When did “compromise” become a bad word?
Not long ago, Americans saw the virtue in taking a half loaf rather than ending up with nary a crumb. The ability, and willingness, to compromise was assumed to be an essential ingredient to a good marriage, a good partnership, or a good relationship with family or friends.
It used to be taken as a fact that a fair and reasonable deal was, by definition, one in which neither side got everything they wanted but each side got enough to keep them satisfied.
As Mick Jagger even wrote an entire song about the art of compromise, explaining that. while you can’t always get what you want, you sometimes find you can get what you need.
Well, those days are gone. The new normal is gridlocks, shutdowns, impasses, roadblocks, and work stoppages when opposing sides of an argument, dispute, or negotiation refuse to give an inch.
These days, whenever there is a standoff, the thinking seems to be that it’s better not to give away too much even if it means you get nothing in the process. Who needs a deal? What value is progress? What matters is standing your ground. Better to have no agreement than a bad agreement.
Exhibit A is what’s happening — or not happening — in Washington where two of the three branches are acting like kids on a schoolyard. House Democrats and President Trump have now, for more than a month, been at an impasse over funding the federal government.
Thousands of public service employees aren’t collecting paychecks, although many who provide essential services are still on the job.
Supposedly, the argument is over a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But actually, it’s about power, politics, and an unwillingness to compromise.
On Saturday — day 29 of the shutdown — both House Democrats and Trump put half a loaf on the table.
Democrats offered an extra $1 billion for border security, with the stipulation that not a dime of it go to building a wall. This was a non-starter for a White House that has bet its entire border enforcement agenda on what Trump promised supporters would be a “big, beautiful” border wall. It was also an easy offer to make, given that Democrats have proven over and over again that they love border enforcement as much as Republicans do.
But Trump really shook thing up, however, when he used a speech from the White House to offer Democrats what he called a “common-sense compromise both parties can embrace.”
The president wants $5.7 billion to pay for a “steel barrier” along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. The package also includes several billion additional dollars for drug detection technology, border patrol agents, immigration judges, even humanitarian assistance for refugees and immigrants. In return, Trump is offering to reinstate provisional legal status for three years for the nearly 700,000 undocumented young people who signed up for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
That’s the program started by the Obama administration that offered two-year work permits and temporary protection from deportation to those brought to the United States as children. DACA was ended by Trump in September 2017, and its recipients have spent the last few years under the Sword of Damocles — vulnerable to immediate removal with no remedy to protect themselves.
Democrats in Congress turned down the deal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it merely a “compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the new offer “not a compromise but more hostage taking.”
Actually, the Dreamers are already held hostage. So, aren’t we really talking about hostage freeing?
Meanwhile, right-wing nativists were no more pleased with Trump’s plan. Conservative mischief-maker Ann Coulter tweeted, “Trump’s solution: Let’s just amnesty them!”
Maybe we’re looking at this wrong. Why should we assume that everyone in a dispute actually wants a solution? Some people may just want to fight. Of course, those folks won’t compromise. They’re perfectly content to take this game of chicken all the way, and drive off a cliff.
As they wish. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to follow them over the edge.
Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”
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