This week’s Courier Herald Column:
This week we celebrate Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America.
There’s just so much wrong with that sentence it deserves to be deconstructed before moving on. Christopher Columbus, as we know, didn’t actually discover the America we live in. There wasn’t an actual discovery at all, as there were some folks already living here. He did, however, manage to spend some time in the Caribbean while telling his bosses he was in India.
And as far as “celebrate”… Well, there’s usually a mediocre sale at most department stores. Federal employees get the day off, but a lot of them aren’t coming to work these days anyway. And have you ever heard of anyone having a Columbus Day dinner? Seriously, what is the food we’re supposed to celebrate Columbus Day with anyway? Let’s just say it’s a scramble dog from the Dinglewood Pharmacy in Columbus – the Georgia city named for the Italian man that didn’t exactly discover America.
Regardless, we have a Monday in October to celebrate the discovery of America. Perhaps instead of buying some new sheets or a vacuum at a discount, we could instead spend some time re-discovering it.
The basis of Columbus’ discovery was rooted on capitalism and trade. His mission to sail west wasn’t one rooted in science or discovery. It was spurred by a profit motive, an attempt to find a superior trade route to the Far East. Throughout our history, we have sought to trade with those around us to make us a stronger people.
Trade, of course, exists for only one reason. It by definition is designed to make both parties better off. If either party is not strengthened by a trade, then the trade will not happen. When one party gives up some of what they have in abundance for something that they find scarce, they have improved their economic standing.
Value is created when parties can find the basis for a trade. When both sides refuse to give, there is by definition less to take.
The America that Columbus didn’t discover – that which is known by a system of individual rights and a representative government – has also developed along a system of trade. This, however, has always been a bit of give and take. Our founding fathers understood this. While they each brought their own ideology to the table when making decisions that framed our great nation, they also brought the pragmatism of businessmen skilled in the art of making a trade.
Thus, our founding documents on which America is founded are the result of epic battles over principle, but are themselves the result of compromise. Ultimately, the items that were needed to make a deal were included. Those that stood in the way were discarded.
The system of compromise and trade in government continued along for almost a century before some decided they could no longer trade, that compromise wasn’t an option. The War Between The States showed us that America as an ideal only thrives when opposite sides continue to work together. The War costs us about 620,000 lives as the result of direct combat. The economic devastation to parts of the country lingered for decades.
And yet, even after a period of time where the enemy was us, one where brother fought brother, we managed to find a way to continue to work together in an effort to make us a great country. One where individual effort and mutual cooperation provides social opportunity, upward mobility, and economic prosperity.
We approach this week again with high vitriol from those we have elected to represent us. These are not happy days for those in government, and they are reflecting the general intransigence of those who elected them. And they are us.
Trade and compromise do not mean that we are just losing faster, as some have adopted as a mantra. If it does, it means we’re doing it wrong.
Trade and compromise have a history dating back to both the roots of our government and to the discovery of the land in which we live. It is a part of us. It is required for us to continue. For us to thrive. For us to prosper.
In a week where we give the slightest of nods to discovery, the art of compromise is a skill which we need to rediscover. It’s something we used to understand was the path to our ultimate benefit. Done correctly, it is the only path for us to get to prosperity again.