Workers at BWI hold a rally protesting their wages and calling for an end to the government shutdown. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
Many commentators frame the battle between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer as a battle of leverage. Each side uses its leverage to advance its proposals, and neither side wants to do anything to give up its leverage: the government shutdown on the president's side and Democratic control of the House on Speaker Pelosi's and Senate Minority Leader Schumer's side.
The problem with the negotiation — or lack thereof — is that each side is obsessed with using the leverage that it has and unwilling to give up an inch. When you have this kind of situation, the negotiation may fail, and something else will have to happen in order for things to change.
Witness the failure of competing shutdown bills Thursday. The GOP version mirrored a proposal from the president that Democrats called a non-starter, and the Democratic version contained no money for a so-called border wall, which the president considers a requirement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says no State of the Union address in Congress until government reopens.
The question arises, however, whether leveraging might get us out of this struggle. Before we get into the details, it is useful to distinguish three different kinds of leveraging: bargaining leverage, financial leverage and resource leverage. The three kinds of leveraging bear what philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called a "family resemblance" to each other; they do not have exactly the same structure.
In bargaining leverage, the most well-known type of leveraging, the goal is to use your leverage to get the best bargain.
In financial leveraging we use a small investment to purchase an expensive asset (like a house); we are not really competing with anyone in this instance.
And in resource leveraging, there is no direct negotiation going on at all, although typically there is some kind of competition. Businesses, for example, leverage resources to gain competitive advantage over other businesses; they leverage IT, relationships, whatever.
In all forms of leveraging a minimum effort is used to create a maximum effect with the use of some mechanism, which serves as a fulcrum.
So the question before us is which leverage can be used to resolve the struggle between Trump and the Democrats? Bargaining leverage seems to be going nowhere and financial isn't quite right here. But what about resource leveraging?
Perhaps the people of the United States, or at least a good number of them, could lead the way out of this mess by leveraging resources in order to move the two sides toward compromise. The most obvious resource to leverage is information technology — the internet and social media. Polls taken from 1,200 people do not literally give voice to the people; rather, they are statistical tools that try to represent what the people think.
A petition with 20 million signatures or 100 million signatures, on the other hand, gives voice to a substantial number of American citizens. A petition has the added benefit of tradition; it is an old concept rooted in our Constitution, which gives citizens a right to petition their government (First Amendment). Perhaps it would be effective in this context.
If so, then resource leverage would overtake bargaining leverage; indeed, it would take the struggle outside of the boxing ring of bargaining leverage and create a new dynamic. But whether it is a petition or some other kind of resource, the people of the United States — Democrats, Republicans and independents — need to loudly and clearly voice their opinions about the government shutdown and immigration.
Civic organizations of all stripes need to unite in order to determine the most effective way to use resource leverage to motivate our politicians in Washington to end the shutdown and arrive at a compromise in the immigration debate.
Traditional bargaining leverage is getting us nowhere. It's time to shift.