by making routine political disagreement into sedition or hate crimes, are not only undermining our vital institutions, but they are also poisoning civil society, as they turn colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family members, into enemies.
The combination of these malignant storms is particularly devastating. Self-interested political forces, cloaked in the garb of ethical righteousness, no longer feel bound by traditional standards of civil behavior, or even law, when the political opponent is perceived as a grave threat to all that is good, just and decent. Self-interested media feels free to maximize ratings and profits, by exploiting the human tenancy for tribalism and fear mongering. By manufacturing constant crises, the media has jettisoned traditional journalistic standards, as sometimes happens in a real public emergency, when unity and direction from authorities are perhaps needed above all else. But in the current environment of manufactured crises, political villain narratives and grotesquely overblown threats to public well-being, have become, themselves, significant parts of a real and ongoing crisis in which the public is deprived of balanced information and is instead inflamed into passions of fear and hatred.
Even in the case of science, a public health or environmental crisis is used to justify enforced conformity. Scientific conclusions, to be truly scientific, must be challengeable, but science of late has too often become allegedly certain, zealous and intolerant, especially when presented through media filters, which provide favorable public exposure and political support for self-interested experts and institutions that rely on government and corporate funding.
The systemic failures that permit selfish interests to manipulate America’s most essential institutions, coupled with increasing intellectual intolerance, have combined in a genuine existential crisis serious enough to threaten American civilization and the nation’s founding mission.
5. Making a Stand on Common Ground: Guiding Principles for a Peaceful Revolution
- The Crisis Requires a Holistic Response. Each piece of the cancer infecting the body politic must be removed for the health of the entire system and to prevent future spread, which means focusing on every corrupted structure: government, media, and academia.
- The Relentless Promotion of Civility through mutual respect, friendship, neighborliness and even love.
- A Prioritization of Intellectual Diversity. Diversity, which is so often touted as a public strength, has far less to do with skin color, gender and ethnicity, than it does to contrasting ideas and beliefs.
- Humility. We have faith in the collective wisdom of ordinary American people, a wisdom we will harness to save our republic. If citizens are exposed to a full range of information and arguments, then they will reach wise conclusions.
- Diffuse Leadership, Collaboration, and Unity. The power of the status quo is too much for us to be divided. All reform-minded citizens and leaders must be gathered in a single movement and each person who wishes to lead will be empowered and encouraged to do so in some way. This will be a movement of many heroes.
6. Strategic Summary
The status quo holds positions of great power across the nation’s most vital institutions and expends vast resources every day in self-interested and partisan messaging. Only a unified popular movement based on a strong and broad foundation can defeat it.
The Populists and Progressives of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries are useful models because they developed mass movements that could be flexible and pragmatic. Each operated within the major political parties, but each also became a political party in its own right, an approach which might or might not prove useful for our purposes.
While our approach to reform is holistic, we will apply resources to construct building blocks in order of political impact: 1) Media 2) Politics/Government and 3) Academia/Science. Each will form a separate but interlocking and leveraged component of the overall movement.
7. Component #1: Common Ground Media
The replacement of news with political narrative is poison to our republic. Traditional journalistic standards must be restored. Here, the need presents a strategic opportunity. Successfully developed, Common Ground Media can fuel a mass political movement (Component #2) and provide vital assistance in renormalizing and nurturing diverse and dissenting ideas in academia and sciences (Component #3).
Politically depolarized news programming will be created by balanced teams of liberals and conservatives, who will work together to restore traditional journalistic standards. They will decide together what constitutes news, how news is covered, and present to the public mutually respectful contrasting analyses.
An essential requirement for all Common Ground journalists is that each must have a proven record of reporting news and information that is critical of individuals or positions on both sides of the political spectrum.
Dissenting and intellectually diverse media currently exists on the web. Millions of citizens now listen to podcasts and get news from blogs. We will work to assemble our kindred web-based voices and audiences into a single force as we develop our own programming.
Breaching the wall from the Internet to cable news programing is a major goal of Common Ground Media. Fortunately, the Internet makes media scalable. Public opinion data shows that trust in media is at an all-time low. Additional research may further reveal a substantial market for critical-thinking and intellectually diverse cable news. The recruitment of financiers and dissident media professionals is obviously essential to scale up American Common Ground Media.
Although established as a non-profit, depolarized media should become financially self-sustaining, and importantly, our growing audience will feed the American Common Ground Political Movement. They will share a common brand and the political movement will advertise on our media platforms. Though our journalist will remain absolutely independent, our new network will be free to run editorials promoting our mission.
8. Component #2: The American Common Ground Political Movement
The building of a genuine politically depolarized movement, with both policy leadership and grassroots elements, is essential. Dialogue and planning will take place between the Left and Right, and up and down informational and organizational pyramid.
The teams of Left-Right directors at the top of the American Common Ground political movement must be chosen with great care. Each team must be populated by authentic and recognizable leaders from each major political perspective. Politically active citizens should be able to spot leaders on one team or the other who they know and trust. At the same time, those leading the organization must have exceptionally collaborative temperaments. Without sacrificing core principles, they must know how to check any partisan baggage at the door.
