Our Founding Fathers were wise to establish a nation that can only be ruled by a consensus of citizens, in common agreement over goals and means. This is not the same as compromise, or the abandonment of principle for the sake of cooperation. Consensus, by contrast, is the search for, and achievement of, common ground. It means the setting aside of areas where we differ in favor of those where our interests overlap.
Self-government by consensus is at the basis of the American ability to organize, innovate and achieve extraordinary results in pursuit of an ever- changing set of common goals. It is creative, adaptive and future-oriented. Such government has worked through most of American history, but there were times where the search for consensus broke down. In many instances, the nation needed a common enemy to rally around to unite the nation, with WWII as an example.
Today both political parties are dominated by the rigid ideology of their more extreme elements. Their goal is to defeat the other side rather than to seek common ground. With the nation fairly evenly split this can only lead to gridlock and further conflict. Today’s political environment makes it easy to understand the disdain our Founding Fathers had for political parties. Against this backdrop, a look at the recent gridlock between Cliven Bundy and the BLM in Nevada is instructive.
This is ultimately a battle about land usage, who has the right to use the land and how. The Bundy family insists that Cliven is right to freely graze his cattle on the disputed land just as his father did. The BLM claims that times have changed and Bundy follow the law by paying his past fees. Bundy says he would be happy to pay grazing fees to the state of Nevada because these are Nevada lands and the federal government shouldn’t control Nevada land. It is easy to see the arguments on both sides. It seems unreasonable that the federal government should control 87% of Nevada land, yet we are a nation of laws and everyone should follow the law. Mesquite/Bunkerville residents seem evenly split as to who should win this standoff. Senator Reid promises “this isn’t over” and two decades of resistance suggests the Bundy’s aren’t prepared to back off either.
The situation reached the point of armed conflict as extreme elements rushed to the scene with loaded guns. There seems to be some common ground as Bundy has agreed to pay back fees but the root of this conflict is control and the feds may not be willing to give up control. This decades old conflict in many ways is symptomatic of America’s many problems that seem unsolvable. Even though the nation is split on so many issues, political leaders continue to divide us. Many think the nation is headed in a very dangerous direction and gridlock is intractable.
As a new resident to Mesquite, I had two reactions. First, I was reminded of my tour of duty in Berlin when the Russians closed the border between East and West Berlin. About once a week, we would rush to the border to face Russian soldiers. We weren’t too concerned as we had no ammo and were certain the Russian soldiers didn’t either. Then one day they broke out the ammo and civilian casualties occurred. One soldier on either side could have triggered a serious military conflagration.
My other reaction is that this serves as a microcosm of many of our nation’s problems today: gridlock, no solutions and an uncertain future.
Maybe the “Bundy v. BLM” conflict will force Nevadans and Americans to take a serious look at what our Founding Fathers intended to see if we can’t find solutions to the nation’s needs that all Americans can support.
Without the threat of a common enemy the question remains: can self-government by consensus remain the basis of American greatness and an example for the world, or will we continue to engage in the win-lose politics of extreme factions with the only outcome the destruction of the “other side?” Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing……after they have tried everything else.”
Have we tried everything else? Are gridlock and a jobless, weak economy all we can expect? Is America’s greatness in the rear-view mirror as we continue to fight amongst ourselves while rogue dictators assert their brand of leadership around the world? Can we return to the Founders’ design with government that works for “We the People?”
Frank Shannon served in the U.S. Army, was an engineering/operations manager for AT&T for 27 years, was the owner of a small manufacturing business for 23 years, served as Colorado Chair of the Coalition for a Prosperous America and moved to Mesquite in 2013.
Born in Poland, Jacek Popiel was educated in Africa, Canada, and the United States. He speaks five languages. His career spans military and international business development in the Soviet Union, Eastern and Western Europe, North America, and Japan. He is currently a freelance writer and political consultant. His book “Viable Energy Now,” grew out of his military and international business experience and his professional involvement with energy issues.