Somewhere along the line, compromise became a dirty word | Whale’s Tales

It’s out there.

The charge that lawmakers who cede the slightest ground to others with whom they disagree politically are traitors to their party and unfit for public office.

People who make this claim favor rigid absolutists to the party line with their hair on fire. And if the people they vote in are avid to poke a finger into the enemy’s eye, well, so much the better.

When did people with whom we disagree morph into Satan? When did it become a disgrace to be reasonable in the quest for better laws to live with?

Somewhere along the line, many of us abandoned the difficult but often crucial work of talking to one another, and compromise became a dirty word.

This my-way-or-the-highway mentality is actually antithetical to the American way. And with hyper-partisanship stalling progress on terrible problems, such as the mass killings that now spill American blood almost daily, the refusal to considering any side but our own is shooting the floor out from under our own feet.

Our nation’s founders were not stupid. They were aware that it would be impossible to get a mere handful of people, much less hundreds, in one room to settle and solve vexing problems without a lot of hollering and screaming. They expected people of goodwill would work it out.

And, at our best, we Americans have.

The one notable epoch when we stopped talking to each other altogether split this nation when it was only 85 years old into a civil war, in which 600,000-plus people died.

I’ll let you judge: have we dug up that sort of strife again?

If it happens, I know a number of skunks whom I’d blame. Those talking heads and demagogues who, for their own selfish reasons, have convinced Americans that any middle ground is a no-man’s land, that the only thing in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe. Day after day, they pour the lie into willing ears.

The result is that ideological purists have tossed a wrench into the gears of government, at a moment when our nation faces existential threats including climate change and homelessness.

I consider these hucksters the flesh-and-blood embodiment of Grima Wormtongue in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Wormtongue, that oily lackey of the evil wizard Saruman, whispering his deceits into the ears of King Theoden, keeping him and his kingdom helpless before dark forces that lusted for their downfall.

In that condition, with enemies at the gate, Theoden remained, spell struck, incapable of independent action, until the wizard Gandalf broke the spell and freed him.

I wish there were some way to make that spell work in the world we inhabit. To free people from the prisons of their own minds, make them fellow countrymen once again, who are willing to talk to each other, instead of screaming.

I believe hyper-partisanship played a role in the zero sum game parties the Washington State Legislature played in the lead up to their recent failure to enact meaningful changes to the state’s drug possession laws.

In the 2021 case State v. Blake, the Washington Supreme Court struck down a law that made simple drug possession a felony.

In response, legislators passed a stopgap bill that made possession of illicit drugs like fentanyl a misdemeanor. In April, state lawmakers failed to agree on legislation regarding illegal possession.

The upshot is that if the state Legislature does not come to a meeting of minds in the special session Gov. Inslee called last week to identify new drug possession laws, all the laws now in place will sunset on July 1, 2023. To be prepared, Washington cities are scrambling to write and enact new laws in consonance with one another.

What we have here, from the Dr. Seuss tale, are stubborn North-Going and South-Going-Zaxes. Because they are stubborn, they refuse to go in any direction but their assigned directions. Should a South-Going Zax meet a North-Going Zax, they cannot settle their beef and the world moves on without them. In time, a north and south going highway is built over them and a city rises nearby, yet there they stand arms folded, glaring at each other.

I tell myself, such a ridiculous thing couldn’t happen in the real world. No way. But then I look at our current political malaise – and damn it, I see Zaxes.

Robert Whale can be reached at