Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Statues Built of Snow

                      Harbin Ice Sculpture

                     Harbin Ice Sculpture

There used to be a time when the term “gridlock” referred to an irksome traffic jam on a rush-hour roadway, not a systemic malignancy in the American body politic. Waxing nostalgically, I greatly prefer the former to the latter; at least with the former, one always has the option of either taking an alternate route or simply waiting for the traffic jam to ease up. In the latter case however, there is, generally speaking, no alternate route to take; that's the nature of political gridlock. And what’s worse there is no guarantee that the political hornet’s nest will ever ease up.  

By now, most of us are pretty well conversant with the nature and reality of political gridlock; rarely does anything of significance ever get done because one side spends the lion’s share of its time and energy blaming the other side for all the inaction. Those who are hopeful idealists seek that "alternate route" which will ultimately permit legislation to be enacted; forprogress to be made. That "route" involves compromise, reaching across the aisles, and forcing partisan political orthodoxy take make way for real progress. Remember when politics used to be defined as "The art of the possible?" Today, alas,  political factionalism and feuding have become roadblocks to "the possible - to keeping even the most obvious and necessary pieces of legislation from being enacted. It has also given rise to a whole gaggle of candidates who run on promises of "Draining the swamp," "Reaching across the aisle," and "Seeking to find common cause for the commonweal." Of course, once these folks get elected – assuming they do – they become just about as partisan and case hardened as the people they replaced.  

Feuds - and not just the political sort - are nothing new. It took the Bible all of four chapters to introduce a blood feud into the world - that of Cane and Abel. History is replete with feuds, such as those between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England. And of course, Shakespeare gave the literary world the ultimate fictional family feud between the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet.  In more modern times, Hollywood has manufactured feuds between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and sisters Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine in order to stimulate box office grosses.

The reasons why families, political factions and religious sects engage in feuds are as numerous and varied as the feuds themselves. How and why some last but a few years while others flourish for decades, centuries, and even millennia is a whole other story. Why, as an example, are Shiite and Sunni Muslims still engaged in mortal theological conflict after more than 1400 years; that's difficult to understand without a reasonable grounding in Islamic history. The original schism, which I explained in brief nearly a dozen years ago in an essay entitled Shiites and Sunnis: The Schism That Will Not Heal, explained the "why" behind their mutual antipathy but did not - indeed, could not - come close to explaining why the feud was as powerful today as it was at the time of the Prophet Mohammad's death way back in the year 632 C.E.  

At the same time, the question of why congressional Republicans - who  up to 100 days ago were incredibly unified, speaking mostly with a single voice- are now as factionalized as a coalition of Israeli politicians - that's actually pretty easy to explain. Generally speaking, when a party controls both houses Congress and the White House, it tends to begin devouring itself by devolving into ideological factions, each of which finds it next to impossible to work with those who are not in 100% agreement with their worldview. (The same thing occurred with the Democrats in the early years of the Obama administration when, controlling both houses of Congress and the White House they are the ones who had a hard time agreeing on many issues – especially healthcare.)Just as the Republicans were unified in their opposition to Barack Obama during his two terms in office, so too are Democrats (mostly) unified in their opposition to '45 and the Republican agenda.

What is perhaps most maddening (though not terribly surprising) about the political gridlock which has been afflicting Congress for years is the blatant finger-pointing that passes for progress. In other words, just as Democrats blamed Republicans for being obstructionist during the Obama administration, it is now the Republicans' turn to put the mark of Cain on the Democrats. Although not terribly surprising, it is, as mentioned above, most maddening. Why? Because both parties show themselves to be more engrossed in in the folly of feud then in the art of the possible. Compromise is next to impossible when one is engaged in a feud; the "other side" is no longer a mere competitor – he or she is your mortal, immoral enemy.  

Is there a solution to gridlock and political feuding (both inter--and intra--party)? Can it be solved merely by "throwing the bums out," "draining the swamp," or some other puerile slogan masquerading as political strategy?  I for one believe there may well be, but it's going to take a new generation of political animals who are accustomed to taking the long view -- who understand that real progress not only takes a long time, but patience, professionalism and the knowledge that compromise and capitulation are bipolar opposites. 

In reality, both sides know they are full of it.  It is not merely that "We're going to get back atyou for what you did to us." Both sides know that they are individually and severally responsible for the gridlock. They build houses of straw and then are amazed when the slightest breeze causes the structures they've erected to collapse. Or, in the words of the great Sir Walter Scott, "We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt."

100 days down, 1,357 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone