Common Ground speech addresses political dissonance, proposes solution

Gleaves Whitney. Director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium, Richard M. DeVos Center. GVL/BenjaminHunt

Gleaves Whitney. Director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium, Richard M. DeVos Center. GVL/BenjaminHunt

Rachel Matuszewski

Grand Valley State University’s Director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies Gleaves Whitney spoke about culture and political divides in his Common Ground speech on Wednesday, Dec. 5 in the Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium on GVSU’s Pew Campus.

“There have been many symptoms of dissonance,” Whitney said. “Social sorting, gerrymandering, talk radio, social media, congressional calendars, identity politics, big money, the establishment, public shaming (and) immigrants.”

Whitney believed there is a cause for the symptoms he spoke of, which stems from a lack of meaningful interaction. From identifying this cause, Whitney said we are able to ultimately reach a cure. 

“I think a root cause is American loneliness.” Whitney said. 

“There have been a lot of studies in the last year or two that generate the social science that proves and documents that Americans are lonelier than they’ve ever been. When they are lonely, a certain portion of them find meaning in hyper-politicized angry politics. The remedy to this epidemic of loneliness in our culture (is simple). We have to rediscover friendship.”

Whitney said people who have written about democracy, from Aristotle and Tocqueville, have said that civic friendship is essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy, and the life of former United States president George H.W. Bush abundantly illustrates what civic friendship looks like. 

Whitney encouraged students to be the remedy for the disease he sees. He encourages students to be active, get involved, to practice what they’ve learned at GVSU and not to neglect their civic friendships. 

“Take someone out to lunch, who you don’t agree with, and have a real conversation,” Whitney said. “(Have a conversation) where you both can empathize with each other.”

The Common Ground Initiative encourages both democrats and republicans to talk through the challenges Americans face politically, intellectually and culturally. All of it was inspired by Ralph Hauenstein.

Hauenstein has been described as a journalist, war hero, entrepreneur and philanthropist who lived an extraordinary life that exemplifies the service and leadership GVSU seeks to inspire in its graduates.

“(Ralph) was a remarkable human being,” Whitney said. “He had experiences across a long career spanning more than 70 years in which he saw how necessary it was to cultivate common ground, to get good things done. Common Ground (is) for the common good.”

Whitney said one of Ralph’s key lessons stemmed from watching D-Day unravel. 

“One of the biggest life lessons occurred in 1944 when he was serving under General Eisenhower,” Whitney said. “The allies were planning D-Day and Eisenhower and the staff needed to get more than two dozen countries to cooperate and coordinate for the biggest amphibious invasion in human history. They succeeded. That lesson always stayed with Ralph. Ultimately, it’s about Ralph.”

The Common Ground Initiative hosts a variety of debates, speeches, seminars and conferences surrounding the idea to find similarities between diverse communities and thoughts. The center not only hosts the Common Ground Initiative, but covers topics of leadership and politics as well. 

“At the Hauenstein Center, we feel passionately about civic education and the liberal arts.” Whitney said. “Let’s make sure our democracy works and thrives.”