When I was in second grade, the teachers in my hometown of Porter’s Bay went on strike. It lasted two weeks and was initially known as the greatest non-Christmas/Halloween/Birthday related event of my life (until I discovered that one of those two weeks had to be made up by cutting into summer vacation.) When the whole thing was finally settled, I glanced through the newspapers and chatted a bit with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Grothe. The thing that struck me was how nobody seemed happy with the settlement. I mean, the kids went without saying, but the teachers made dismissive comments about their new contract and I didn’t see a single quote from the school district that seemed grateful for the end of the strike. When I brought this up to my father, he shrugged and said, “That’s how you know it’s a good compromise. Nobody’s happy.”
This confused me into silence (which may have been my dad’s intention.) It took me several years and a little more life experience to understand what my dad was driving at. Each side had to give up total victory in exchange for a solution that worked in everybody’s best interest. It seems such a simple concept, but in a world that’s fragmenting as badly as our blogosphere, social media-driven society, it’s become downright quaint. And events as diverse as the Black Lives Matter protest at the Twin Cities Marathon and the resignation of U.S. Speaker of the House John Boeher (not to mention the invective of an all-too-early Presidential campaign) have driven this idea home.
A week before the Twin Cities Marathon, the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter announced its intention to shut down the finish line. Organizer Rashad Turner initially swatted away concerns about disrupting the marathon, saying in a press release that those who opposed the disruption were in the control of white power. This led to harsh words from all sides until Turner, to his credit, scheduled a finish line protest that would not disrupt the runners. But the level of invective, from people I would normally agree with, mind you, was a little more disturbing.
In the interest of full disclosure, I opposed Black Lives Matters’ original plan to disrupt the marathon. While I am in sympathy with the group and understand the desire to protest the treatment of Marcus Abrams, a young man with autism who was assaulted by Metro Transit police, I was having difficulty understanding why the runners at the Twin Cities Marathon should be the target of the protest. It seemed like getting angry at someone who cut you off in traffic and then punching the person in your passenger seat.
Several of my friends, however, didn’t see this as a problem. One of them wrote a blog entry stating that those who did not support the disruption were not real allies of Black Lives Matter. He then began deleting any comments that opposed his point of view. It brought two things to mind: 1. Why is it not possible to be in full sympathy with a particular movement or organization and still be opposed to an individual action? 2. If I can only be an ally by supporting an organization’s every move, I’m not really an ally, am I? I’m a hostage. As I said, the protest took a different route and the marathon proceeded without incident. But it’s hard not to be disappointed by people on the left embracing the same “America: Love It or Leave It” and “You’re Either With Us or You’re With The Terrorists” mentality they profess to despise.
On the flip side of the spectrum, Republican House Speaker John Boehner recently announced he was stepping down from his post. To his credit, Boehner didn’t try to spin the resignation, making it abundantly clear he was tired of herding the cats known as the 114th United States Congress. The resignation was actually cheered by a group of conservatives attending a conference. To hear these people talk, you’d think Boehner had spent the last five years smoking cigars with Fidel Castro and knocking back shots with Hugo Chavez rather than being, as his voting record and policy advocating would indicate, the 8th most conservative member of Congress. Boehner was pilloried for having the foolish idea that, at the end of the day, his job was to get laws passed. While I’m not going to be penning love letters to Boehner any time soon, I give him credit for being practical enough to realize that when facing a Democratic-controlled White House and, for the first four years, a Democratic-controlled Senate, he could only carry a fight so far. The government shutdown last year was less the Speaker being unwilling to compromise and more his inability to get his party to work with him on a solution. Boehner finally decided to give up and cry into his fruity merlot than continually face off against a group of people so delusional they think they can defy the President, the upper house of Congress and a majority of the American people in order to get EVERYTHING they want. At the end of the day, the conservative wing of the Republican party viewed Boehner as a failure not because he compromised too much with the President, but because he compromised AT ALL. This does not bode well for the future of our democracy.
Speaking of doomsday scenarios, another Presidential election is at hand. The primary season (or more accurately, the several months leading up to it) is always amusing. The inherent flaw in this particular system is that candidates are expected to present rational policies to the most irrational segments of their party. Some, like Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee, simply give up the rational thing and go right for the jugular. Needless to say, there isn’t a lot of “I will work with our friends on the other side of the aisle” dialogue going around.
When it comes to not working and playing well with others, the Republicans have found their front-runner in Donald Trump. Trump’s campaign has been short on specifics, but long on insults. A partial list of his victims includes women, immigrants, Asians, John McCain (and by extension, those who have ACTUALLY served their country), Iowans (I’ll forgive him that one) and his fellow Republican candidates (that one, too.) At no point has Trump apologized or made any attempt to back away from these comments. Part of this can be attributed to his being an egomaniacal blowhard. But a good part of it can also be attributed to the idea that a candidate who has a change of heart or mind will be seen as weak (the John Kerry Flip-Flopper Syndrome.) If his words (and really the entirety of his life) are any indication, Trump is not prepared to work with anyone he sees as an opponent (other parties, other governments, CNN). And the more uncompromising he appears to the general public, the more popular he becomes among rank-and-file Republicans. “He speaks his mind” is a familiar refrain from Trump supporters. (My buddy Lars speaks his mind, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with him knowing the nuclear codes EXIST, let alone having access to them.)
The Bernie Sanders phenomenon also plays into this thing. Sanders is advocating a system of political and economic reforms that are noble in intent, but, in the current political climate, don’t have a snowman’s chance in hell of getting passed. Yet, to a growing number of Democrats, the practicality of Sanders’ platform matters less than simply hearing him advocate it. Because it’s what THEY want to hear. (Hey, I love hearing my uncle Dave talk about the time he got drunk skiing and bombed the bunny hill, but I wouldn’t advocate it as a system of government.)
The whole thing concerns me because social media, “news” channels targeted to specific political interests and the new media in general have created a situation where we need only create an echo chamber for our own beliefs. The idea of hearing out opposing viewpoints is becoming rather outdated. Suddenly, everyone’s not only desirous of, but feels entitled to, absolute victory without compromise. We’re fast reaching a point where everyone would rather walk away from the table than give up something in order to create a consensus. And when that happens, where will we be?
I mean, if you think you’re unhappy now…