Over breakfast the other day, my wife, who happens to be a physician, asked, “Whatever happened to compromise?”
She was wondering why Americans can’t seem to put their political and ideological biases aside during the current pandemic and understand that we can do our best to protect ourselves from the virus and still keep our economy from collapsing.
The answer came to me about 30 minutes later, in an angry email from a reader.
In my last column I pointed out that America’s patience was wearing thin. Over 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks. Our neighbors can’t pay their bills. We need to get the economy going while protecting our vulnerable citizens. In other words, I was calling for a balanced approach.
“Presumably, given your job title, you are an educated man,” the email began. “From your picture you look old enough that you should have saved some money to be prepared for a period of time when you might have unemployment.”
My first thought was that I need a new headshot. As I read on, it was clear the writer was making the argument that if you haven’t saved enough money to make it through an unforeseen pandemic or the government-ordered shutdown of your small business, tough darts.
Later, she told me to stop whining and “grow up.”
I can’t remember the last time I was told to “grow up.” It might have been when I didn’t get a part in a Hollywood film and my godfather grabbed me by the collar, slapped me around and said, “You can act like a man!” Actually, I think that was a scene from “The Godfather.”
Nevertheless, the point is the writer’s position leaves no room for compromise. You are either in favor of an indefinite shutdown of the economy or you don’t care if people die.
This sort of zero-sum discourse has become a template for debate. If you oppose abortion, you hate women. If you believe in enforcing immigration laws, you’re xenophobic. If you’re a Bible-believing Christian and dare to say so publicly, you’re a fanatic. (I can show you the letters.)
There is no daylight for compromise within such wooden positions.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Republicans and Democrats were able to put aside their differences for the good of the country … for about two weeks.
In 1914, during World War I, there was a series of Christmas cease fires along the western front. German and British soldiers left their trenches and exchanged gifts. On Dec. 27, they resumed slaughtering each other wholesale.
Even the fiercest adversaries can put aside their differences for a little while, merely delaying the inevitable.
Our political cease fire is now over. The “we’re-all-in-this-together” spirit, if it ever actually existed, has evaporated. We’re back to politics as usual and, as usual, truth is the casualty.
Meanwhile, another news story has infiltrated the front pages — sexual assault allegations made against former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden by former staffer Tara Reade. The same Democrats who wanted then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh burned at the stake based on the testimony of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, are now lining up to support Biden. The same Republicans who ran to Kavanaugh’s defense now want Biden’s head.
For its part, until recently, most of the media have been conspicuously disinterested in the Biden story.
I don’t know whether Biden’s accuser is telling the truth, just like I didn’t know whether Blasey Ford was on the level. I am a big fan of due process but, as the editors of the National Review pointed out this week, “due process must be habitually applied to nobody or to everyone.”
We must now serve as our own fact checkers. The burden of discernment rests squarely on our shoulders, assuming we’re interested in getting remotely close to the truth. We can either seek affirmation of our righteous indignation or we can search earnestly for information, weighing disparate perspectives on an issue and drawing our own conclusions.
Or we can get angry at those with whom we disagree and make sure we tell them so.
The latter might make us feel good for a while but it gets us nowhere.
Rich Manieri (email@example.com) is a columnist for the Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.