Compromise, the Cement of Democracy


Everyone knows something, but no one knows everything. This is one of the fundamental truths that the evolution of our diverse universe has exposed. Diversity can generate creativity, curiosity, research, ingenuity, competition, and inharmony. Despite the turmoil caused by opposing opinions, diverse perspectives force us to focus on the facts and dig deeper in the data and details for the truth. We must be ready to relinquish false beliefs that are obsolete, faulty, biased, and unsupported by sound reasoning and the best analysis of the evidence available.

Diversity, Compromise and Polarization

Americans must try to understand what specific benefits diversity offers society. In doing that we must discard all human emotions when we analyze the reasons why it makes sense to support promoting diversity. E pluribus unum must be our guide, even though we hesitate embracing this Latin adage that “from many comes oneness or unity.” Certain schools of fish have found that a multitude of similar living creatures can harmoniously dwell together relying on one another to change directions rapidly, when necessary or not.

In the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis path to enlightenment of humans, improvement is sought through the conflict and conflict-resolution activities that call for change. Hopefully, change for the better! The basic assumption necessary before proceeding, of course, is that the negotiators or arbiters can and will arrive at a mutual understanding of what the opposing parties believe to be the best attainable consequences of conflict-resolution.

The word “compromise” in English has mostly negative connotations that suggest that among two antagonists there are either two losers, or a winner and a loser. Rarely do we feel after a compromise “has been worked out” that there are two winners. Or two survivors freed to move ahead. Or one re-unified social activity ready to make progress again.

As rigid political polarization in this country continues to undermine the efforts of many of the most dedicated and sincere representatives of our state and federal governments, our nation’s leaders are trying futilely to export the “democratic way of life” of managing communal issues that cause conflict.

Planting The Seeds Of Democracy

The ground has not been prepared in other nations for planting the seeds of democracy, nor have we as a nation shown by example how others should proceed to integrate some modern form of democracy. On top of those obvious deficiencies, the issues involved are more complex every day. Depending on the country, a democratic solution may be inappropriate at the moment given the lack of an educated populace and an uncensored media, and the inherent resistance to change presented by powerful incumbent rulers and their supporters.

Identifying the necessary actions that will unify a nation is very challenging. Reducing the wide discrepancy between reality and public desire requires determining a practical, affordable solution, and one the general public truly understands and supports. To do this in a fledgling democracy is very difficult especially without some significant compromises. Sovereign nations are large conglomerations of diverse peoples and tribes with different tastes, aspirations, cultures, and ambitions.

It is not easy to identify the “norm” among all these diverse elements and decide what priorities should be assigned to unfulfilled needs. Avoiding starvation and enjoying peace seem obvious enough to qualify for a very high priority. Yet deprivation and war are tools for tyrants in manipulating powerless people. With such rulers nothing is negotiable and compromise is highly unlikely.

Certainly, all desires will not be awarded the high priority that one group thinks is appropriate. Hence, the need for compromise. Unfortunately, without achieving a satisfactory agreement that objectively meets the needs of the opposing groups, little peace can be attained – assuming peace is an objective with a high priority. What might be resolved even then may not be satisfactorily implemented if the funds aren’t available to adequately finance the negotiated solution. Is that particular solution worthy of pursuing then? It all depends on the strength of the consensus of the empowered participants, and whether or not they were honest when they voted and truly acquiescent to the amount of sacrifice required from each of them.

Democratic action demands an informed and discriminating participant, inside and outside the government, who believes that representative government will respond promptly and intelligently to the urgent needs of the varied constituents. For too many issues, this ideal is seldom observed in mature democracies like ours. Tainted as our elective system has been recently and corrupted by moneyed interests, any preaching about adopting democracy falls on cynical ears in foreign countries.

Citizens and leaders there know the truth about human nature, politicians, and the legislative and judicial actions to implement agendas of incumbents. No representative has time to read the fine print, study the loop holes, and act to avoid the unintended consequences. Just talk, and spin, and lie, and when all else fails, cover up. Since the days of Socrates and Plato, democracy was a form of government that legally put power in the hands of elected representatives who were frequently tempted to exploit their power.

I’d like to think optimistically that we can save democracy from the influence of economic interests and from the inclination to promulgate ad hoc, short term solutions. Intelligent compromising is the first step. It presumes that solutions based on complete analysis and serious review of the facts can be reached by compromising participants. These solutions must be long term oriented, properly funded, and smoothly implemented to benefit the majority of the constituents. The negotiators must be independent and objective, and share the best ethics of the populace. All participants must believe that both sides are winners. If not, the polarization that results will ruin all subsequent efforts to mend the riff as we have often observed in the U.S.

Obstacles To Common Sense

The biggest obstacle to achieving common sense in working toward an effective compromise on an issue is the media. They are primarily interested in attracting customers, viewers, advertisers, and followers. They have deadlines to meet, dead space or air to fill, and many dead heads in positions of editors and decision-makers. They don’t always challenge the “facts,” the data, and the coherence of the analysis. They present manipulated statistics, employ inadequate sampling, and repeat opinions of poorly prepared or biased “experts.” Their correspondents and reporters don’t have the time and background to understand the whole picture, and they assume that their audience is equally uninformed or misinformed. Their proposals are usually very superficial or theoretical, based on idealistic solutions without sufficient financing, and frequently impractical or impossible to implement.

