Border Wall Debate Ignites National Conversation on Value of Compromise

This Friday, with the partial government shutdown extending well into a fifth week, federal employees are set to miss a second paycheck. Still, there is no end in sight as the border wall debate stands at a stalemate.

The president wants a border wall. Democrats call it immoral. The dispute has since ignited a national conversation over whether ‘compromise’ is a national value, and if so, what a compromise would entail in this situation.

Compromise (verb): to settle a dispute by mutual concession.

Over the weekend, the President proposed what he called a “common-sense compromise.” The plan offers temporary protections for more than one million immigrants in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. The proposal also includes $12.7 billion to assist regions impacted by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he plans to bring the plan to the Senate floor for a vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) dismissed the President’s offer as “not a compromise but more hostage taking,” arguing the President’s first order of business should be reopening the government – not negotiating immigration reform.

Meantime, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is proposing a different solution and as House Speaker plans to bring forth legislation that includes $1 billion for border security – including 75 more immigration judges and infrastructure improvement. But with democrats not offering to include funding for the wall, the President has said he wouldn’t sign the legislation and McConnell says he won’t bring it to the Senate floor.

Throughout US history, prominent Americans have expressed different takes on whether compromise is a noble value.

  • “Compromise’ isn’t supposed to be a dirty word. It is, in fact, how representative democracy works.” Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA)
  • “The ‘morality of compromise’ sounds contradictory. Compromise is usually a sign of weakness, or an admission of defeat. Strong men don’t compromise, it is said, and principles should never be compromised.” Andrew Carnegie, American industrialist, business magnate, and philanthropist.
  • “Healthy disagreement, debate, leading to compromise has always been the American way.” Former Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri (R)
  • “Unless you are willing to compromise, society cannot live together.” Former Chair of the Federal Reserve of the United States Alan Greenspan

Mahatma Gandhi, widely recognized as one of the twentieth century’s greatest political and spiritual leaders, said “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”

For the President, the “fundamental” he refuses to compromise on is safety/protection. President Trump tweeted this morning, “Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security.”

For democrats, other “fundamental” values take priority, including accountability, effectiveness and inclusiveness. Pelosi has said, “A wall, in my view, is an immorality. It’s the least effective way to protect the border and the most costly. and an abuse of presidential power.” Rep. Adam Smith, the new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has said Trump’s campaign for a border wall is rooted in “xenophobia and racism.”

While for some, compromise comes down to making mutual concessions, or as Gandhi called it “give and take”, for others, there can be no compromise given the debate for them is about not compromising on higher priorities.

Questions to consider: Is compromise a personal value? Is compromise appropriate in the border wall debate? Why or why not? What other competing values (or “fundamentals”) take priority, if any? How will this debate influence you moving forward?

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