Originally published here
Compromise, as many Americans are taught in school, is the only way to a successful government. Henry Clay, “The Great Compromiser”, is held up as a paragon of the ideal, with, the partly his, Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and others, designated as great works. These are not the only compromises that American schoolchildren are taught either, with the 3/5ths Compromise taking a place of honor in textbooks, as well as the set up of Congress, with its Senate and House of Representatives shown as an example of compromise between small and large states. What the textbooks, and most teachers, don’t say however, is that these compromises, and the idea of compromise in general, is bullshit. Or bad, since most schools won’t allow their teachers to say “bullshit” in any case.
Compromise, to take it out of the historical context of the United States for a second, is the idea that taking two diametrically opposing sides and having them meet in the middle is the best solution to most problems. Best, in this particular sense, means something along the lines of, “what will allow a certain group of people to take action, even if neither of them likes it, instead of just sitting there arguing.” On its face this is not a horrible idea. Trying to get two people to decide whether or not to order pizza or tacos, as most people know, is practically impossible unless a third compromise situation is worked out. Compromise is necessary when deciding whether or not watch Game of Thrones or House of Cards on any given night. And its not just friend groups or couples that have to compromise either, individuals do it all the time. “Should I eat this extra chicken wing, or go exercise?” “Do I buy an Xbox One or save money for retirement?” We all make compromises with ourselves everyday, which makes it seem like a natural step for our government to do the same thing. The logic of compromise however, immediately falls apart when it is applied on any sort of scale larger than decisions over what forms of entertainment to imbibe.
There are two base propositions behind compromise. One, that when two sides are arguing, neither is completely correct, and two, that any type of action is better than no action. Both of these propositions are false, especially when applied to a governmental scale, as they so often are. Take the Missouri Compromise for instance. Clay and others, to answer the question over whether new states that permitted slavery should be allowed into the Union, developed this compromise. By drawing a few lines Clay and Co. told themselves that while neither side had gotten what they truly wanted, they had received a big enough piece of the pie to be happy. They couldn’t have been more wrong. The Missouri Compromise only ended up delaying the Civil War for a few more years and allowed slavery to take a stand at the table. As is evident in this case, both propositions of compromise were shown wanting. Looking at the first proposition, that when two sides are arguing over a matter neither one is correct, it is obvious that this is inherently false. The side that wanted no new slave states admitted into the Union, while being far from perfect, was obviously correct. Slavery is and was a moral evil and still negatively affects the U.S. in countless ways. Adding more slave states was a bad idea. So why give concessions to a bad idea just because a lot of people support it? The answer that most people give, comes from the second proposition, any sort of action is better than no action. This is just as false as the false as the first proposition. While it is foolhardy to speculate based on historical counterfactuals, like what would have happened if the Compromise of 1950 had not been signed, it is easy to see that simply acting to act is just as foolhardy as making suppositions about alternate history. In many cases, the wrong type of action can do a lot more harm then even not acting can do. The post 9/11 invasion of the Middle East, Hitler’s march into Russia, the Zimmerman telegraph, these are all actions that were mainly done to show that action could be taken, that ended up causing huge devastation for all the parties involved. Gridlock due to unwavering belief in one’s position is not in and of itself a bad thing.
Compromise is bad then, in that it provides a half-assed solution to a problem, but allows the people enacting it claim they are trying to do something. But half-asses solutions only create more problems, problems, like in the case of the Compromise of 1850, which can lead to violence and destruction. And it should be noted that compromise is not a historical problem in the United States. TPP, Obamacare, the new overtime pay rules, Hillary’s free college for “entrepreneurs” plan, have all been marred and destroyed by compromise. Compromise to the right, compromise to business, the list goes on. These plans are nothing of what they used to be and yet are still touted as “the most we could get”. In the end it is obvious that compromises can never be good, but only add a little bit of sweet to try and get rid of the sour.
But if compromise for compromise’s sake is bad, then where do we go from there? If neither the Democrats, nor the Republicans, are willing to admit that they are the wrong side, how will things get done? The answer lies in, no matter how maudlin this sounds, the people. Run for a political office, no matter how small. Makes changes locally. Maybe you’ll get a following, maybe you won’t. But you’ll have a voice and you’ll know how the system works. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t back down. Even if it gets you nowhere. This is the key. It took Sweden years to become the democratic-socialist country that it is today. Bernie Sanders, if he had won the election and refused to compromise, would have done jack-shit his four-to-eight years in office. And that would have been fine. Compromise provides an easy way out. Fighting to get the whole pie takes a time, but it can be done. We just need people who are willing to fight that fight. Make it be you.