The Left

Let's Not Compromise

Aiden Shaw
Bruce Jenner
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Compromising on equality is always a mistake

In my last column, I argued that we should never compromise in the fight for equality because equality is the moral choice. Refusing to compromise is also the most practical political move for anyone on my side of the political aisle.

In the wake of last year's election, a number of pundits are saying the opposite. Mark Lilla, for example, wrote a piece in the New York Times claiming "identity politics" is "disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics." Because Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party catered to black issues, gay issues, women's issues, etc., they alienated white voters (whose own identity politics is apparently nowhere near as objectionable). If instead they'd only proposed policies that would help people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, Clinton could have won (as I've mentioned before, this won't work).

Variations of that argument have been around for years. Democrats shouldn't fight so hard over discrimination. Or civil rights. Or abortion. Demanding equality without concessions just alienates the other side. Compromising, that would show Democrats respected their adversaries. Once the other side sees that gesture of respect, they'll be won over and then we have peaceful agreement and everyone gets a pony. Only we won't, because dedicated supporters of inequality never compromise for long; those of us who support equality shouldn't compromise either. The anti-equality wing never treats compromise as anything but a temporary cease-fire. As soon as they see an opportunity, they resume the fight for total victory. Unless they win, or decisively lose, they never consider any issue off the table. It's a commitment I could almost respect, if it wasn't channeled into such an immoral cause.

Look at one hot topic, whether businesses should be able to turn away customers for being gay. A lot of conservatives insist that requiring businesses serve gays is a bridge too far, a position that forces them to take an anti-gay marriage stand. In reality, many of them were just as anti-gay and anti-gay marriage before this became the crusade of the month. If the Democrats conceded businesses should be able to refuse gays, the antis would just shift to, say, the right of government employees to refuse service to gay taxpayers as well. Or the antis would sense an opening and push back against gay marriage itself. Anti-gay groups are already looking to refight the Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision if Trump appoints enough right-wing judges.

Likewise if Democrats stop supporting women's right to abortion, the fight would just shift to birth-control (a fight the right is already waging). One anti-Planned Parenthood activist has admitted she'd want Planned Parenthood shut down even if it didn't perform abortions. It promotes the "corrupt" doctrine of planning parenthood and making sex for pleasure an option. As long as women can have sex without risking a baby, we're probably stuck with conservatives fighting to make that impossible.

The only thing that stops bigots is defeat. Roe vs. Wade. Obergefell. The Civil Rights Act. And those victories for equality can be reversed and undone. White supremacists are gearing up to undo 50 years of minority equality. There are still people nostalgic for slavery, theocratic rule and the divine right of kings. It's a never-ending battle for the forces of anti-equality, so those of us who believe in equality have to fight just as hard.

That's not to say we should give up on trying to change hearts and minds. Some people, at least, can be persuaded to switch sides. But negotiating and compromising, conceding that anti-equality is a position worth compromising with? That's a bad as a moral principle and a political tactic.

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Updated Jun 7, 2017 5:46 AM EDT | More details

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