Common Ground…The Most Valuable Real Estate in the Country

World War I was credited with the introduction of mechanization. With the use of deadly machine guns and tanks, it was aptly named the war to end all wars. It also introduced another component−trench warfare. Vast armies dug deep trenches hundreds of miles long facing each other. For months on end, they stayed in these trenches occasionally peeking out and lobbing cannon at each other. But mainly they stayed put. The land between the trenches was referred to as no man’s land. It was called that because no man dared venture out onto it. It was too dangerous.

At the beginning of the war not much happened and more soldiers died from disease than actual fighting. But eventually, the armies knew that to gain ground, to gain victory and to bring the war to a close, they had to move into no man’s land. They had to take the risk or nothing would happen. Eventually, their thoughts became actions. They moved into no man’s land and the war ended.

I find many parallels to the strategy of trench warfare to today’s political climate. Our representatives like the soldiers of World War I, have become more and more entrenched in their thinking and their actions. Republicans, Democrats, and other political factions have their heads down in the trenches and are avoiding no man’s land or as it’s referred to politically−common ground. Common ground is the place where things get done. And, unfortunately, it’s being avoided like the plaque. Our elected representatives have moved away from representing “we the people” to represent “we the party.”

James Madison, credited with being the main architect of our Constitution realized in 1787 that to get the Articles of Confederation approved compromise among the various States was necessary. Madison realized that compromise was the essential ingredient in the recipe to get things done. Our founding fathers presumed Congress would be fraught with disagreement but expected different points of view to blend into compromising legislation.

The current approval rating for Congress is floating around 20%. Hardly encouraging. It’s not low because they lack the requisite intellect to come up with good ideas it’s because they can’t turn those ideas into actions and get things done. Today compromise is like a dirty word. It’s almost seen as blasphemous and traitorous to work with or give credit to the other side. I am not suggesting that we don’t have any bipartisanship at all, but the efforts are often under-reported. The media as a whole cares little about bipartisanship because it doesn’t fit their narratives. Today, salacious attacks lead the way. And the more salacious the better. Who wants to lead with a boring story about two sides coming together? How does that help your side and your ratings? And besides who can claim the credit? Which side of the trench wins that?  But alas there is some hope. 

Recently Congress passed the bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Act. Have you heard much about it? Probably not. Nonetheless, it was a bipartisan victory. We need more of these victories because there is still much to be done. And it can only be done through compromise. Bipartisanship has a strong record of success. Let’s tell Congress we are tired of the trenches.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Contact your representatives and insist they adopt a platform of bipartisanship and not give it lip service.  
  • Insist that they return to representing the people and not just their party.  
  • Remind them of why they were elected.
  • Remind them of their approval rating
  • Ask them what they have accomplished since being elected. Tweets don’t count.
  • Ask your representative to join the Problem Solvers Caucus
  • Tell them to give credit where credit is due regardless if it’s the other side.

The bottom line……we are tired of gridlock and inefficient government. Congress needs to move out of the trenches and into the most valuable real estate in the country−common ground. If not, the war will last a long time and nothing will get done for the American people.

That’s my take. What’s yours?

Stephen Phillip Monteiro is a law enforcement, security and intelligence consultant. He’s held senior leadership positions with consulting firms in Washington, DC and is a retired Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Visit his website: to leave your comments.

We’ve Been Through Worse…

With the acquittal of President Trump and his feud with Speaker Pelosi, I think we can agree it’s been a tough few days. Listening to friends, colleagues, family members and news reports about how bad our political divide is, reminded me of a book I read a few months ago. The book titled The Field of Blood (Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War) by Joanne B. Freeman is an account of Congress in the 1800’s. 

In this well researched and informative book, Ms. Freeman with shocking detail, rendered a portrait of American politics in its rowdiest years. She tells us with convincing facts, that today’s hyper-polarized political environment cannot compare to the turbulent environment in Congress in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

Legislative sessions were punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks and all-out slugfests. Congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives at rivals. One representative even killed another in a duel. Bullying, intimidation, and threats were the norm. Massive fistfights were not uncommon and spittoons were often thrown at each other. Representatives spit on the floor and put their mud crusted dirty boots on their desks.

Decorum did not exist. 

By 1860 many Congressmen armed themselves, some carrying pistols. They were sent by their constituents fully expecting bloody combat in the halls and on the floor of Congress itself! After revisiting Ms. Freeman’s book, I thought about some other interesting facts in our nation’s history that might help to put today’s environment in context. Since the founding of our country here is a partial list of some of the turbulent events that occurred:

  • The U.S. fought 12 official wars resulting in the deaths of over 1.2 million people. This does not include other country’s losses. The Civil War alone claimed 620,000 lives.
  • There have been 47 serious economic crises and recessions resulting in billions in economic losses. The stock market crash of 1929 alone resulted in a loss of $396 billion in today’s dollars.
  • Over 100 natural disasters occurred resulting in billions of dollars in economic losses and thousands of deaths. Hurricane Katrina alone accounted for 300,000 destroyed homes, over 1000 deaths and $250 billion in losses.
  • Four US Presidents were assassinated. Several others were victims of attempted assassinations. Political and civil rights leaders were also assassinated.
  • We have had scores of diseases and plagues resulting in thousands of deaths.
  • We fought against slavery and fought the war for civil rights.
  • We survived the great depression of the 1930s and the dust bowl.
  • We’ve endured terrorist attacks resulting in the deaths of thousands and economic losses in the billions of dollars. The 911 attack resulted in 2996 initial deaths and $40 billion in insurance losses. Unfortunately, the death toll from 911 is climbing. Many First Responders continue to die from toxic air exposure.

And the list goes on….

What I outlined is only a snapshot of some turbulent historical events in our nation’s past. But despite our trials and tribulations, the United States of America is home to some of the greatest achievements known to mankind. We are still here and still strong. The fact that we receive more requests for immigration than all other countries of the world combined, tells me that we are still looked at as a place of opportunity and justice.

The strides we made from the 1800s to now are quite amazing when you put things in context. At our core we are a good country, albeit not a perfect one. While perfection is a lofty goal, it is seldom achieved. We will always have challenges. We need to keep getting better. While we may not look to any of our political leaders for this inspiration, we can start with ourselves. Let’s work on mending the fences. Let’s learn to respect each other again.

Let’s treat each other as human beings.

So, if you’re feeling like it’s all over and we won’t make it, roll back the clock and take a look at where we’ve been and what we’ve endured. Our people are strong and our country is strong. We will be ok. So, let’s keep our heads on straight and remember−we’ve been through worse.

Stephen Phillip Monteiro is a law enforcement, security and intelligence consultant. He’s held senior leadership positions with consulting firms in Washington, DC and is a retired Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Visit his website/blog: to leave your comments.