Thanks to the Republicans, the federal government has been gridlocked for the last six years. The GOP almost shut the government down in 2015 by refusing to compromise with the White House on a budget deal. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, refused to even set a date for the Senate to discuss President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, saying it was up to the next president to nominate someone. As Election Day neared and a Clinton victory seemed likely, Republicans said they’d be willing to block a Supreme Court nomination for the next four years. The Democrats looked on, smugly declaring that the Republicans were never willing to compromise and had sacrificed good government on the altar of partisan loyalty.
But now that Trump is about to take the White House, the Democrats and those who caucus with them on Capitol Hill have changed their tune. Recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren stated, “We do not compromise, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.” Democrats praised her for her absolutism. A day later, Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted that there would be “no compromise” with the new president. Democrats lauded him as a hero, one of the last bulwarks for social justice in America.
A ‘no compromise’ stance might work in a nation that is entirely homogeneous, but America is not that nation. If our government is going to work, there must be compromise on budgetary disputes, on nominations, and, yes, on social issues. The Democrats were happy to blame the Republicans for gridlock during Obama’s terms, yet now they are just as happy to support Sanders and Warren for preparing to do the exact same thing. Somehow, all thought of bipartisan bills or compromise in any area has disappeared. Better, the Democrats seem to think, to make the government not function at all than to give up even an inch.
As a Democrat, I can admit that there are issues on which I would not want to see compromise. However, the Democrats are dismissing any possibility of compromise before the president-elect even takes office, simply because they think cooperation with Republicans is impossible. In fact, the two parties also agree on many issues: criminal justice reform and encouraging economic growth, for instance. While there is some disagreement on how to achieve these goals, there is still plenty of room for compromise from the Democrats and the Republicans. Both sides seem to have forgotten this, though, and in 2016, a bipartisan bill intended to reduce the number of sexual assaults in the military—a cause both parties supported—almost didn’t pass, just because Democrats and Republicans were loathe to work with each other.
This is not to suggest that Democratic members of Congress ought to roll over and allow the Republicans to do whatever they want, nor is it to say that Republicans should have catered to President Obama’s every whim. However, vowing to never compromise—no matter which party does it—should never be rewarded. Our government is built on compromise. If Democrats want to defend their constituents over the next four years, it will be through seeking common ground with Republicans, not by fostering an us-versus-them atmosphere that ends all meaningful conversations before they start.
Instead of trying to lay the groundwork for future bipartisan cooperation, Democrats spent the last six years complaining about how Republican Congress refused to govern and blocked President Obama at every turn. Now, with a Republican about to enter the White House, those very same people are the ones yelling the loudest about how they will never compromise.
Not all the Democrats have adopted this strategy. When Donald Trump won the national election, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, set to work on building a political relationship with the president-elect. Schumer is seeking common ground with the new administration instead of deciding immediately that the Republicans and president-elect share no goals with the Democrats. Schumer’s decision to compromise and open communication between the two parties will likely yield better results than vowing—as Senator Warren and Sanders did—to block every bill Republicans try to pass. And yet, Schumer is in the minority. Most of the Democratic Party has flooded towards Sanders and Warren, agreeing that it is better to stop the government from working for anyone than to compromise on any issue.
The American people need to stop rewarding politicians for refusing to budge on any of their beliefs and start rewarding them for actually doing their job: namely, passing bills. We elect Congress to govern, not shut down the government by refusing to compromise. A Congress that can’t agree on a budget is as useful as a Supreme Court with no justices.