So what do you expect from the media corps anyway? Reality? Like the “reality” TV shows? Or popular entertainment? We must sympathize with their dilemma, however. We have created a free speech environment where they can function and get away with saying what they like. They only have to appear sincere and “likable.” They can always retract what they write or say later and publish corrections tomorrow if pressured. They never expect quick government or business action; just quick reactions from dissident callers and animated letter writers and e-mailers.

Learning to compromise should be part of the public school curriculum, so that at an early age student citizens can begin to understand how to manage communal issues in a collaborative way. Unfortunately, the conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, unions and management, pro-life and pro-choice, IRA and anti-IRA, globalization and anti-globalization, etc. are stalling progress in solving our social problems. If some middle ground exists, no one has camped out there beckoning the polarized interests to the table to negotiate and hopefully compromise.

One side sees black or blacker, and the other sees white or whiter. No shades of grays are permitted, thank you. All arguments are simply stated. Each vociferous opponent emphasizes the monochromatic orientation of his or her position. All alleged facts, regardless of their relative importance, are equal, and all commentary is based on the pseudo-rational substantiation of the group’s agenda. No objective examination of the complexities and subtleties is allowed. It’s a free-for-all with the loudest person acting as a winner in most situations.

Is this the democracy we want to export? Look at the budget approval process for another example of why compromise is necessary. In California, the legislators often cannot approve a budget in time for the beginning of the fiscal year. Funds cannot be spent until that is done unless some special temporary legislative approval has been obtained. Part of the problem is that there seldom is an agreement about how much revenue is going to be collected.

Government Spending

Then, there is the perennial arm wrestling about how that revenue should be spent and how any deficit should be financed. In Congress, federal budget disputes have become more common every year even when there was a surplus projected. The members become a constantly bickering, back-biting, insulting, and lying group of distrusted politicians, similar to the courtiers of kings and lackeys of dictators.

So, what improvements does democracy offer other countries whose leaders are as incapable of compromising as we are? Whose citizens are as intractable as ours? And whose administrations have far less revenue and financing available to devote to their basic social and infrastructure problems? It takes almost infinite patience to negotiate and a most charitable spirit to deal with wearisome and cantankerous political opponents. Muddling through is more like the process of writing legislation when it isn’t mean-spirited. When all is said and done, more laws are on the books which only lawyers have read, where more loop holes have been created favoring someone, and where more complications to our individual lives have been introduced.

The best example of our absurd democracy-in-action is the Internal Revenue Service which is responsible for collecting corporate and individual income taxes, and interpreting the tax code. The federal tax regulations are so voluminous and bizarre, the exceptions and exclusions so petty and prejudicial, and the illogical and sanctimonious reasoning about the proper amount of taxes to be paid by various types of tax payers so phony and outrageous. The whole income tax mess is intolerable. The result condemns our democratic way of collecting taxes as the most inefficient method ever conceived. And it is getting worse each year, not better!

The federal budgeting system is nearly as appalling. Who could possibly know what money is being spent for all those cost or expense items and which agency is adequately financed to insure that our citizens are obeying the law? Who could guess whether the money is spent wisely or foolishly? Effectively or not? Who could reasonably establish a priority for each social need that requires funding? How few of us can conceive of spending one million dollars in a year for anything? Much less one billion dollars!

Who is so wise that he or she can decide how much money should be taken from one person and given to another for whatever reason? How many of us are so honest, so sensitive, and so just that we could fairly assess each wage earner with an obligatory contribution for his share of running our profligate government? Who is so just that he could determine the proper mix of taxes between corporations and individuals? Whether a “zero base” budget criteria or a “relative to prior amount” budget criteria ought to be used for authorizing government expenses and how large a pie should be baked? Don’t ask me, or the man in the street, we don’t know! What honorable folks are doing in Washington is OK, no? Until we find out otherwise to our chagrin.

Our only hope for improving our government is for all of us to become as educated and informed as possible. (That’s not easy when you consider how much conflictive information and incomplete analysis is circulated by the media!) Then our leaders must compromise felicitously when there is a shadow of doubt. Democracy may be the right system for the United States because our forefathers chose it and wrote a constitution to protect it. But it is just one flawed system of administration and governance. Despite all the disagreeable compromising that has preceded the present circumstances, more enlightened compromising is desperately needed, more honesty must be injected, more transparency introduced, and more common sense employed instead of frivolous party agendas.

Compromise for the sake of compromising is not my recommendation, although it does move society off square one and into a different ball game. It is the only social mechanism available to us that recognizes that everyone knows something, but no one knows everything. We have a sophisticated democracy that tries to govern the lives of 300 million people at the detail level of determining what type of car seats our babies should have! I shudder to think of how intrusive the law will ultimately become with the Washington bureaucrats who think they know everything in charge!

Is Afghanistan ready for all these wonderful challenges of democracy? I don’t think the Taliban has learned much about compromising. It’s not permitted in Sharia Law!

Chic Hollis is a longtime drummer and motorcyclist, who served in the US Air Force in North Africa. Married 4 times with 5 children born in 5 different countries on four continents, Chic is a politically independent citizen of the world interested in helping Americans understand the reality that is life overseas where many intelligent, educated, and industrious people aren’t as privileged as we are in the US. He studied Latin, Greek, Russian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German and ran several large companies. Sadly, Chic Has left this planet and we miss him very much, but we are very pleased to display his amazing writing works.