Presented by The Bridge Alliance Education Fund.

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How To Bridge the Gap Between Political Parties

Posted by James Hoffmann on September 12, 2016

In our republic, we have two processes: electing our representatives, and governing the nation through them. These are two very different things.

Electing representatives through the campaign process sets the two major parties against each other. They act like they are at war. They tend to demonize the other side. They tend to act like they alone are right while the other side is totally wrong.

When the election is over, the time for governing the country begins. The election has given one party some level of control, but it is usually small. And even when one party wins the Presidency, and has majorities in both the Senate and House, the other party in the Senate can stop any legislation by requiring a 60 vote majority, instead of a 51 vote majority, to move it forward. While this prevents the majority from doing whatever it likes and from running amuck, it also slows down getting things done in Congress.


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Why Congress’s Move to Delay the IRS Muzzle Rule Another Year Is Not All Good News

Posted by Jason Casella on July 29, 2016

The draft of the House of Representatives’ financial-services appropriations bill contains language very similar to what was passed last year to defund the IRS from implementing the nonprofit muzzle rule. If enforced, the rule would harm the nonprofit community by curtailing their First Amendment right to speech and creating legal exposure for accidentally violating these new draconian limits.

It’s well and good that the IRS will be prohibited another year from carrying out this rule, but unfortunately this bill leaves the door open for the IRS to move forward with their mandate the following year. Nobody knows which party will control the White House or either chamber of Congress next year, and party leadership might change as well.

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Leadership: A Lost Skill That Must Be Relearned

Posted by David Nevins on June 10, 2016

partisanship1-610x489.jpgLike so many other Americans, I too have become frustrated with the unbridled lack of civility, crippling partisanship and dysfunctional gridlock that prevents our country from solving the serious problems we face on a daily basis.

Yet despite the demagoguery and rampant dysfunction that is so prevalent in today’s political process, I believe a unique opportunity exists to create a political movement based on civil discourse and critical thinking.

There is a historical shift underway in our political landscape, evidenced by events in both parties, from Democratic party leadership being booed at a rally of 11,000 Bernie Sander’s supporters at a rally in Oregon, and the turmoil which ensued at the Nevada State Party convention, to the Republican party grappling with the impending Donald Trump nomination. More and more Americans disavow themselves from the two party system. A January 2016 Gallup poll confirmed that 42% of adults identified as independents, less than 30% as both Democrats and Republicans, a proof point that Americans are tired of politics as usual and desire something different.


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Hamilton and the Transpartisan Movement.

Posted by Jelmarie Maldonado on April 23, 2016

Hamilton.pngYou may have heard of a little-known play, Hamilton: An American Musical. It has won several major awards, from a Grammy to- most recently a Pulitzer for best drama. There is no doubt of Hamilton's status as a juggernaut. Sold out until 2017, many critics are calling it the 'best play you will ever see.' On Wednesday, April 13th, I saw for myself why this show is unlike anything you'll ever get to experience. Hamilton is a hip hop musical about the youngest founding father, Alexander Hamilton. If that sounds odd to you, you are not alone. The story of how Hamilton came to be is full of twist and turns. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of Hamilton, first rapped the title song of the show (or what then was supposed to be a mixtape) at the White House in front of Barack and Michelle Obama. "I'm going to perform a piece of someone I think embodies hip hop, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton." Everyone laughed at the absurdity, but by the end of the song, President Obama and the rest of the audience gave Lin-Manuel a standing ovation. The word 'unlikely' essentially sums up the beast that Hamilton has become. It made America's early history relevant to a younger generation. Founding fathers are now cool. Unlikeliest of all, it has brought together people from all background, from the poor to the rich, from the young to the old, from the east to the west, and from Democrats to Republicans. President Obama even joked that Hamilton might be the only thing that Dick Cheney and he can agree on.


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My First (Almost) Caucus

Posted by Rebecca Nunziato on March 01, 2016

Screen_Shot_2016-03-02_at_2.59.00_PM.pngIt was a beautiful sight - hundreds of people pouring in from my neighborhood. Families, young professionals, the grey hairs, couples, friends and strangers all walking into a central location. The line snaked around the block - TWICE. I laughed along with my new queue acquaintances as newcomers walked up, shocked at the amount of people they would sigh and exclaim, “wow, should have come earlier!” or “where the heck is the end of the line?!” It was amusing and magical, I have never minded a line less in my life. After all, in our modern society it is rare that neighbors congregate. Most of us commute to work, enter and leave our homes from behind a garage door and even shop for churches unrestricted by walking distance. Consequently very few of us know our neighbors or attend community gatherings where we experience what our “precinct” actually looks and feels like.

Yes, it was magical. But when I got to the doorway (after standing in line for an hour, talking with my new friends about my work with the Bridge Alliance and my research and editing for a book published today (The Reunited States of America)) I had to turn around.

It was my first almost caucus.

