Common ground is pretty barren right now in America -- except at Buzzy's

The corner booth at Buzzy’s 8 Ball Tavern and Pool Room is, I think, as good a place as any to reflect on the current mood of the country.  Buzzy’s, serving up consistently cold beverages and average food since the end of Prohibition, is home base for all sorts. 

We have, roughly speaking, an equal number of Democrats and Republicans stopping by the joint on any given day. It’s a mix of professionals, blue collar, military and retirees.

Nobody really agrees with anybody else on anything, other than a few common shared beliefs; the pool table in the back needs new felt, sweet potato fries should never be added to the menu, and the man bun, or dork knob, or whatever it’s called, is the modern day mullet. 

Otherwise, common ground is hard to find, particularly when it comes to politics. There are folks here who believe President Trump needs to be impeached. Every night they tuck themselves into bed with the same dream that, when they wake up, the Trump administration will be over.  And, sharing bar space with them are folks who believe the long Obama nightmare is over and MAGA is better than sliced bread.  Nothing grows in the middle.

Luckily, at Buzzy’s there’s an understanding… no bar fights unless of course someone makes an unwanted pass at your girl.  I just reread that sentence and suspect someone, somewhere, will take offense for some reason.

At Buzzy’s, we tolerate everyone’s opinion. What we don’t tolerate is fighting, arguing or even rude behavior towards folks who voice their opinions. It’s a simple thing. You’ve got your beliefs, I’ve got mine… we may not agree, we may even think one of us is a dumbass, but who cares?

At Buzzy’s, we tolerate everyone’s opinion. What we don’t tolerate is fighting, arguing or even rude behavior towards folks who voice their opinions.

And sometimes, when there’s enough conversation, there’s even the recognition that both sides might have a point.  At that moment, you get the impression that maybe, possibly, something could sprout on that barren ground that sits in the middle. 

But then, you walk out of Buzzy’s into the daylight, and it’s a combat zone. Both sides retreating further into their respective echo chambers, convinced of their righteousness and determined to hold their ground at all costs. The current environment for political and cultural discourse in this country looks a lot like WWI trench warfare.

Try to find one issue where the left and the right are working together instead of lobbing hand grenades at each other.  Go ahead… take a few minutes if necessary… anything?

How about one topic that you would think could bring all Americans together…Russian meddling and interference in our nation’s affairs.

Did the Putin-led Russian covert action and propaganda machine meddle in our political system and attempt to create chaos by influencing public opinion?  Does a dude with a man bun usually also have a hipster beard? That’s an emphatic yes. 

Of course they did.  They’ve been meddling and attempting to influence public opinion in the US since the days of Stalin. Back then they paid off journalists and union bosses, created supposedly independent associations and trade groups, planted stories in our press, whatever they could do to further their interests and agenda. Since then, they’ve stuck to the same broad methodologies while adapting and taking advantage of new forms of communication and technology.  In the old days they’d get biased stories into newspapers…now they use bots and trolls to invade social media.

And how do we react to learning that the Ruskies still don’t have our best interests at heart and were up to their old tricks in an attempt to turn us against each other?  Well, we turn on each other.  Huzzah, the Bear wins. 

Rather than realizing as grown ups that the Russian machine, as they have done for generations, played both sides of the equation to create dissent, the Ds and Rs dug deeper into their trenches and accused each other of treason.  Rather than take the time to examine the possibility that both sides were played, we immediately jumped to the conclusion that one side or the other must have colluded knowingly, nefariously to undermine our Republic.  That’s how cynical, partisan and illogical we’ve become. 

And even though you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone claiming to be a wise Kremlinologist, as a nation, we apparently wouldn’t know a Russian disinformation campaign if it jumped out of a life size nesting doll wearing a bear suit and waving a copy of “The Kremlin’s Guide to Disinformation Campaigns.”

You want to find some common ground…something we can maybe agree on?  How about this; both sides were stupid, naïve, desperate to win and desirous of finding dirt on the other. And yes, I did just describe every U.S. political campaign ever.

Did anybody, Democrat or Republican, do anything knowingly and deliberately designed to collaborate with the Russians? I don’t know, and frankly neither do any of the expert pundits, bloggers, Twitter Kremlinologists or regular folks sitting on either side of the divide. That’s what we’re supposed to be working together in a non-partisan manner to find out. Because if ever I thought we’d agree on something, it would be the need to pull together against a foreign power that has consistently worked for generations to undermine our democratic principles.

What I do know is that if you start from the premise that, at the outset, the guilty party is the FSB and their cohorts in the Russian government that devised, managed and ran this operation, and assume that, as they always have, their primary function is to create dissent, chip away at our belief structure and turn us against each other, then you can structure an objective, rather than partisan investigation designed to understand what actually happened.

Investigations need to be built on solid ground…on facts and actual evidence, not suppositions, assumptions, political ideology or pre-ordained conclusions because you hate the other side.  But that would require us to climb out of the trenches and agree to meet in the middle.  And that requires more courage than we’re currently displaying as a nation.

If you care to disagree with me, send me a note, or meet me at Buzzy’s. Just don’t bring your man bun.

Mike Baker is the Co-Founder of Diligence LLC, a leading global intelligence, security and risk management firm. Prior to starting Diligence, Mike spent over a decade and half with the CIA as a covert field operations officer. He is a regular contributor in the national and international media on intelligence, security, counterterrorism and political issues. He appears regularly on Fox News, as well as other major media outlets.