There has been a lot of chatter lately about the virtues of compromising. A recent poll indicated that a majority of Americans want the political parties to compromise in Congress (although respondents weren’t asked about which issues there should be compromise). The well-worn trope is trotted out that there are extremists on both sides who need to be reined in with the spirit of compromising moderation.
Maybe folks forgot the lessons of the great compromiser Neville Chamberlain. This great diplomat thought he could avoid war with Hitler by compromising with a fascist, thereby ceding European countries to this power-hungry dictator. How did his “move to the center” work out? An emboldened Hitler grabbed as much territory as he could from compliant compromisers and then proceeded to wage war anyway.
Folks are now urging Ukrainian President Zelensky to compromise with another villainous dictator, Vladimir Putin, as Russian missiles rain down on his country destroying vital infrastructure and killing innocent civilians. I, however, commend his principled leadership as he vigorously and uncompromisingly defends his people and his country.
Of course I agree that in many mundane situations, compromise is the civilized way to go, especially when the consequences of compromise are not that significant. Why should toddlers refuse to compromise on eating vegetable lasagna when their preference is pizza? I say: “Listen to your parents and eat your vegetables. Compromise. The pizza will come another day.” Our own Congressman Fitzpatrick is an expert on compromising on meaningless issues, raising it to a political marketing art form. But I digress.
Our compromise lovers also trot out how wonderful that our Founding Fathers (no Founding Mothers here who, if you remember, were uncompromisingly not allowed to vote for quite some time) made a Great Compromise to found our great nation by allowing the institution of slavery to continue unchecked. Said the slave-owning compromisers: “Those freedom-loving abolitionists are extremists who should never be listened to. Come to the middle and let slavery live.” Maybe our wise Founders should have asked the slaves who were being tortured, raped, lynched and had the fruits of their labor stolen from them every day how they felt about such a Great Compromise? Decades later a great civil war had to be fought to correct that mistaken compromise over a fundamental moral truth resulting in much destruction, thousands of deaths and a legacy of systemic racism that sadly lives to this day.
Scratch the surface of a compromiser and sometimes you will uncover self-interest, duplicity, cowardice, or blindness to moral principles. I, instead, admire the great abolitionists who remained true to and spoke out about their moral principles and were willing to fight to end the scourge of slavery.
I therefore also admire all the people (including my relatives) who fought the forces of fascism during World War II, risking their lives to end an ideology of racism, autocracy, antisemitism and hate. Instead of compromising with fascists, they risked their lives for freedom and democracy.
Today we find ourselves in tumultuous times where our fundamental American principles are under attack. The forces of fascism (racism, antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny, etc.) are on the rise. Our very democracy is under siege. We also now face another moral issue: the very ability of our planet to sustain life (not only ours, but the lives of so many other species) because of our unwillingness to confront the reality of human-induced climate change. What will the compromisers say to the last living member of a soon to be extinct species? That its very existence was simply a concern of extremists? I guess so, as the oceans rise and fires, storms and drought ravage the world.
So I ask. Should we compromise with fascists, racists, bigots and the science-deniers? Or should we stand firm and speak out for the fundamental principles of democracy, equality, and truth and for the preservation of the life-sustaining capability of our planet Earth?
It’s your choice as to what kind of person you wish to be. But I will stand with the old abolitionists, with all those who oppose fascism, with the lovers of democracy, and with the life-loving environmentalists – without compromise.