This is adapted from an original piece posted at mumma.co and six months after Trump’s inauguration still holds quite true. The original can be found here.
Since the election of Donald Trump, and we’ve continued veering off into a rhetorical arms race toward our respective corners of ideology. Insults, name calling, the calls of hypocrisy, the claims of policy that will ruin the country or the world: you name it and it’s been said. This adversarial mindset must be debunked. We need to revive a world of accepting compromise.
It should be self-evident why it is critical for us to deescalate tensions between left and right. On face, a nation where one half sees the other as evil or illegitimate creates tensions that don’t dissipate easily. It’s the reason Abraham Lincoln commented that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Further, polarization leads to dysfunctional governance: gridlock, focus on extreme issues rather than moderate ones, and ultimately weakens democracy and opens minds toward anti-democratic techniques in the name of just getting things done.14
Before we really get into this, it’s necessary to address the elephant in the room: our President-elect Donald Trump. Six months in, Trump has made it clear that the concerns about his amorality, narcissism, and incompetence have largely been proven valid. That’s not to say that everything he’s done has been evil or wrong, but there’s ample evidence to these very critical flaws. As such:
- One, if you voted for Donald Trump, that doesn’t mean that you are a bad person or that your views on any given issue are wrong. You still want what you think is best for the country, but…
- Two, policy issues should be evaluated separate from the man. This is highly relevant for everyone: unwavering support or opposition based on a person or party is dangerous. Let’s focus on issues and the underlying questions at hand.
With all that being said, we’ll go through a three-step process for making compromise great again!
First step: Relax
Yes, politics matter. And it is a good thing to care about the direction we take. But seriously – left and right – just calm down. Claims on editorials on both sides are at unsustainable levels of bitterness, anger, and over-the-top accusations of malfeasance from the other side. That’s easy to do when you assume the other side is full of stupid, heartless monsters out to destroy the world.
Second step: Assume Rationality
If there was one skill to imbue every person with then a base assumption that those who disagree with you are still rational beings would need to be near the top of the list. The other side of your political spectrum isn’t a group of stupid and heartless monsters out to destroy the world. They may value different things, or have a different base of experiences and knowledge that they are acting on. But the vast majority mean well and have some reasons behind their beliefs.
Third step: Ask Questions
Once you assume rationality, all you have to do is be curious! Why does this person believe what they believe? What underlying assumptions are different from your own? Often, you may find out some things that surprise you.
Let’s play it out: An Example
Let’s take one topic and play this out: Obamacare. Consider our friends, Lefty Lou and Righty Rob who are both well-meaning but have different biases, values, and sources of information:
LL: Trump is going to get rid of Obamacare and millions of people are going to lose their insurance, it will be terrible and I have no idea how you can support that!
RR: Obamacare is horrible and it has made healthcare way too expensive. It’s about time we undid this mistake, you out-of-touch liberal!
(At this point, debate could turn off and go into a yelling match. Or, we could try to act like adults.)
LL: Okay, so what part of it is bad?
RR: Particularly the premiums – prices are going way up, including a 40% increase in Pennsylvania. A quick look at articles on it show a bunch of people commenting how healthcare is now eating up 20-30% of their income. They can’t sustain that and it’s really damaging a lot of families who are now struggling to make ends meet as a result.
LL: Oh, I didn’t really know that. I mainly hear about and prioritize the benefits, mainly getting people insured and ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions can still get insurance.
RR: Yes, those are good. They may even be part of a replacement for Obamacare. But we need to address some of the underlying drivers of cost.
LL: That generally sounds like a good idea to me. Doing some quick research, it looks like the largest buckets of cost are: hospital care is the largest bucket – a bit over 30%. That is where Obamacare will help eventually as they shift to value-based care, meaning that hospitals will be paid for a condition once, rather than continuing to receive payments if subsequent visits are needed.
RR: That makes sense, and I agree that is good! But it doesn’t seem like it’s taking effect fast enough. Maybe we can reduce costs in other ways as well. I think we still have a debate to have about how we pay for insurance and who pays what, but maybe we aren’t that far off on the question of what insurance should provide and what we can do to make it more efficient.
By being calm, curious, and starting with an assumption of good are essential to better political discourse. To be clear, we won’t solve everything like this. But, it stops the shift towards extremism as each side reacts to news of a new extreme reached by the other side. Ultimately, we can find what I call “80% solutions” – things that you could get 80% of the population to agree to – based largely on common ground with a few compromises thrown in. While building a large consensus does not guarantee good policy or good outcomes, it is a much better start than what we are doing today. By finding that common ground we can address some key issues and start to build a better rapport between the two sides to tackle the bigger issues we all know that we face.