Is Cooperation Possible?

With a general election and its accompanying partisan vitriol at our doorstep, I keep asking myself whether nonpartisan cooperation is a possibility. It is always a logical possibility, but the problem remains how. In the following I outline how and why I see “reasoned disagreement” as a pivotal move forward.

Among the major obstacles to reasoned disagreement is the fact that the two leading parties and their adherents don’t talk to the other side but about the other side. Partisan talking heads present a scarecrow as the other side. In other words, left and right don’t really talk to each other about something and disagree; rather, right talks to right about the left, and left talks to left about the right. Disagreement requires different views about something. There’s in fact no disagreement; rather, there are two separate conversations.

The question of whether to continue the Safer-At-Home policies serves as a prime example. According to the left, the right wants to reopen business, because the economy matters more to them than human life. According to the right, the left wants to retain authoritarian control over who does business and when, who can worship and when, and the like, because power matters more to them than human rights.

However, an honest assessment may well show that both sides primarily consider human life and the relative death tolls of continued lockdown versus reopening the country. On the one hand, reopening the country risks more exposure and more coronavirus cases. On the other hand, continued lockdown risks more suicides and more domestic violence. The point here isn’t to say which is better but simply to show how left and right already share a goal.

As with the lockdown-vs-reopening question, the left and right in fact have more goals and priorities in common than either side’s talking heads permit their acolytes to believe. The talking heads insist that “they” over there have irrevocably different commitments than those “we” hold, so “we” must beat “them,” and you can donate to “our” fight to save America from “them.” So the civil war goes on.

A ceasefire can arise if we acknowledge and truly internalize the fact that “we” already share particular goals and priorities “them,” and these only need only to be made explicit. Concessions must be made—concessions that, in the short term, will be uncomfortable for people of either side but, in the long term, just might end the war.

The right must concede they do not have a monopoly on patriotism. Patriotism isn’t exhausted in anthems, flags, ceremonies, and the like. Patriotism isn’t the same as yelling “Constitution!” louder than the next person. Love of country is, first and foremost, love of fellow citizens and residents—the people who are the country. Patriotism may be expressed in a willingness to pay higher taxes in order to foster an economic safety net for the neighbor. Patriotism may be expressed in fighting against policies and practices that unduly burden select subgroups of Americans. For the right, the ideal of liberty and justice for all was the standard that founded the country and thus must be preserved against progressive revision. For the left, the ideal of liberty and justice for all was the stated goal toward which our society is constantly striving.

The left must concede they do not have a monopoly on justice. While the safety net is a necessary component of preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it cannot remain the trademark goal that it’s become for the left. The safety net should instead be a means toward fostering relative economic independence. In this sense, the right’s goal of fostering entrepreneurship and business should be the goal toward which the safety net pushes those it catches. The left correctly insists on buttressing and supporting those who don’t already have the same economic opportunities that come more readily to others. The right, however, correctly insists that freedom includes freedom from reliance. The more that a person, a family, or a community, can move toward non-reliance, the more free they are to contribute to the social safety net that first enabled their own move toward non-reliance. In other words, the more people that can be propelled from welfare recipient to taxpayer, the more resources that safety net will have to repeat the process. Perhaps the ideals can be melded by considering welfare as a kind of social investment. By investing in those who may otherwise fall to bankruptcy and homelessness, the “welfare” system could recycle taxpayer funds in a way that ultimately grows its own resources.

These concessions are not exhaustive, and there are nuances to all sides of these matters—far more than can be even surveyed in these few paragraphs. However, if at least some collaborative discourse can make its way back into the public sphere, the respective insights could illuminate and refine each other.

Reality Changing Observations:

  1. Do we have people with whom we can have reasoned disagreement?
  2. Do we read sources, whether news articles or opinion pieces, that encourage reasoned disagreement, or do we mostly find sources that rile us up about “them”?
  3. How can we identify ways we succumb to easy caricatures rather than consider another perspective?

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