A Question for America

I have a question for America, which I need to answer as well. Why can’t we compromise anymore? At some point in the last two decades we determined that compromise was tantamount to surrender. Our side had to win at all costs. Anything else was bitter defeat.

Partly that viewpoint has been driven by gerrymandering in our political districts, which has made compromise unnecessary in the legislature. Many politicians have been defeated by challengers from the extreme elements in their own parties – someone further left or further right.

Districts are now so safe that the only way to lose is to be too reasonable, too willing to listen to the other side.

We also have to accept that allowing big money into politics has further radicalized politicians and parties. Ever since Citizens United (wherein the Supreme Court said that corporations are people and have the same free speech rights), huge amounts of cash have descended on politicians. And that money doesn’t come from entities that want moderation.

Further, that unwillingness to compromise has even leaked into what should be nonpolitical ideas as well, partly because politicians have coopted those ideas for their own benefit. One side picks an issue to champion and the other side has to spring to the opposite pole. “If you’re for it, then I’m against it.”

It’s easy, of course, to blame the politicians for this, but they’re not solely responsible. After all, we’re the ones who put them there. And we’ve definitely gotten more polarized. One of the reasons for that is the large number of sources of information that now exist. You don’t have to get your news from a mere handful of media players who are determined to act responsibly. You can target your sources to fit your beliefs.

It’s also gotten a lot easier to become rude and disrespectful. When you’re typing a comment to a blog or post or Twitter feed, you don’t generally stop to think what the potential harmful impacts are; you just blurt out what you think, bypassing the filters that once existed when we had to discuss issues face-to-face.

We’ve also been raised to believe in the sanctity of the individual; everyone’s opinion matters just the same. So my beliefs with respect to issue X are as vital as yours, regardless of how well informed I am about that issue. You might be a scientist with 30 years of experience studying issue X, but I can Google that issue myself and get up to speed on it enough that what I have to say matters just as much as what you say.

Sheer nonsense of course, but many of us believe it to be true. Our inflated sense of self leads us to insist we know just as well as anyone else how to handle any given problem.

But at some point we have to recognize that maybe we don’t know everything. Maybe there are reasonable steps we can take to move closer to the center. Maybe a little progress is better than no progress at all.

I think we have to start there. Find small things to compromise on and then tackle more challenging issues later. If we don’t, I fear we’re destined for far worse outcomes.

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