Left-Right teams of experts will work to create strategy, hammer out policy solutions, critique current government policies and practices, and even act, generally, as a shadow government.
Left-Right American Common Ground chapters will be nurtured in every community. Each will be empowered to explore public issues together, share information and ideas with the larger organization, and endorse and campaign for candidates for public office. A growing population of grassroots activists will form a symbiotic relationship with Common Ground Media. Citizen activists must never be made to feel like pawns of an opaque distant organization; we will model in our movement the spirit we want for the American political system.
Common Ground organizations will always be divided into Left and Right teams. Although it sounds counterintuitive, such a division is necessary to ensure depolarization. Each decision made by a Common Ground group, as a whole, must be endorsed by a majority from both the Left Team and the Right Team, even if one team in a particular community is much smaller than the other. In this way, we will go forward via Left-Right consensus in all things, and successfully resist the powerful forces that constantly seek to divide us.
9. Component #3: Common Ground in Higher Education
Liberal education, which at its core requires intellectual diversity and competing perspectives, has been under attack for decades. The seeds of the weeds that are overwhelming the liberal tradition in education go back to the origins of socialism and have been made mainstream in post-modernist theory (or dogma), which claims that all educational systems are merely props for ruling power structures, and that perceived objective reality is socially constructed by ruling elites to maintain their own social positions. Those who believe in this postmodernist/relativist perspective, therefore, often feel justified in excluding viewpoints that support allegedly unjust socially constructed political, social and economic systems.
A larger role for collective action, or for the state in American life, might or might not be warranted. Citizens of goodwill will naturally disagree about public policies. We can agree to disagree about many things. But in a free society, the principles of liberal education – intellectual diversity, free speech, the fostering of dissent and critical inquiry – must remain sacred and never comprised.
Restoring liberal principles to American institutions will not be easy. Two obstacles stand in the way:
First, the corruption of liberal principles in American education has been ongoing for decades. It is a long process that has now infected generations of elites across many disciplines and professions. University faculty, who control hiring and firing, are entrenched through a tenure system. Renormalizing intellectual diversity and dissent, to a point where it is not only tolerated but encouraged, will probably take a long time.
Second, the attack on traditional liberalism is from the Left, and therefore presents a particular political problem for our Common Ground Movement, which wishes to depolarize and unify the country behind shared principles. Not only are liberal principles less universally shared today as a result of the illiberal trends in education, but any insistence that conservatives play a larger and more proportional role in academic faculties will cause the Left to circle its wagons, as it is asked to surrender a perceived major advantage in the ongoing ideological death match between Left and Right. (The appeal for more rigorous and carefully vetted science should, at least, be somewhat less controversial.)
The success of Common Ground Components #1 and #2 will help achieve the goal of Component #3. Alternative Common Ground Media can help provide the intellectual balance that has gone missing at so many American universities. Organizing citizens on the ground can help drive market forces to open up universities to more intellectual diversity, balance, and academic and scientific rigor.
10. Legal Structures
As is common with other non-profit and political organizations, the American Common Ground Alliance will operate as three separate legal entities. American Common Ground Media will be a tax deductible 501c3, the American Common Ground Movement will be a 501c4, and in time a political action committee will be formed to financially support candidates for public office.
11. Organizational/Business Structures
The American Common Ground Alliance will utilize an unorthodox business structure. Typically, boards of directors, consisting primarily of financial donors, run non-profit enterprises. Money, however, corrupts politics, including political reform organizations.
American Common Ground non-profit business entities will be governed by political stakeholders balanced on the Left and Right, reflecting the various political tenancies found among the American people. They will be high-profile leaders of proven integrity who unequivocally share the American Common Ground vision.
Members of American Common Ground Boards of Directors, as primarily political leaders, may appoint separate boards to assist in running the business aspects of the organizations.
Donors, accustomed to running the non-profits they support financially, will need to understand that they are investing in a business/political model which they cannot be permitted to control. Insulating funding from decision-making may make it also possible to accept contributions from various sources that might otherwise be considered too controversial to one side or the other. Ideally, Common Ground funding sources, like the rest of the organization, will also be balanced from both sides.
In time, processes will be developed so that members of the Common Ground Political Movement (as distinct from Common Ground Media and the Common Ground PAC) will either elect their own leadership, or structures will be built that permit the grassroots elements to approve or reject decisions by the Directors, similar to the functioning of a corporate board with shareholders.
Nothing is more critical to the success of the American Common Ground Alliance than the recruitment of leaders. Clearly there is a human tenancy for individuals to operate in their own silos and build their own brands. But hundreds of brilliant individual blogs, books and podcasts will not have the necessary impact. Without unity, and the sort of concerted action recommended by James Madison, the dysfunctional system will continue. Close collaboration and organization among reform-minded leaders is absolutely necessary because, while we will have the majority of the American people on our side, the corrupt status quo holds virtually all of the institutional bulwarks and pours millions of dollars into self-serving partisan messaging each and every day. To remove them, we must recruit, unite, plan, organize and act.
