Any student of English literature has at least casual knowledge of the works of the great William Shakespeare. Among these is “Macbeth,” which relates one of the greatest cautionary tales of the corrupting influence of power, in which the protagonist recites one of the most powerful and riveting soliloquies ever penned. The tragedy culminates with Macbeth’s renowned rumination human nature, “[Life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

While many people may disagree with Macbeth’s rather pessimistic outlook on existence, that particular slice of literary genius has a fascinating corollary in our times — political discourse.  Regardless of where one’s views fall in the political spectrum, there is  one thing everyone can agree upon, namely, the fact that the “other side” just isn’t listening to them. Politicians’ treatment of this impasse in American politics has not typically been to propose a compromise on policy positions but instead to simply scream louder than their opponents.

Disagreements among politicians are natural and to be expected; divergence of opinions ought to lead to dialogue, dialogue to compromise and then compromise to legislation. To make this happen, both sides must eventually cede some of their prerogatives in the interest of reaching a mutually satisfactory outcome. In a rational world, it would be simple to see that this process would benefit both sides in that each would realize some, albeit not all, of their priorities. Of course, rationale is sadly absent from American politics.

Attempting to reconcile the present state of political discourse with the air of compromise that prevailed when our political system was founded in 1787 is a remarkable endeavor. Contemplating the  quantity of differening political interests among the Revolutionary generation, let alone among the Founders themselves, boggles the mind.

From Federalists to Anti-Federalists and slave owners to abolitionists, the American leaders of the late 18th century managed to construct an equitable series of compromises. Although there were no political parties to speak of at the founding of this nation, these examples of pragmatic negotiations  encapsulated the spirit of compromise  referred to these days as “bipartisanship.”

Today, it is considered a major political concession to even meet with the opposite political party. Some politicians today seem to feel that to give even an inch of political ground would be betray the Founders’ core principles.

A recent Gallup poll found that a whopping 12 percent of Americans approve of the performance of Congress. This statistic lies in the ballpark of dismal or downright murderous. News headlines frequently feature terms such as “gridlock,” “stalemate” and “standoff.” More and more voters are becoming disenchanted with politics, which is to say nothing of the alarming lack of basic knowledge about our political system. Can you name all of your state’s U.S. senators? The good news is that there are only two; the bad news is that you probably can’t.

What the average American does know, however, is that Congress is in a state of arrested development. But knowing the problem does not amount to knowing how to solve it.

It is unfair to lay the blame solely at the feet of democratically elected public servants. After all, someone had to vote them into office in the first place. Equally unfair is the narrative asserting that today’s Congress operates in an environment that is akin to the political atmosphere of bygone eras. It is at best a dubious assumption that the Founding Fathers envisioned the day when Super PACs would give multinational conglomerates their “rightful” voice in our political system.

The practices and habits that have kept our political system healthy and vibrant for so long have slowly faded away. Once upon a time, the works of Cicero, Plato and Socrates were considered academic essentials. Nowadays, learning the names of all 50 states is considered marginally important, and the difference between past and present participles downright superfluous.

The only question that remains is what, if anything, can be done to restore — the will to compromise. All over the world, the Founding Fathers’ contemporaries predicted the swift demise of the fledgling state in the New World. Never before had any democracy survived for long. Time and the ingenious nature of the Constitution proved the skeptics wrong and created the strongest nation the world has ever seen.

However, the very thing that made America unique is in danger of disappearing entirely under the weight of the “sound and fury” of idiots. In the words of legendary comic strip philosopher Pogo the Possum, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”