SALT LAKE CITY — Every week seems to be filled with tumultuous and unnerving happenings of both the natural kind and the manmade (or perhaps self-inflicted) kind. But there are often voices of reason that rise up, and this week was no exception. The challenge is identifying those reasonable voices.
First the bad news. Twenty-three people were killed when a tornado-birthing storm ripped through Alabama last week. President Donald Trump and the first lady visited the storm area and met with the relatives of the victims, offering words of comfort that resonated in this state often refered to as Trump country.
The president signed at least one Bible at Providence Baptist Church at the request of a 12-year-old boy. That brought a smile to the boy and a ray of hope to others, and many heaped thanks and praise on the president for coming. But it also brought the president a round of condemnation by others, including a religious man by the name of Wayne Flint, according to an account published in the New York Times.
“It’s a desecration of the Bible for he obviously pays no attention to any of it,” Flint, a historian and ordained Baptist minister, told the Times. “I was deeply offended.”
Thus we see that the same act and at times the same words can bring opposite reactions. That has become part of the nation's daily reality, and we see it over and over again as political positions on all topics are staked out and motivations for the words or actions of others are assigned, often by those with no real knowledge of one's intended desire or motivation. When done intentionally it weaponizes words and actions and eliminates any real search for compromise or solutions to problems.
It's why it sometimes feels like the country is in a constant state of bickering.
So it was with a sense of anticipation inside the newsroom last week when Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson invited longtime public servant and former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman to participate in Matheson's Deseret News Podcast, aptly titled "Therefore what?"
Lieberman has been a Democrat, an independent, a vice presidential candidate, and a man that now has the wisdom of years that makes him a friend and confidant of people from all political stripes. Friend and foe may not agree with him, but they respect him. And respect is the foundation upon which compromise and solutions can be pursued.
Consider this comment from Lieberman:
"The ability to get something done depends on your trust in the people you're working with."
That's simple, but vitally important. The Deseret News, led by Matheson, is exploring the damaging ramifications of "instant certainty."
Says Matheson: "We've been talking a lot lately that one of the inhibitors to that kind of trust is this instant certainty. That with the internet, and national media in particular, that we have to have this snap judgment."
Lieberman: "Yeah, well, first you just pointed to a really important problem that doesn't get much attention, which is that we're in an age of such rapid communication and rapid attack and counter attack in politics that people often feel compelled to do something that we didn't always feel compelled to do during my years in the Senate, which is to give an instantaneous response or to counterattack immediately for fear that the attack will gain certainty, stability in the minds of people following it, particularly on social media. I mean, sometimes it was reasonable to say, you know, I haven't thought about that enough to respond to that yet. Just give me a couple of days, right?"
Earlier in the podcast Lieberman noted that he was in the Senate for 24 years, and the final two years — 2011 and 2012 — were, in his words, "the least productive of the 24 for me personally, and also for the Congress. And it was because probably in every one of those years, with exceptions, partisanship seemed to become more deeply ingrained."
He used the word "rigidity" to describe this partisanship, which erodes any willingness to move toward the center from left or right. Put another way compromise is seen as a weakness or loss.
Lieberman, then, became this week's voice of reason when he identified all this in a concept: "The integrity of compromise."
He credited the phrase to Abraham Ribicoff, a senator from Connecticut, who had an impact on how Lieberman would conduct himself as a legislator.10 comments on this story
"(Ribicoff) once gave a speech, which he called 'The Integrity of Compromise.' In other words, to compromise in a democracy is not dishonest. It's a way to get something done. It's not to really compromise your principles, but to just not expect to get 100 percent every time you have a piece of legislation. Because if you demand 100 percent you'll probably end up with zero percent and everybody suffers."