The first step is to recruit a large team of credible leaders who can play roles as board members, advisers, producers, journalists, policy makers, commentators, and organizers. Fortunately, some of the important leadership pieces of the puzzle are already face-up and on the table.
Importantly, the extent to which American Common Ground can recruit quality leaders will roughly equal the extent to which the organization can successfully raise the capital necessary to launch and sustain operations.
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel, in his book Zero to One, reveals that he always asks entrepreneurs seeking financing one key question: What thing do you know that is misunderstood by everyone else? In the case of politics, the answer might be that Americans do not disagree very much about the problems we face as a society or even what we need to do about them. Differences of opinion are grotesquely inflamed by selfish interests among the professional political class, and in the media, for selfish ends including money, status, and power.
Speaking at the Libertarian Cato Institute in 2015, Ralph Nader once made the same point: “It was quite clear to me many years ago, that power structures believe in dividing and ruling,” said Nader, by distracting “attention from where different groups agree, to where they disagree.”
While the development of a platform, without careful widespread deliberation and process, is premature, it is possible to imagine some top-level public policy consensus statements. The fleshing out our public policy positions could and should be an exciting process with the potential to engage the nation. Here is a start:
- Political Reform
- The United States requires government that is deliberative, intellectually and experientially diverse, and capable of acting in the nation’s common and long-term interests, as well as for its short-term needs.
- Political careerism should be discouraged because professional politicians narrowly prioritize re-elections and power over the broad and long-term good of the American people.
- Elected officials should not be permitted to accept campaign contributions or otherwise benefit from the same interests they regulate.
- Elections should be fair, without any special advantages for incumbent politicians, the very wealthy, or particular political parties.
- Government agencies should be independent, completely free of corporate or partisan influences and interests.
- High tech platforms, on which the public relies for information, have become of such importance to public discourse that they must be regulated to ensure that they are neutral and that dissenting perspectives are not censored .
- A revival of federalism should be considered in order to potentially permit red and blue states more capacity to realize their contrasting visions for American society and government.
- Government whistleblowers not only require better protections, but also rewards, for flagging corruption and malfeasance.
- Free enterprise is the growth engine of the American economy and our overall standard of living.
- Markets are not free when corporate interests are permitted to capture government.
- The size of the federal debt is irresponsible and must be addressed.
- The powers and policies of the Federal Reserve, including modern money theory, warrant critical examination.
- Social Welfare and Education
- A strong social safety net should exist to protect economically vulnerable citizens.
- Healthcare should be universally available to all citizens at reasonable cost.
- Every child should be a guaranteed a high-quality education.
- Higher education should be affordable and uphold the values of civility, intellectual diversity, free thought, and free speech.
- Defense and Foreign Policy
- The United States should be neither isolationist nor the “policeman of the world.”
- A new American foreign policy should be developed that matches commitments and capabilities, and balances our national interests with our democratic values.
- “Regime change wars” have been horrific mistakes; the United States should wage no more of them.
- If war is to be fought, as it was in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, then the Constitution requires a declaration of war by the US Congress.
- Defense of the nation does not require that government spy on its own citizens. Communications made by US citizens should only be collected by the state through a judicially issued warrant.
- A deal should be struck that simultaneously:
- Secures the borders of the United States and provides for thorough enforcement of all immigration laws, and
- Provides a pathway to citizenship for non-legal immigrants and their children currently residing in the country.
- Reasonable legal immigration laws and quotas should be established and enforced.
- A deal should be struck that simultaneously:
- Trade should be fair as well as free.
- Trade practices should protect US strategic interests, proprietary technologies, vital industries, and critical materials.
- The fate of American workers affected by trade agreements must be addressed.
- Racism, police, and urban violence
- We believe in the values about race expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King.
- The problems that have long plagued the inner city deserve serious and continued attention.
- Defunding the police or undermining law enforcement in high crime areas is an unwise response to police brutality.
- The Natural Environment
- Quality human life requires clean land, air and water.
- Sufficient space must be kept from human development in order to protect diverse species of plants and animals.
- Environmental science should be rigorous and encourage dissent to ensure that resources dedicated to environmental protection are spent wisely, and regulations judiciously applied, to prevent waste and/or unintended harm
In conclusion, this American Common Ground Strategy Proposal is just that: a proposal. It is written to be circulated and discussed.
 See Federalist #10
 Erickson, Stephen, What Would Madison Do? The Journey Progressives and Conservatives Must Make Together.
 These words were uttered by Donald Trump at his Inaugural, WSJ 2/26/2017
 https://news.gallup.com/poll/300680/coronavirus-response-hospitals-rated-best-news-media-worst.aspx; https://medium.com/trust-media-and-democracy/10-reasons-why-americans-dont-trust-the-media-d0630c125b9e