But what the headlines will miss: a look inside the Purple Tent at the Republican Convention
By Bill Shireman, President and CEO of Future 500
In case you’d like to skip broadcast coverage of this week’s Republican Convention in Cleveland, here’s a free preview of the narratives to be played out – and the most important story you won’t hear at all.
At MSNBC, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell will showcase zealous Trump supporters and opponents inside the convention hall, battling over party orthodoxy, while righteous progressives gather outside, indignantly decrying the hypocrisies of a party of rich white men and bamboozled middle Americans indifferent to the needs of women, minorities, and the college-educated coastal middle class.
Fox News anchors Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly will take turns explaining how – even with leftist Black Lives Matter protesters threatening delegates in the streets outside – the Republican Party is finally pulling itself together and uniting behind Donald Trump, the tough-talking standard bearer who wrested the nomination from the establishment and, once elected, will clamp down on the rowdiness of the not-like-us malcontents encircling the convention, and make America free again.
CNN has the best opportunity to squeeze a ratings boost out of both sides of our tubes. Without a narrow political base to pander to like its more populist competition, it will have the freest hand to follow the fear wherever it leads them, inside and out, on the left and right, among white and black and blue and green.
But in the shadows of the convention, real news will be happening, including one story genuine journalists would like to report, and millions of Americans would be relieved to hear.
A counter-movement is emerging in America, a reaction to the ‘mediagenic’ vitriol that Democratic and Republican strategists thought they had learned over the years, until they met their master, Mr. Trump.
The movement is most often called “Bridge,” and it is growing organically, with no institutions pulling the strings – at least not yet.
Without a well-heeled interest group orchestrating the spin doctors and talking heads that take their assigned seats at the Fox and MSNBC news desks, most reporters have no time to cover a movement that requires they do genuine reporting, diving in to discover the stories and tap the audience rather than following the scripts prepared for them.
The Bridge movement brings together an odd cast of political characters, who lack the defined demographics that fit the network audience profiles, but have the diverse ideas that belie demonization, break gridlock, and lead to solutions.
Cleveland’s home-grown bridge movement is headed by longtime civic leader Stuart Muszynski, who joined with two Cleveland-area former chief executives, Christopher Conner of Sherman-Williams and Alan Hassenfeld of Hasbro, to form PurpleAmerica.us. They have set up a Purple Tent alongside the GOP convention. While protesters from both sides battle rhetorically outside, conservatives, libertarians, and progressives will gather inside the tent for something the media have trouble comprehending: a heated yet respectful dialog among admiring adversaries.
Nationally, longtime political foes like anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and consumer advocate Ralph Nader have joined it to work against crony capitalism. Tea Party cofounder Mark Meckler and Move-On cofounder Joan Blades collaborated on criminal justice reform. No Labels benefactor Larry Nevin and Coffee Party founder Debilyn Molineaux are building an online support base. Food industry scion John Steiner and longtime political mediator Mark Gerson are organizing a national bridge convention, bringing together at least thirty prominent NGOs that have declared themselves to be a part of the Bridge Alliance. Dallas developer Trammell S. Crow and this writer have partnered to form a Bridge network to make environmental protection a bipartisan issue again.
Crow is a walking embodiment of the movement. A major Republican donor to whom most of the major candidates make regular pilgrimage, he is also an ardent environmentalist who funds initiatives to protect oceans, forests, and climate, and meets monthly with Republican Party leaders in Washington DC to teach them about environmental politics and how green can turn blue into red.
Crow recently gathered 120 leaders from across the left and right in Dallas, to look one step past this year’s Presidential race, and begin to mount a bipartisan coalition to protect the planet. One outcome of the meeting is Bridge Environment, a coalition aimed at insuring that every Republican and Democratic candidate for President, the Senate, or House develops an environmental protection plank.
But the most hopeful sign of the movement’s staying power may be its growing campus base. On their own, with no adult supervision, young student leaders like Courtlyn Carpenter at the University of Colorado have mounted organizing drives to establish up to 30 BridgeUSA chapters by this November.
What these leaders share in common is a deeply-held aversion to political polarization. They are fed up with the politics of fear and hate. They know it’s dangerous – those with an eye to recent history and modern weaponry know its destructive potential is ghastly. They also know that, though they seem antithetical, the ideas of the red and blue, and every other political hue, actually complement one another. They are the parts that form innovative wholes. Through free speech, courageous engagement across ideological divides, and open civil discourse, diverse ideas combine to yield solutions that validate the best of the right and left, without compromising the core principles of either.
Donald Trump is a lesson for Republicans, but also for Democrats. Even if Trump is beaten this November – which he will do virtually anything to avoid – his next manifestation is likely to emerge on the center or left. Parties too dominated by a narrow base open the door to racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes, validating the bigotry that divides the nation into angry tribes. Neither side is to blame, nor are individual reporters. The system creates this without anyone intending it. The drive to attract wide-open eyeballs unencumbered by thoughtful brains makes the media an unwitting ally of intensifying adversity. The competition for ratings places a premium on sparks that turn to flames, vile that turns to vitriol and invites violence. Whether they admit it or not, the most profitable outcome next week for any network or news organization would be a conflagration. That’s what they’ll be hoping we avoid, but despite themselves, also quietly hoping they will be on scene to report.
The most insidious cause and consequence of polarization is its systemic orchestration by interest groups, all of whom – corporate, labor, and professional – find it tactically advantageous to keep the left and right apart on issues that threaten established ways, fighting over the future so that it never comes. Institutions of all kinds hire communications professionals to keep citizens battling, because the only threat to the status quo is a healthy political culture in which establishment interests must continually evolve to serve changing public needs. With no graduated reforms, interest groups are able to delay needed disruptions and keep the spoils of a divided government, allowing only reforms that further embed their power, until the need for change accumulates to a level where it can no longer be avoided.
No one wants that, not down deep. But many benefit in the short term by inviting it. It’s time to step past the formulaic politics of polarization, no matter how profitable they are in the present. Walls are cheap and just keep us apart. It’s time to make the investment to build a bridge.
As President and CEO of Future 500, Bill Shireman helps the world’s largest companies and most impassioned activists – from Coca-Cola, General Motors, Nike, Mitsubishi, and Weyerhaeuser, to Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Oxfam, and the Sierra Club – stop battling each other, and find common ground. Breaking through the traditional left-right divide, Shireman’s books and studies prove that we can protect the earth, promote freedom, and increase prosperity at the same time – if the raging ideologues on both the right and the left would just open their eyes and minds.