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We desperately need negotiated compromise. But they've been out of that business in Washington so long they must have forgotten how.

To negotiate a compromise, you must deal in the margins, meaning the space containing desired policies you are willing to give up entirely or in part, and undesirable ones sought by your rivals that you're willing to accept entirely or in part.

But you can't negotiate on something you fully believe in principle and that your rivals mostly believe in principle and that an overwhelming majority of the American people also fully believes in principle.


There is currently at work in the country a certain overwhelmingly supported premise of logic, fairness and virtue. It's the one about undocumented persons brought to the country as minors by undocumented parents and raised and educated here from childhood into adulthood through no misdeed of their own, and while behaving all the while in a law-abiding way.

A strong majority of officeholders and citizens believe those people should not be rounded up from their homes and deported to a land alien to them. It is widely held that you don't blame the kids for the sins of the parents.

The principle was woven into a Barack Obama policy that Donald Trump canceled because it was a Barack Obama policy. He said it needed to be provided by a law--a law now hanging in the odd balance of his and his fellow Republicans' nonsensical insistence on negotiation.

Whether to build a wall on the Mexican border, or severely reduce the legal immigration permitted in a calendar year, or tighten the screws on so-called chain migration by which families of descendants get preference--these are policies on which there is negotiating room.

There you're looking for a dollar figure or a quantity:

• How much money will we spend for how many miles of the president's wall this year?

• How many legal immigrants will we permit next year?

• How many and which family members will we let into the country next year?

Everyone can hold their noses and shake hands. Nobody's remotely delighted; nobody's quite aghast.

Government, they call it. Business, some call it. Marriage, I've heard it called. Life, others say.

But about those so-called Dreamers, those sinless children perhaps now grown--on whose continued acceptance in our country nearly all of us agree, by what nearly all of us consider a matter of virtue--there can be no reasonable negotiation.

There are said to be 800,000 of these Dreamers. What are Republicans to do--round up all of them, load them in vans and drive them all to Mexico if Democrats don't let President Trump have his wall and Tom Cotton his reduction on legal and chain immigration?

Or how about this: Republicans would offer that they would accept money for, say, 800 miles of the president's wall, and, in return, say, 700,000 of the Dreamers could stay?

What you'd be doing is telling frightened and innocent people that you want to treat them fairly and protect them, then taking them hostage, then proposing to use as leverage in negotiations your willingness to act immorally toward those people in contradiction of the virtue you profess.

That's precisely what the White House is proposing, as well as Cotton, and as well as the Republican congressional leadership.

They essentially say that, of course, they want to protect the Dreamers, but that they're going to need some border wall funding and chain migration reduction before doing it.

"Give this president some of his wall or we're going to do wrong by these blameless people" ... that's what Republicans are saying.


Trump got confused the other day--or stayed in that usual state--when he seemed to say that all he wants is a clean bill to take care of these 800,000 people.

A clean bill would be a simple one codifying Obama's order, which, in his next breath, Trump made contingent on other immigration issues.

House Majority Whip Kevin Mc-Carthy stepped in to explain that the president didn't mean what the president might have been misunderstood to say.

Trump even seemed to say he's willing to take the heat from the right on a path to citizenship for persons now living here illegally. But he may have had the Dreamers and broader amnesty all gummed up.

Trump seldom understands what he's talking about on policy. He has no guiding policy conviction to fall back on. And he gets a lot of his corrective instruction from his favorite senator, Our Boy Tom Cotton. So his own underlying ignorance and moral vacancy get compounded by mean-spirited extremism.

We need a clean and simple one-subject bill imposing Obama's moral solution protecting the Dreamers.

Then Republicans could put as many things as they want in another broader--and fully negotiable--immigration bill.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/11/2018

Print Headline: The art of compromise

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