Don’t tell Common Cause national chair Robert Reich and Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol that “liberal” and “conservative” Americans can no longer find common ground. The pair, longtime leaders on the left and right, respectively, found plenty to agree on during a March 14 forum at Common Cause’s Washington D.C. office.
Both men are outspoken critics of President Trump. Kristol figured prominently last year in conservative efforts to recruit a Republican alternative to Trump. Reich challenges the president almost daily on social media and cable news shows.
Trump is part of an “international phenomenon,” Kristol said. There cannot be a continued “underestimation of how much damage [he] can do to trust in our basic institution.” Kristol added that Trump, while “toy[ing] with…an authoritarian’s message,” is representative of the contemporary political climate of government mistrust. He and Reich agreed that the Trump administration’s undermining of truth-telling or regulatory government agencies has fostered the public’s mistrust of government institutions. This political climate, left unchanged, has the potential to generate tyranny, they said.
Kristol also emphasized that Americans cannot be fooled into “allow[ing] Trump to be normalized.” But investing all energy into fighting the administration’s daily movements would be paralyzing, he said. Instead, the left and the right need to develop agendas which address the real problems that created a climate which allowed Trump to win the election.
Acknowledging public uncertainty about the future, Reich cited research that shows that “a majority of Americans” now believe that their children are “not going to live as well as they did.” These fears, and the “diminishing life prospects” facing college-educated and indebted young people have contributed to economic and political uncertainty, he said.
A bipartisan coalition that protects and strengthens democratic institutions and democratic discourse can address the public’s fears, the pair agreed. Normal policy debates should continue taking place, but not over the core features of our democracy.
Reich also highlighted the nation’s need to address economic inequality and the displacement of the working and middle class. Citizens must regain a sense that “they are in control of their own lives,” he said. One place for that to start is in honest, open discussions like the Reich-Kristol forum.
You can watch the full conversation below.