We Must Recover the Lost Art of Compromise. On This There Can Be No Compromise.

By Gwyn Lurie   |   November 19, 2020

The election is finally over. Or maybe it isn’t. But one thing is clear: for some of us this moment brings exhilaration, joy, relief. For others, this moment is profoundly disappointing and downright hard to take. 

American Democracy has arrived at a crossroad. If you listen to almost any news outlet, down one road lies salvation from the Forces of Darkness. Down the other lies a descent into spiritual and moral ruin.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life offered us such clear choices of “good” vs “evil”? Any thinking person understands that it’s not that simple. And it is the buying into this kind of cartoonish false dichotomy that debases our modern politics. Since when did disagreement become synonymous with treason? Opponent with enemy?

We keep hearing about what a deeply divided country we are. But are we? MSNBC and Fox are deeply divided. But what they’ve really divided is a market. It behooves them to be polarized. They greatly benefit from the narrative of a divided country. But do we benefit, John & Joanne Q. Public?

Our government’s system of checks and balances was designed to require compromise to get anything accomplished. So is compromise a good thing, or does it inevitably involve a sour aftertaste for everyone who drinks it? Can Biden be our collective digestif?

There are those who speak of compromise as if means diluting one’s principles. But does compromise adulterate “principles” or “self-interest”? I researched the word “compromise” and found that one meaning is “a mutual promise… An agreement reached through mutual concessions, or an acceptable adjustment between conflicting ideas or desires.”

Families require daily compromise which presumably is motivated by love and in that context is considered healthy. So why, in the context of governing, is it considered otherwise?

The fact is, most of us are not out there on the extreme edges, but somewhere in the middle, desperate to move toward a process that is fair and just and allows for each of us to “pursue happines.” The one thing we all have in common is we want what’s best for our families, ourselves and our country. We just don’t all agree on what that means. 

For those who don’t share my relief about the apparent outcome of this election, you’re probably thinking: it’s easy for you to say ‘let’s come together’ now that your guy won. Fair enough. But at some point, we must put a stop to the wrecking ball political pendulum swings that have come to characterize and indeed paralyze our nation’s political process. This zero-sum, winner-take-all mentality that has replaced any willingness to compromise..

Whatever you think of Joe Biden, he served in the U.S. Senate for 38 years and has many friends on both sides of the aisle. The Senate bill that kept America from falling off the “fiscal cliff” just seven short years ago was the Biden-McConnell Tax Bill. On December 7, 2016 McConnell spoke to Biden on the Senate floor as the latter was serving his final week as Vice President. “You’ve been a real friend, you’ve been a trusted partner, and it’s been an honor to serve with you. We’re all going to miss you,” McConnell said publicly too Biden. Mitch McConnell attended Beau Biden’s funeral. In fact, in researching this history of their relationship I came across a tribute on CSpan given from the Senate floor by McConnell to then Vice President Biden during the Senate’s passage of the 21st Century Cures Act which McConnell said was as “a testament to Biden’s legacy and his efforts to help Americans’ struggle with cancer.” McConnell then announced that they would be renaming the cancer initiatives in that bill after Joe’s late son, Beau Biden. As I watched that moment, it unexpectedly made me cry as I wondered, what the hell happened to this country?

I have to believe that the deep relationships Biden forged over those decades in the Senate will lead to an environment where compromise will be possible. People will not have to live in fear of being in Biden’s crosshairs. This President’s political opponents will not be seen as enemies and will feel free to fight for what they believe in. And for that, and the compromise it is likely to engender, we will all be better off.

My Republican friends, some of the Journal’s investors, and half of the people with whom I come into contact every day, don’t share many of my political views. And that is one of the many reasons I love living here. I don’t want to live in a constant echo chamber. I have enough of that in my own head.

I believe that every time we are willing to listen with an open mind to what someone with a differing perspective has to say, we are honoring the idea of compromise. I didn’t plan to build a media company or run our community’s newspaper with a Libertarian partner. But I chose to do so and there is no doubt that I am better for it.  My partner Tim Buckley and I often disagree on matters political. Our discussions are lively and sometimes heated. But I know we learn from each other. I know he makes me better. I believe we make each other and the final product better. And I strongly believe that it is through compromise that we have made some of our best and wisest decisions.

The same is true for our community. During some of our most trying times, whether it be the debris flow or the pandemic, Montecito residents have linked arms and come together, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as human beings committed to supporting our neighbors and our village more than we disagree with one another. They say that the secret to successful co-parenting during dark moments in a marriage, is to love your children more than you (momentarily) dislike each other. Couldn’t the same thing be true for this country? When we get entrenched against our political opponents, I think it behooves us to love something outside of ourselves more than we dislike or disagree with each other. And that something is what we call the great American Experiment. 


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