» KEY POINTS
- When someone who was perceived as my adversary and I teamed up and learned to understand where the other one came from, we were able to create lasting and important change.
- This is a lesson that our representatives in government need to learn.
- Is there someone who is willing to reach across the aisle and discover that more can be accomplished together?
We were on a conference call and Tony was taking a shellacking.
All the managers seemed to be completely against Tony’s recommendations and approach. It was then that I spoke up. Not only did I vigorously defended Tony’s point of view, but provided further evidence from the field about why he was correct and how it would impact the work we on the front lines actually did that the managers seemed to be disconnected from. There was a noticeable pause from the others.
You see, it was well known in the company that Tony and I did not get along. Some might even describe us as enemies; perhaps even Tony himself would agree. Our personalities were completely contrary, and our arguments—oftentimes in front of co-workers—were well documented. Tony had even told an apocryphal story about me to a filled-to-capacity room during a breakout session at a company meeting. I was furious when I found out afterwards, but the damage to my reputation was done.
Thus, when I came to Tony’s defense, it caused a bit of a stir. If the two of us were not only in agreement about something, but were working in tandem to make it happen, then there might be something to it. It seemed the others were beginning to doubt their own positions, but the victory was short-lived. The rest of the people in the meeting picked their jaws up off the floor, gathered their wits, and summarily dismissed and overrode our concerns. Our fledgling alliance was already destroyed.
After everyone left, Tony called me up directly. Apparently, my coming to his aid has struck a chord within him and he wanted to thank me. I told him, “Tony, it’s no problem. What you were saying was the truth, and I will always come to the side of truth.”
Our relationship fundamentally changed that day. Though we had lost the battle, something much more valuable was gained. We never stopped having differences and disagreements, continued to take distinctive approaches to work and life, and were never even close to what anyone would consider friends. However, Tony and I came to an understanding of each other and recognized where the other one was coming from. From these seeds blossomed a functioning and beneficial association, one that did result in real and actual progress. Some years later, Tony was given the reins to head up a new division for the company. He invited me to join him and create the role he knew I had spent my career pitching the need for—giving me every resource I would ever need, including his full support. And I would have taken him up on the offer... if I did not already have plans of my own to leave the organization. As such, we parted ways, but on the best of terms.
» THAT WEIRD UNCLE AT THANKSGIVING
The approach I took with Tony is the same as I take with everyone and everything in life. I will not dismiss people out of hand just because I do not like them or we are diametrically opposed. From my perspective, not listening to someone just because they belong to a different tribe is why we make so very little progress in the world.
This, too, is my standing on politics. Just because I argue against the unnatural oligopoly power of the Republican and Democratic Parties, it does not mean that I contest and resist everything they do. I take a look at each proposal on its own merits and make up my mind about it—whether in the end I am proven correct or not.
So yes, I could hate 95% of what came out of Donald Trump’s mouth, but that meant there was 5% that I wholeheartedly supported. For instance, I agreed with him about the need to pull our troops out of Afghanistan and backed the lowering of personnel levels. Or, due to my own background, I was a proponent of moving the embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—which was also a requirement of a 1995 law that passed in an overwhelming bipartisan manner 347–37 in the House of Representatives and 93–5 in the Senate. Others, even my own friends, disagreed with these decisions. And that is okay because we can diverge on specific policy beliefs and still appreciate one another. What I could not tolerate was dismissing these pronouncements just because of who they happened to come from.
This also means I do not blindly follow people who are more agreeable to me. Just because I found Joe Biden’s agenda generally more palatable than Donald Trump’s, it does not mean I unconditionally bowed to his will. In reality, though I aligned with Joe Biden more than Donald Trump, that number was something like 15–20% of the time. Going back to that Afghanistan example, while I supported the removal of soldiers, the methodology (or lack thereof) by which it was done and the abandonment of people who aligned with us there was untenable to me. Similarly, Joe Biden restored funding that Donald Trump took away from the UNRWA on just the promise that the organization would stop providing to schoolchildren materials that contained components that incited violence and spread antisemitism—a promise they had made and broken multiple times in the past.
Again, though, these are policy beliefs; neither right nor wrong. You may believe the UNRWA’s overarching mission is critical despite its flaws and therefore want that funding restored. Or you may believe the United States should not have combatants deployed abroad under any circumstances and therefore pulling out immediately is the preferable route, no matter the consequences. While we may disagree on the actions that should or should not be taken, I can still listen, learn, and respect where you are coming from.
Can you do the same for me?
» WHAT DO YOU WEAR TO THE BEACH?
