Breaking down political barriers

Meghan McBrady

Up, down. Left, right. Throughout America’s history, politics has moved in a multitude of directions.

With the widening gap between Democratic and Republican political parties, trying to think deeply and critically about political parties can be hard for American voters to move past widespread political confusion.

In order to establish a middle ground of political talk, the Hauenstein Center’s Common Ground Initiative hosted the Progressive/Conservative Summit at the Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus from April 15-17.

Joe Hogan, the program manager for the Common Ground Initiative, said that by having more than 19 national scholars, journalists and political leaders speak at the weekend event allowed an examination of the goings-on of politics and how it can affect the upcoming presidential election.

“The fact that a lot of people are sensing a great deal of rupture and fracture in both the Democratic and Republican parties have a lot of Americans scratching their heads right now,” Hogan said.

Looking at how progressive and conservative identities shaped America’s identity and how Republican demagogue Donald Trump and how Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders continue to shape their respective forum, Hogan emphasized that the summit looked at redefining what it means to be a conservative or progressive in the 21st century.

Primarily, he said, the conversations and table talks looked at how they can change the conversation of American politics.

Michael Ignatieff, former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and current professor at Harvard University, led the keynote address on April 15 from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.

Discussing politics and the humanities, he spoke about needing to change the tone and message of a party’s political agenda in order to reach a common ground.

“Almost the most essential thing that I learned in politics is that voters are not partisans,” he said. “Partisans put convictions ahead of results and voters tend to put results ahead of convictions.”

One of the rules of politics, Ignatieff said, was that it is important that political leaders don’t make a promise to a partisan that you can’t also simultaneously make to a voter.

Focusing on the difference between winning a primary and national elections, it was noted that if it is power that an individual is after, then they will have to run for the votes.

“This used to be the conventional wisdom, but it has become a cliché that the (median) voter, that moderate voter in the middle, no longer exists because the elector has fractured,” Ignatieff said. “People can disagree vehemently on the specific issues in policy, but still occupy the same common belief what politics actually is.”

In addition to the keynote speech, the weekend summit had a debate about the culture wars and had different panels that analyzed a variety of political figures—like conservative poet T.S. Eliot and progressive socialist Jane Addams—and discussed how their roles shaped America’s policies and attitudes into the cultural conversation.

GVSU professor Peggy Vandenberg spoke at the panel discussions on April 16 about progressive philosopher David Hume and his influence on founding father James Madison and the U.S. Constitution.

As a whole, she said, Hume’s role in shaping Madison’s writing—especially the separation of church and state in the Constitution and his work in the Federalist Papers—allowed a better understanding of the social and political conflicts of post-revolutionary America.

“The basis for morality and government necessitates openness of the times in relations with the relationship of the effects of them on people and society in general,” Vandenberg said. “The structure of society works only when it functions as a useful and important part of facilitating effective living with each other in community.”

For more information about the Hauenstein Center and its events, visit