Galloway on Film: The Art of Negotiation

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It’s time we learned the value of compromise, from Donald Trump on down.

A few years ago, then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher gave a few useful tips on the art of negotiation.

First, he said, always start from a place of agreement, with the points that aren’t in dispute, and move out from there. Don’t begin with where you disagree. Being instantly confrontational works for some things, but a little kumbaya serves you better going into a deal.

Second, no matter how strong your hand, leave something on the table for the other side. You don’t have to get all of the pie to feel full. You can score a victory without obliterating your opponent. That way, one day you’ll both come back to the table without anger or resentment.

Christopher knew what he was talking about. His friends called him 'the Cardinal,' and I assume that was because of his graciousness and effectiveness behind closed doors. The obituaries that followed his 2011 death repeatedly used such words as “courtly” and “gentlemanly,” and he exemplified both traits even while hammering out the toughest of deals.

He was the chief U.S. negotiator who orchestrated the 1981 release of the American hostages held in Iran; he helped President Carter win ratification of the Panama Canal treaties; he was instrumental in normalizing relations with China; and he was the man Los Angeles entrusted to recommend serious police reforms following the 1992 riots.

Like all of us, he had his failings: He never did bring about peace in the Middle East, and was criticized for not being more aggressive when he led Al Gore’s team after the disputed 2000 presidential election.

But he was a master of give-and-take, which is at the heart of any successful negotiation. He showed that compromise is possible and even necessary in the long-term, for the sake of civilization as well as one’s own longevity. He proved that one can surrender one’s darlings, and still maintain one’s integrity.

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That philosophy is now under assault.

If there’s anything the past presidential election has shown us, it’s that many of this country’s citizens (maybe most) are in no mood to concede anything or even think of meeting the other side halfway.

If give-and-take was Christopher’s guiding principle, take-and-take has become the mantra of our times.

It would be easy to target Donald Trump as the avatar of this; after all, his decision to retain both his businesses and his executive producer stake in The Apprentice — all while serving as president — certainly fits the mold, and there’s a certain irony to the fact that the man who wrote The Art of the Deal seems to embody the very opposite of everything Christopher stood for.

But both political parties have become more deeply entrenched in their own sets of beliefs, so many of their members preferring to fall on their swords than accept the kind of brokered change that might make lives better.

More and more, people are seeing things in terms of black and white, right and wrong, heroes and villains. And when you don’t perceive different shades, it’s hard to acknowledge that your opponent may not be entirely one color.

The gray zone is fast vanishing from public thought, and as a result, it’s vanishing fast from private thinking.

We see that all the time with the talking heads that dominate political debate. Ratcheting up the extremes, they offer problems but no joint solutions. They push us further and further apart, even when they might be bringing us together.

When I first arrived in America, the news was neutral, trustworthy and at least nominally objective. Now it’s unashamedly partisan. It’s a game that encourages people to take sides, and the more they lean to one side, the further they are from the other.

The so-called pundits are human battering rams, their goal to destroy each other rather than build each other up. They reflect the times, even as they’re helping to change them.

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Here in Hollywood, 3,000 miles away from America’s epicenters of power, we think we’re immune to all of this. We operate in our own private sphere, a vector that rarely intersects those of Washington and even New York.

But the larger trends of the country inevitably will spill onto the West Coast. The patterns of behavior we soak in from our daily newsfeeds, from each tweet and Facebook posting, will impact us subconsciously, even if our conscious minds reject them.

The evidence is there that it’s already happening. Just like the rest of the country, under a glad-handing surface, Hollywood simmers with the desire for conflict, not resolution. Why else would so many agents have made Sun Tzu’s The Art of War their bible, rather than, say, Christopher’s Chances of a Lifetime: A Memoir?

And that’s seeping into the entertainment we create. The reality shows that have dominated so much of recent television promote the idea that it’s fine to treat people badly, as long as you win in the end. Fighting, not fixing, is at the heart of even our biggest blockbusters.

The very producers who most espouse a liberal point of view have abandoned it in these movies, subtly encouraging a Trumpian attitude even as they claim to renounce it. Our superhero pictures are all about good guys versus bad guys, about bashing the enemy rather than working with him.

Has any superhero picture created a character like Nelson Mandela, who recognized he had to work with apartheid leader F. W. de Klerk in order to achieve his dreams? Has any major producer sought to film the story of Juan Santos, the Colombian president (and newly minted Nobel Prize winner) who led his country to peace after decades of war, largely by agreeing to forgive his enemies’ crimes?

In today’s movie business, just like in politics, the good guys look better if they’re beating up the bad ones — or even beating up the other good ones, in the case of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War.

It’s been decades since we’ve seen a Warren Christopher-type portrayed in a positive light — a man of peace and principle, a man who believes in the pen as well as the sword. The last such characters I can remember were Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars.

You’d be sorely pressed to find anyone like them in Rogue One.

For more Galloway on Film, please check out the archive.

 

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