Few would argue that a truly representative democratic form of government is incapable of being successful without compromise. Indeed the Constitution itself is a compendium of compromises, prompting Benjamin Franklin to declare when asked upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 if the result was either a monarchy or a republic he replied “ a republic, if you can keep it.”
The very art of preparing our founding document was an exercise in adopting compromise language that may not have satisfied everyone but lent credence to the notion that it was essential towards moving forward towards a consensus. Continuity of governance, peaceful transition of power, and bipartisanship have been the hallmarks of our democratic experiment until only recently. We are now in a period where many of these foundational principles are being seriously challenged.
In 1976 I had the distinct honor of representing my college as a Governor’s Intern for the three-month general session of the Georgia legislature and witnessed the art of compromise up close and in person. I would end up spending the better part of the next four decades in public policy, political, and governmental positions in Executive and Legislative branch jobs at the Federal, State, and local levels government.
Over that period of time I came to marvel at the ability of seasoned political practitioners to sacrifice deeply held principles and ideals in search of workable policy solutions in an effort to move issues forward. As a former athlete, I could appreciate the satisfaction from playing hard, essentially leaving it all on the field, but in the end congratulating my temporary adversary whether in victory or in defeat. The system worked.
As I look upon the degree to which our representative democratic experiment has been subjected to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” in just a relatively short period of time, however, I cannot help but think we have lost our way and run the risk of forsaking decorum, civility, and compromise which have served as the mighty pillars of our governing foundation.
The braggadocio and petulant exhalations of those who practice politics in the age of irreparable division threaten to cripple our ability to move forward, even if at only a slow and incremental pace.
The braggadocio and petulant exhalations of those who practice politics in the age of irreparable division threaten to cripple our ability to move forward, even if at only a slow and incremental pace. Gone are the days of sportsmanship, courtesy, and chivalry where defeat is merely temporary and persistence is a sign of long-term commitment to cherished ideals.
We must take stock of our better nature and follow the admonition of Ralph Waldo Emerson who proclaimed we should “follow the course of nature; her secret is patience,” or Confucius “it does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”
In the modern world of social media, breaking news, and disinformation our leaders have succumbed to the reckless beliefs of a populace discontent with facts, evidence, or science, and all too willing to accede to contorted conspiracy theories. The casualty of such intemperate transactional thinking is democracy itself.
Issues are decided by knee-jerk reactive impulses. What substitutes as discourse are accusations, insinuations, and political banter not worthy of thought-provoking dialogue, and in the end we get what we deserve, something considerably short of mediocrity.
It is critical that we communicate with well-informed, objective, and qualified argumentation designed to address the nuances of complex decisions. Absent this we are destined to failure.
We are flirting with the dissolution of one of the two major political parties that have essentially bolstered our democratic existence. While I am decidedly liberal in policy orientation and Democratic in party preference, I appreciate debate governed by informed policy positions. Unfortunately, in its current structure the Republican Party has become a cult of personality devoid of an ability to engage in the give-and-take that is required of meaningful compromise.
From a purely political perspective an argument can be made that allowing the GOP to tear itself apart might be the best thing that could happen in the short-term for the Democratic Party. However, in the long-term it is essential to widen the field of debate to diverse opinion and embrace diversity in its myriad forms.
These are tumultuous times and it is important that we not allow rambunctious and thoughtless political populism to dictate the agenda. Rule by autocratic diktat presents the greatest threat to democratic self-rule this nation has faced in its nearly 250-year history.
My guess is that we are in for a veritable roller-coaster ride over the next several years with respect to serious issues both domestically and abroad. We must unify the nation by accepting and incorporating our differences into an acceptable compromise position that allows us to move forward.
Out of the chaos that may result from a disintegration of the Republican Party may emerge a return to traditional conservative principles that allow for the kind of compromise that serves as the basis for our representative system. Buckle up, it is going to be a rough ride.