Monday, January 28, 2019

Some thoughts on current events in the States of the Union

The end of the government shutdown was not “caused” by what was happening at the airports, that was only, at best, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back or the tipping point, or we can say that the cumulative impact of sundry reasons, some more significant than others, prompted Trump and his administration to finally relent to more powerful forces. The reasons, in a loose causal sense, were set in motion before the airport mess. 

One more and perhaps obvious thought: all this commentary and punditry about the putative reality or imminent possibility or inchoate fears and dangers associated with the Democratic Party “moving to the Left,” are sheer nonsense. Let’s not forget how far to the Right the Party I grew up with has moved at least since Clinton (keeping in mind that it has never been a Left political party, even if it has occasionally been inspired by or borrowed ideas from the Left). The masses can be moved in an ennobling and emancipatory fashion to a higher ground: the Party need not appeal to some hallow or shallow “middle ground” or the lowest common denominator in choosing a Presidential candidate. No doubt whoever that candidate ends up being will disappoint or even anger some on the Left, who have long entertained unrealistic expectations about presidential elections in this country, such that the best or ideal becomes, all things considered, or consequentially speaking, an enemy of the (common or public) good (there is no savior or messianic figure). One wonders how many of those who voted for Jill Stein or refused to vote (out of disgust or because they saw themselves as above the fray or even holier than thou) or gave Trump their “protest” vote, would do the same again. We may not like, as we say, having to yet again choose between the lesser of two evils, or even settling for a smaller rather than greater good. Conditions, situations, and circumstances in our world, especially the conventional political world, are mixed with varying portions of good and bad, and we must continually assess what mix we can settle upon while persevering in our struggle for a better mix in the future, one we hope someday will be clearly characterized as a case in which the forces of good predominate.

I would like to share an abstract, stylized model of two forms of “interpersonal” compromise (with implications for ‘intrapersonal compromise,’ although the latter will not be broached here) from Chiara Lepora and Robert E. Goodin’s book, On Complicity and Compromise (Oxford University Press, 2013), a model I think speaks to the kinds of compromise the Democratic party invariably makes when deciding on its presidential candidate, and which aims to satisfy the existing and even “laundered” preferences of members of the Party as well as potential independent voters and perhaps even some Republicans (at least in the 2020 election) as well. 

The first type of compromise is called “substitution compromise” by Lepora and Goodin and involves each of the parties setting aside their original principles (for our purposes, ‘values and policy preferences,’ both domestic and foreign, although the emphasis is more on policies than values), substituting their original principles or conflicting respective sets of values and policies (agent 1: A, B, C, D; agent 2: E, F, G, H) for an altogether different principle or set of values and policies (X and Y). While I think this may be what appears to happen from the vantage point of some voters, especially those well to the Left of the Party or of “independent” suasion, and thus occasionally occurs, I don’t think it’s the most common sort of compromise that takes place in arriving (through arguing and bargaining) at an agreement upon the candidate for President. Agents 1 and 2 regard X and Y as good, but X and Y is considered by both parties to be less good than their original principles or sets of values and policies. Agreement to X and Y of course occurs because it is deemed “better than what will occur in the absence of any agreement between them.” 

Another type of compromise, the kind that occurs more routinely within the Party, is termed an “intersection compromise.” In this case, agent 3 holds one set of values and policy preferences: I, J, K, L, and the agent 4 subscribes to set K, L, M, N. Here we have both conflict and some overlap, and thus the parties can agree to compromise on the respective parts of their overlapping sets: K and L, although the mere fact that there is overlap does not mean there will be instant agreement on the subset, as its likely that the parties will still indulge in some measure of arguing and bargaining before settling upon K and L. In the word of Lepore and Goodin: “Neither agent thinks that subset is actually better than his or her own full set of original principles [or ‘values and policies’], but each thinks that achieving that subset is better than what may occur in the absence of an agreement between them.” It is this intersection compromise that is (or at least should be) commonplace within Democratic Party politics. Those “holier than thou” or dispositionally self-righteous will wash their hands of such compromises while basking in their moral and political purity, clinging to their respective and conflicting original sets come hell or high water … and we got both with the election of Donald Trump. (The third kind of compromise identified by Lepora and Goodin is not germane to our discussion.)


Post a Comment

<< Home