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Curiosity Unbound: Song of the Angels

Posted by Parisa Parsa on January 15, 2016


President Obama’s tears during his speech on gun control last week made a big splash in the media circuit. As he spoke of the first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, his speech faltered and cheeks dampened. Those tears, and everything behind them, are presumably the foundation for the policy reforms he proposes to put into place via Executive Order, which he implores Congress not to impede.

There have been countless causes for tears in recent months. Lives lost to brutal and capricious violence have made the headlines almost too often to tally, both here and abroad. With each news cycle we move with more speed toward and cling with increasing rigidity to what we think is “to blame”: gun laws, mental health services, economic despair, immigrants, Islam, Christianity, government overreach or incompetence, police brutality. And we rail for or against whatever laws or policies we think are needed to fend off the discomfort of vulnerability. We just want it to stop.

We barely let the tears fall before wiping them away with our preferred stance of outrage. The blinders close in. The others who bear the fault become one-dimensional, naïve, backward, hateful. The less we see each other, the more intractable the problems become. And the next time the tears come faster, the walls draw in closer, the finger is pointed that much more sharply.

As Obama’s tears fell, speculation about their authenticity and criticism of what some saw as a sign of weakness flowed freely. Our assessments shift depending on how much the ideology of the people in the spotlight reflect our own.

The tallies of the last year, good, bad, ugly, have flown past us in lists and resolutions. The calendar page has turned and once again we learn that it takes more than the passage of time to make us new, to change us and our world.

Now it is time to take a deep breath. To pause in wonder.

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A Knight on a White Horse?

Posted by Mark Gerzon on January 07, 2016

knights.jpgNow that we have entered 2016, we can count on two certainties: a national election and more terrorism. So it is no surprise that every candidate claims that he — or she — is the knight on a white horse who will save us from ISIS. But as every military strategist since Sun Tzu knows, they are missing the crucial element in self-defense. If we don’t address this vital ingredient in a national security strategy, our ruthless, many-headed terrorist enemies will find our country to be easy prey.

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Conversation Starter: Dialogue Across Political Differences

Posted by Jessica Weaver on November 03, 2015

Phil Neisser teaches political theory at the State University of New York at Potsdam, where he also serves as the Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences. Jacob Hess is an educator and nonprofit leader passionate about mental health awareness and mindfulness. Apart, impressive. Together, unstoppable. Phil, a staunch atheist and leftist, and Jacob Hess, a Christian conservative, started a conversation about the effects of ugly partisanship destroying any prospect for civil conversations about the issues that mattered. That conversation launched a genuine, respectful, and sustained dialogue about their respective values, beliefs, and concerns for the future, covering tough topics including same-sex marriage, power, government, media, religion, morality, race, and more.

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Millennial: Neither Republican nor Democrat

Posted by Rebecca Nunziato on October 08, 2015

As a Christian, the Republicans assume they can win my vote; as a Latina woman, granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, the Democrats think they can count on me. They are both wrong.

Like so many of my generation, I am living evidence that the red-vs-blue portrait is severely distorted. I see a technicolor, complex and challenging reality and neither party’s monochromatic platform has won me over.

Smackdab in the center of the millennial generation, born in the early 90’s, I live a life much like many of my peers – a life of multitasking, technology, self-expression and open-mindedness. When it comes to political and civic engagement, however, we millennials often opt for community service and Silicon Valley over D.C. and traditional left-right politics.[1]


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Trust and the Table: A Series on the Iran Deal. Part 3: What Happens Now?

Posted by Jessica Weaver on September 09, 2015

Image via The Wall Street Journal
Image via The Wall Street Journal

The Aftermath of Negotiations: What Happens Now?

This is part three of a three-part series on the role of trust in the Iranian negotiations. To read about getting to the table and negotiating with the enemy, read parts one and two here.

The first two parts of this series established relationships as the cornerstone to building trust in negotiations. In the absence of trust, policymakers built informal relationships for twenty years before formalizing diplomatic relationships. Even after returning to diplomatic functions, representatives met in private to build a foundation in personal relationships before taking the risk of making negotiations public.

And when negotiations began, building relationships took priority for Kerry and his team. As a result, mistrust certainly remains among the involved international powers (P5+1) and Iran, but relationships became resilient enough to withstand that mistrust and fundamental disagreements, paving the way to a joint action plan. The release of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was not, however, the end of the negotiation process.

As the world approaches the stages of approval and implementation, relationships remain integral to continuing diplomatic relationships. Each state must approve the agreement, and the United States remains the most tenuous proponent of the Plan.

They came to an agreement – so what does that mean for US approval?

While the ultimate success of the Joint Plan of Action in preventing Iran’s procurement of nuclear weapons is important, it is not the only issue at stake in the agreement. No one expects that this agreement will satiate all of America’s concerns, in particular the “profound concern about human rights violations committed by the Iranian government or about the instability Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program, from its support for terrorist proxies to repeated threats against Israel to its other destabilizing activities in the region.”

Indeed, the Washington Post reported, “In the short term, the Iran deal could well lead to more rather than less confrontation across the region, as leaders on all sides seek to prove to their domestic and regional constituencies that they have not capitulated. Both the Iranians and the United States may well seek to escalate in Syria or Yemen in order to prove that they remain committed to maintaining their image and pursuing what’s in its interest.”

