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… le mieux est l’ennemi du bien Voltaire
“I started to be a photographer when I was 17 years old, before completing my education.” Whatever the precise date of her declaration, she says that at the time “I had no camera and I’d never made a picture.” The news must have astonished her mother. Lacking any confidence in her daughter’s wish, she replied, “But you have to have something to fall back on!” Security was not what Dorothea wanted. “I knew it was dangerous to have something to fall back on.” Dorothea Lange, A Photographer’s Life by Milton Meltzer, p. 22
Four years of Trump feeling validated in all the crazy stuff he’s done and said. Four years of Trump unburdened by the need to run for re-election and able to amplify his racism, make Ivanka secretary of state, appoint even more crackpots to his cabinet and likely get to name two right-wing Supreme Court justices under the age of 40.
Yes sir, that will be a revolution!
It will be an overthrow of all the norms, values, rules and institutions that we cherish, that made us who we are and that have united us in this common project called the United States of America.
If the fear of that doesn’t motivate the Democratic Party’s base, then shame on those people. Not all elections are equal. Some elections are a vote for great changes — like the Great Society. Others are a vote to save the country. This election is the latter. Thomas Friedman, Trump’s Going to Get Re-elected, Isn’t He?, New York Times, July 16, 2019
Reading and discussing the current political climate with friends and associates it seems the situation boils down to when to compromise. Do we side with Voltaire (and Friedman) and recognize the risk of losing a good solution by holding out for a perfect solution? Or, do we throw caution to the wind like Dorothea Lange and chase our dream regardless of the consequences? That is the question at hand. And that is the question Democrats must ask themselves as they choose their candidate because we have both sides represented in the line-up.
There are times when Dorothea Lange is exactly right. You should not compromise on your dreams. Your dreams represent who you are and that to which you aspire. They are obviously personal. A democracy, however, is a different sort of thing. It is a group of many people all with diverse interests, experiences, needs and goals and each with a vote on how to move forward together. Living in a country requires the ability to get along and that generally entails some level of compromise and negotiation.
While Voltaire’s warning may be applicable to each individual in certain situations (think analysis paralysis), it can be crucial in the democratic process. To gain power and further your goals in a democracy it is necessary to win over a majority and this requires compromise. Pristine purity may be admirable in church but not in government. A successful democracy means finding win-win solutions to common problems whenever that is possible. It often means sacrificing the “perfect” to get a “good”.
The current President has his “perfect vision” encapsulated in a white nationalist agenda encouraged by racist comments in the public forum, irresponsible tax cuts that have led to the highest inequality in history and to historically high and rapidly rising deficits, trade wars and tariffs that have disrupted economies all over the world and increased our own trade deficit, ballooning asset markets and potentially dangerous bubbles, little real investment, little real wage growth, and a country more divided than ever. (See Deficit Man and the 2020 Election by Paul Krugman)
In other words, the President is shooting for his vision of the perfect rather than compromising for some illusive good that might benefit everyone. He is willing to do anything to make his base happy rather than to seek a solution where everyone is satisfied even if no one gets everything they want. He seeks everything he wants. He thinks this makes him strong. He thinks this will Make America Great Again. He frames it as America First but it’s all about him, about his goal to Make America White Again and to undo everything, every treaty and every law and every moral victory that his black predecessor achireved. Forget the win-win. The I-win-you-lose is what this President seeks.
This approach has served the President well. He has a faithful following. He has organized his base around a single goal while those who disagree with him are scattered and as hard to organize as herding cats. There are concerned Republicans and Independents who are so appalled by what they see that they might vote for a Democrat but they can’t bring themselves to vote for an ultra liberal. The ultra liberals think compromise is a dirty word. It isn’t. Some like William Weld or Justin Amash or Mark Sanford think a third party might be the way to hang onto their values without sinking the ship. Maybe, but it’s a long shot. The ship needs to be sunk. Trump’s ship is not the Grand Old Party’s ship. It’s his ship.
So, how do we sink the Trump ship? Not by shooting torpedoes willy nilly. We do it by herding cats.
There is no perfect solution. There are too many differences of opinion. It may be that there isn’t even a “good” solution. It may be that we have to line up in teams where the ultimate winner takes all and annihilates the losers. If that’s the case, democracy is dead. Let’s hope those who oppose this president can find a way to reach a win-win solution where a true majority of Americans are satisfied even if none are completely happy.
Knowing when and how to compromise isn’t an easy call but I think the time is here and we need to figure out how to do it before it’s too late.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my political views lean liberal. (Read THIS and THIS) Liberal but realistic. As much as I would like my “perfect” candidate to be elected, what I most want is to sink the Trump ship. I want a candidate that can unite a majority of Americans behind the values we cherish and have always cherished. And that includes Americans who may disagree with me on policy but not on principle. E Pluribus Unum folks, not the other way around.