Alan Zendell, February 5, 2019
Most of us are engaged in some form of negotiation all the time. Raising our kids, managing relationships with significant others, haggling over the cost of rugs and chickens, negotiating business deals, getting along with coworkers – all involve ongoing negotiation.
What these situations have in common is that to be successful, they all hinge on truth and trust, and you’ll never achieve the latter if you can’t depend on the former. If people repeatedly lie to you and fail to keep their commitments, it becomes nearly impossible to coexist with them. In the absence of trust we resort to tough love with our kids and risk ruining our adult relationships. If we feel cheated by a merchant or business associate, we find someone else to do business with, and if we’re not fairly treated at work, we start looking for a new job as soon as possible.
Sometimes we’re stuck. We don’t always have the option of looking elsewhere. As voters and concerned citizens, we’ve spent two years watching a tennis match of hurled insults and accusations. Our representatives in Congress have been at the center of it every day. Lies, fake news, insults, bullying attacks – it seems to never stop.
It’s always been that way to some degree. When I watched the movie Lincoln, I was shocked to see that partisan bickering was as bad in his time as it is now. It was a critical moment in our history. We were on the verge of acknowledging that slavery was evil, and those on opposite sides each believed they couldn’t negotiate with the other. Regardless of the cost to our economy, some wrongs simply needed to be righted, and the people who suffered financially did everything possible to stem the tide including attempting to demolish our Union of states.
The Civil War that nearly wrecked the nation is an example of what can happen when extreme positions lead to non-negotiable impasse, and the parallels between then and now are starkly clear. Racism, bigotry, hatred, fear, and lust for power and wealth each played a role 160 years ago. Those same things are driving the divisiveness in our country today, with one notable exception. In 1860, people had sharp differences, but each side’s position was clearly defined and understandable if not defensible; other things aside, the decision to abolish slavery was clearly one of principle.
In 1863, two years into the Civil War, Lincoln faced the worst National Emergency in our history. Believing that the moral future of the nation was at stake, and realizing there could be no negotiated resolution, he issued an Executive Order, bypassing Congress and the Courts to declare the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation was to be the guiding principle on which a reunited Union would be preserved.
Replace slavery with immigration and we might be looking at a similar fight today if no agreement is reached, but there are important differences. First, compared to what Lincoln faced, the problem of securing our southern border does not approach the level of a National Emergency.
Congress came together to pass bipartisan legislation which would have been an important first step in a long-term solution, only to have it scuttled by the president who had previously promised to support it. Nor was Trump pulling the rug out from under a deal he had informally endorsed an isolated incident. He did the same sort of thing on every major bill Congress drafted during his two years in office, and from everything we know about his history he conducted his businesses the same way.
Worst of all, he has never taken a meaningful negotiating position on any issue except reducing taxes on the wealthy, and rather than observe the basic courtesy and etiquette that are the hallmarks of professional negotiation, he has been belligerent and offensive to everyone that didn’t support his views. He daily picks fights with Democrats who make him feel threatened and does everything possible to intimidate them.
Remember how he attacked Mitch McConnell as weak and ineffective? I guess it worked, as he’s been Trump’s Senate lap dog ever since. And remember Paul Ryan? Don’t feel bad, he didn’t leave us much worth remembering. Trump’s tactics worked on his own party, but they won’t work on Schumer and Pelosi as long as the majority of the country continues to side with them.
Trump put himself in this box. Are you cowed by his bluster? Neither are they. When he talked about unity and reaching across the aisle to heal old wounds, last night, do you think any Democrats believed a word he said? I don’t know why anyone would.