By Shivaji Snegupta
As I write this column, I see America divided as I have never seen it before. And I am speaking from experience of more than 52 years. In a country where I have lived for nearly all of my adult years, where I have been credentialed, educated, been a professional, and now retired, this is, indeed, painful. Even during the days of the Vietnam War, the country was not this divided. Then, the division was between the country’s adult population, and its youth. Now, it is between the Republicans and Democrats, the far-left and the far-right. It’s a mess.
Into this milieu, comes our new president, a salt-of-the-earth Democrat, who has always been an optimist, always willing to meet adversaries half-way. Indeed, in today’s divide-and-rule ethos the Biden way of “principled compromise” is hardly understood, especially by the younger baby-boomer politicians, those born after the Second World War. I am talking about the Kamala Harrises and the Alexanra Ocasio Cortezes of our time, who seem to believe that to compromise is tantamount to accepting defeat. As the New York Times put it: “The incentive structures have changed. Where politicians used to perceive a political reward for at least appearing bipartisan, today they perceive risk of being accused of selling out by the more fervent elements of their own party. Compromise is seen by many as a vice not a virtue.
For Joe Biden one had to compromise, not just in politics but in most professional arenas. Without giving up something you couldn’t hope to get something. Principled Compromise is what we used to do when we were young professionals in the seventies through the nineties of the last century. (Putting it this way, I sound ancient!). To do so, you needed to be certain of your peremptory and ameliorative values. Peremptory values are one’s fundamental and essential values that you do not compromise. The peremptory professional value of an educator is learning; of a doctor, it is life and health. Ameliorative values, however, are those you may negotiate, as long as you agree on the peremptory ones. A present-day example would be the Relief package the President Biden is negotiating with Congress regarding COVID. For him, the $1,400 relief package is peremptory. But whether every adult citizen should get this benefit, or only whose 2018 earnings were less than $50,000 per family, is an ameliorative decision to be made after a thorough negotiation process. President Biden is open to that discussion.
Successful negotiations beget unity.
It is obvious that our new president has embarked on a very difficult arena where Democrats and Republicans do not agree on almost anything, a situation made that much worse with the pandemic. Thus, he said in his inauguration speech:
Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause. …With unity we can do great things. Important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome this deadly virus. We can reward work, rebuild the middle-class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice.
If you read back these words, there is a touch of sadness, even desperation. It is of a man who may have realized that a divided Congress such as he has inherited, unity may not be workable.
(From NYT. January 22. 2021. In Biden’s Washington Democrats and Republicans Are Not United on Unity.)
“To me, Biden can be most unifying if he continues to press forward on these bold populist policies that put money in people’s pockets, that help people feel they have opportunity again and that they have relief from this virus,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington State and the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus,” said in an interview. Pramila Jaypal from the above article.
“It’s hard to unify when we’re not able to make our argument because of the cancel culture.” Jim Jordan (R. Rep. Ohio), one of the strongest proponents of the cancel culture, full of Donald Trump’s nasty memes during the last four years.
Write about Sidney Carlin of Kansas and multidimensional democracy.
By Shivaji Snegupta