Unfortunately, the “Tony Approach” is not widely followed in the halls of Congress or anywhere in government circles. If we return back to the aforementioned Afghanistan withdrawal, what we often see are politicians not fighting for a steadfast belief, but against the positions of those who wear an opposing-colored shirt or cheer for a specific animal.
On June 22, 2011, then President Barack Obama let the world know the United States was done with Afghanistan and was preparing to start drawing down the troops. The plan would take three years, wrapping up in the summer of 2014. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was not satisfied with this timeframe and stated, “It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of US forces would happen sooner than the president laid out, and we will continue to press for a better outcome.” In other words, Mrs. Pelosi was closer to the camp of those who wanted to get the soldiers out of Afghanistan, damn the consequences.
Yet in November 2020—more than six years after the withdrawal was supposed to be complete—when President Donald Trump announced his plans to get all combatants out of Afghanistan, Mrs. Pelosi had a harsh response. In her press release, Mrs. Pelosi wrote in part:
Our military and allies deserve strong, smart and strategic leadership to protect America’s security and that of the region... We can ill afford to lose the hard-won gains in the pillars of security, economic development and governance made in Afghanistan.
In particular, she attacked the lack of planning, coordination with allies, and consideration for those who provided support on the ground. Yet a mere nine months later when Joe Biden was President and oversaw a chaotic, humiliating, poorly planned, uncoordinated retreat that left behind all those “hard-won gains”, Mrs. Pelosi put out a tonally divergent press release that said in part:
Once again, I want to acknowledge the clarity of purpose of President Biden’s statement and the wisdom of his actions.
Of course, she is not the only one to change her tune. After Mr. Trump’s November 2020 announcement, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) was one of the loudest cheerleaders calling for the immediate and expeditious withdrawal from Afghanistan, going so far as to write a letter to the Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller that could best be summed up as: “Hurry up!” And this was hardly a new position for the Senator; a year prior he gave a speech on the subject of the “endless wars” of our times:
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) gives a speech on America’s approach to international politics, economics, and military intervention in November 2019.
His opinion seemed resolute as in April 2021 he disparaged President Biden for extending the deadline for the full withdrawal past the May 2021 endpoint set by his predecessor. However, when the day came that President Biden gave him everything he had always asked for, he had nothing but criticism, going so far as to ask for the President’s resignation.
We could go on with these flip-flopping illustrations for eternity, and there are plenty of counter-examples with politicians who have maintained a position for 20 years—even denouncing their own Party when they failed to acquiesce. Regrettably, these non-team players are not the loudest voices, and they are steadily being replaced by those whose only ambitions are that their Party has more power than the other one. They stand for nothing.
» SEPARATING THE ART FROM THE ARTIST
In December 2021, a fight was ongoing about the debt ceiling. Virtually no Republican (there is always an anarchist or pyromaniac in the bunch) wanted the United States to default on its debt payments for the first time in history. To do so would have been economically and politically suicidal and would have immediately sent the world plunging into a recession—potentially even a depression. And that type of economic collapse, on top of a worldwide pandemic that was hardly under control, could have taken decades to come back from.
Yet despite not wanting to default on our debts, for optics reasons—optics they created by knowingly lying about what was causing the need to raise the debt ceiling—Republicans, save a handful, were unwilling to vote for the necessary legislation. To wit, the compromise appeared to be that they would allow a change in procedure that would make it possible for Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own without a single Republican vote, if necessary. Though Republicans desired the end result, they refused to be the harbingers.
Moreover, when Republicans attacked Democrats for their hypocrisy on the issue, they were also accurate. Though President Joe Biden claimed that raising the debt ceiling was traditionally a bipartisan measure, as recently as 2006 then Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and the rest of the Democratic caucus forced Republicans to raise the debt ceiling on a Party-line vote. All the reasons, tactics, and politically charged recriminations were the same.
To vote with their conscience would have been tantamount to showing tacit support for the other Party, their sworn enemies, not their co-workers that just approached things from another standpoint. Yet it is still not beyond hope that one day someone from across the aisle will stand up for Representative Tony; someone who appears to be his nemesis. Then on that day they will realize that they are not opponents, but that they can fight...
The above piece is an excerpt from Always Divided, Never United: And Other Stories During a Time of Pandemics and Politics by J.P. Prag, available at booksellers worldwide.
Learn more about author J.P. Prag at www.jpprag.com.
An earlier version of this article appeared on Medium.
About the Creator
J.P. Prag is the author of "Compendium of Humanity's End", "254 Days to Impeachment", "Always Divided, Never United", "New & Improved: The United States of America", and "In Defense Of...", and more! Learn more at www.jpprag.com.