Our Views: More than a handshake—it's citizenship

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Not enough controversies end with a handshake between foes as happened Sept. 11 after the Janesville City Council granted a liquor license for Rooster's Barrel and Wagon Works at Fairview Mall.

A neighbor and the establishment's operator, Ed Quaerna, shook hands, despite neither side getting everything it wanted from the meeting. Neighbors near the mall wanted the council to deny the license application, while Quaerna lobbied against imposing more stringent conditions on its approval.

In the end, the council settled on a closing time of 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Quaerna wanted to stay open until 12:30 a.m., similar to nearby competitors Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings.

The handshake represented a ceasefire in the weeks-long battle, signifying each side's willingness to work within the parameters set by the council. In other words, Quaerna and this neighbor decided to be grown-ups.

If only we had more grown-ups making decisions and guiding discussions at both the local and national level. Those lessons learned in elementary school—to make up after a fight, compromise when possible and protect the weakest among us—have been replaced by a kill-or-be-killed attitude. Too many politicians, neighbors and business interests rely on partisan sniping and brinkmanship to achieve their objectives.

Many commentators blame President Trump for this uptick in divisiveness, and he is no doubt adept at appealing to people's most base instincts. But a decline in civic-mindedness has been years in the making.

Once a prerequisite for participating in our democracy, citizenship today is often treated like an outdated style of doing business. The purpose of politics is no longer to advance or strengthen our democracy—it's about getting what you want and to heck with the greater good. It's too often about winning by any means—defeating your opponent through manipulation, deceit or bullying.

Bipartisanship and compromise cannot flourish in such a toxic environment, though we have started to see signs some people are getting fed up with the 24-hour-rancor cycle. At the local and national levels, calls for bipartisan agreements on legislation for spending, health care and immigration suggest more Americans are waking up to the insanity of winner-take-all governance.

The bipartisan spending deal struck between Trump and Democratic leadership this month represents, if not a newfound respect for compromise, at least an acknowledgment that perpetual political combat has achieved nothing.

Demonstrating how politics should function at the national level begins in the chambers of our state capitols, city councils and village boards.

To put this nation on a better path, we need more people working to identify areas of common ground among competing interests.

Whenever possible, political adversaries should seek compromise. The Janesville City Council compromised in approving the liquor license for Rooster's Barrel and Wagon Works. It felt denying the license would be unfair, but it acknowledged the neighbors' concerns by requiring the establishment to close earlier.

People should approach problems with an expectation they're not likely to get everything they want. But they might get something if they strive to find common ground with their opponents.

And a handshake never hurts.

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