Reinstating political compromise could end today’s gridlock and make government work again, easing public frustration and escalating polarization. In fact, consensus-building is probably the only way to effectively govern in an increasingly fragmented, contentious society.
Compromise seeks to transform adversarial interactions into a cooperative search for information and solutions that protect all parties’ interests. It requires understanding and respecting one another’s perspectives, values and needs and good-faith collaboration throughout the process. No one surrenders, everyone wins.
While the needs of the large and corporate donors and the politically active extremes of the left and the right are being argued by the extreme candidates they elect in our primaries, the needs of most Americans are largely ignored. Every American deserves a voice. We need to elect politicians who will work for all Americans and place country over party.
Many Americans no longer trust the democratic norms that don’t hear them, understand their arguments or respect their interests. And much of today’s political disruption has been driven by socioeconomically disadvantaged groups who feel excluded, dominated and disrespected. We need to elect politicians who recognize that growing economic insecurity is a threat to our democracy and who will work tirelessly to improve opportunities for all Americans.
The large group of more moderate Americans who want compromise and are necessary to help reinstate the American norms that gave us consensus-building are distant, disengaged political outsiders. We need moderate candidates that have broad appeal and are committed to doing what it takes to make government work again.
The political machine, that created accountability and provided leadership by vetting and nurturing candidates, forging coalitions, mediating disputes and brokering compromises, has been disintermediated. The informal norms created for getting things done in government to prevent gridlock and hyper-partisanship are breaking down. Parties and congressional leaders are weakened and unable to self-organize.
Chaos has become the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself. Renegade political behavior pays. And individual actors, with no accountability to each other or the party, pursue naked self-interest all the time. Ideological purists, who do not believe compromise is ever acceptable, dominate the political landscape.
“Compromise” is thought of as collaborating with the enemy, and those that try to do it are labeled traitors to their political party. Our legislators have become a collection of individual entrepreneurs and pressure groups who threaten primary challenges, funded by a flood of outside money, to anyone who compromises.
John Kasich described congressional chaos this way: “The people want change and they keep putting outsiders in to bring about the change. Then the change doesn’t come … because we’re putting people in that don’t understand compromise.”
Disruption in politics and dysfunction in government reinforce each other. We need politicians who recognize that Americans want major changes, which come only through compromise. We need politicians who are committed to work for the major changes Americans want and need. And we need politicians who are adept at the “informal norms” and political processes required to get things done.
Americans need to recognize that electing hyper-partisan outsiders is making America worse, not better. Their one-sided promises that don’t address the needs of all Americans aren’t practical. We need to learn to value moderation and compromise as the tools that make America better. And we need to elect moderates that will commit to working across the aisle to make government work for all Americans.
Our politics should focus on a voice for all Americans, economic opportunity for all Americans and adept politicians who compromise for all Americans to make America work again. United we stand, divided we fall.
Each and every one of us must rethink our expectations, stop assuming we’re always right and be more open minded and willing to change for the greater good of the country. We need to respect the views of the other side and assume they too want what’s best for America – differing ideas often make for the best solutions. We need to accept that compromise is America winning. Country over party. You are the change!
Photo from The Atlantic