So, the deal with Iran is not perfect, and in many ways, it reflects the lingering hostility among the states that negotiated the plan. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “It would be surprising if the U.S. negotiators themselves wouldn’t want a slightly different agreement, but they must have concluded that this agreement represented the maximum they could get not only from the Iranians, but also the Russians, Chinese, and others in the negotiations.”

But where this agreement does not ensure universal satisfaction or guarantee stability, it does accomplish a critical purpose of international agreements. Beyond its singular merits or weaknesses, it opens the door for further cooperation and diplomacy around issues of vital importance to all parties moving forward. And it presents opportunities to build trust internationally, in areas where trust hasn’t existed for decades. Ambassador Zarif has said that this agreement “provides a solid foundation for further and more effective diplomatic interaction." He sees hope that the agreement will usher in "a new chapter" in the country's relations with the United Nations and the six states of the negotiations.

Ambassador Zarif’s words echo a comment from a recent book tour by Senator George Mitchell. In responding to a question about the lasting impact of the Good Friday Accords he orchestrated in Northern Ireland, Senator Mitchell spoke to the power of peace agreements on the international stage. “The Good Friday Agreement does not mean there will be peace or reconciliation,” he said. “It means that they are possible.”

As for the possibility of improvements or adjustments, the time has passed – a better deal is not an option at this time, and “advocating for improvements on the agreement that already has been made is moot point.” Now, Congress must debate the merits of an agreement and decide to support it or not. And it must do so within 60 days of the United Nations vote.

How Congress Negotiates

In the approval process, Congress now has a responsibility to weigh the opportunities against the risks, taking into account our vital interests in the world while acknowledging limits to American power. Just as in the negotiations themselves, the debate surrounding the agreement will be contentious and risky. Divergent perspectives on issues of threat, security, and America’s identity in the world will take center stage, and require resiliency among members of Congress to remain present in such difficult conversations. But where the Iranian negotiations built on a foundation of relationships, personal relationships within Congress have been falling since 1995.

In 1995, Congressional leadership changed the legislative calendar to encourage members of Congress not to live in Washington, D.C., and instead fly into the District for two to three days per week. Where members of Congress used to move to Washington after election, enroll their children in the same schools, and socialize after working hours, they began to only interact in the context of political positioning. At the same time, leadership eliminated the seniority system for committee leadership, instead awarding leadership based on commitment to party ideals. Essentially, at the same time that leadership began discouraging friendship across the political aisle, they began rewarding political intransigence. Both led to a void of trust and relationships, discouraging constructive conversation across party lines.

As such, the conversation witnessed by the American public is vitriolic and caustic – unproductive, uncompromising, and sometimes even personal. In speaking about the deal and its negotiators, Republican Committee Chairman Bob Corker suggested, “I believe you've been fleeced.” Republican Senator James Risch declared, “You guys have been bamboozled.” Senator Lindsey Graham called President Obama the “Neville Chamberlain of our time.” And in a show of bipartisan mistrust, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez questioned whether the language in the deal is tough enough. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer openly opposes the deal.

In response to his opposition, Secretary Kerry bemoaned: “We've got 535 secretaries of state.” To an outside observer, it would seem there is no interest in understanding the other side, their motivations and their interests. There is no resiliency to support Congressmen and women to remain at the table after hearing things with which they vehemently disagree.

In this process, the glaring difference between what was accomplished with Iran and the current struggle within Congress now reveal glaring contrast. Members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that any international agreement accurately protects core American interests, but they also have a responsibility to negotiate with their fellow members, and with the country’s international representatives. And that’s where the lack of personal relationship building is most starkly evident. Regardless of Congress’ ultimate decision regarding the plan, it has revealed a glaring and persistent weakness in the American Congressional system: without relationships in place, constructive conversation around different perspectives will continue to fall apart.


Negotiation – whether within our own communities or on the international political stage – takes place within the context of the relationships and trust among the people involved. In the case of Iran’s nuclear program, negotiations required almost 20 years of groundwork to build relationships amidst glaring mistrust. Once negotiations began, policymakers made relationships a priority, culminating in shared meals across divides.

Mistrust still pervades every aspect of this plan, but the relationships formed by diplomats created a resiliency that allowed negotiations to continue in the most difficult moments. The most important aspect of this agreement, then, is what it represents. This agreement does not symbolize healed relationships and reinstated trust. It simply sets the groundwork to see if peace and reconciliation are possible. An agreement is the first step, rather than the final one. There is still a long way to go.

Perhaps, ironically, negotiating with one of our most historic global enemies could teach our own government about negotiating across divides. With more resilient and intentional relationships, perhaps Congressmen and women could debate and govern with an eye to further cooperation and collaboration, rather than digging in their heels at the first sign of disagreement. So as Congress debates the merits of this agreement, they could take a page from the P5+1 and begin their debates by sharing a meal. I would be hesitant to recommend wrestling, though.

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