There is No Winning Team

Every time I scroll Facebook or Twitter, I am reminded of the election. I don’t want to think about it right now. I still have a bit of a numb feeling. It reminds me a lot of when my Kansas City Royals lost the 2014 World Series. I’ve been a rabid Royals fan all of my life, and after losing Game 7, I felt disappointed and like the build up that gave me so much hope that October had been taken away.

After that game, I stopped reading about the Royals for a long time. I didn’t obsess over them that offseason. I couldn’t read the think-pieces about why Alex Gordon didn’t try to score from third on a shallow fly ball. Sure it would have been risky, but it could have been the difference. I hated the Giants for a long time after that too. Madison Bumgarner’s name still irritates me.

Then came 2015. They played more games. They won a lot of them. We returned to the World Series and won. It was magical. Not quite the same after losing the year before, and experiencing that disappointment, but still incredible. I grew up dreaming of that moment, and to fall short really hurt me, but winning in 2015 helped heal that.

Politics are a lot like sports. We treat our candidates and our parties like opposing teams. This is unhealthy, by most accounts, and has likely contributed to the polarization in our society. There are some fans who love a good story, who enjoy the game, and then there are some who are provincial, loyal to their core, and haters of those not like them. What kind of sports fan are you? I’m a little embarrassed to admit I am the latter. I love my hometown team. I’m loyal to them. I want them to win. And I’m a hater otherwise. What type of fan are you?

Is this how I am politically? I don’t think so, or at least I don’t want to think so. It’s no secret I am liberal. Yet, I, like many of my friends who grew up in middle America, have always been reluctant to embrace or take on the Democrat label. Indeed, I find myself critiquing the DNC quite often. As I kid, I leaned right. It was mostly because of my surrounding, the influence of my family, and lack of education about the world and the people in it. I’ve never felt particularly tied or represented by either party. Yet, last night I was clearly on team blue. I don’t really care for Clinton and I disapprove of her style of politics and many of her policies (she is so easy to critique) but she was the clear choice. So too were some local Democratic candidates (that also lost). They best fit my views.

Politics, to me, are not about morality or conscious. It’s all about compromise. It’s about understanding you may view the world one way privately but also recognize subjecting everyone to the limitations or your views is unfair. It’s about seeing others and trying to accommodate both views. What type of political behavior do you engage in? Is it inclusive?

Team politics blur this, I think. It creates a myopic and oppositional view of your team versus their team. It dehumanizes the other side acting as a barrier to understanding. As a sports fan, this is OK. Rivalry is fun and important to sporing traditions. Narratives of us versus them are inspiring and amusing because it is just a game; it’s just entertainment. Sure, sometimes fans get violent and unruly, but that is rare. The other great thing about sports is that there is always next year. My team may lose, but we’ll have another chance to win before too long.

The pain many Americans are feeling is not just because their candidate lost and the opposition scares them. It’s the the realization that there is no next year. Instead, the next “big” election is four years away. The build up and excitement crashed down into disappointment because we’re left with an oppositional winner that we fear because the narratives of the game have told us to. I’m not saying Donald Trump and his election rhetoric is not scary, but the overwhelming fear and dumbfounded feeling we have is, at least in part, a product of the Team Narrative, which encourages us to imagine our opponents as sick and vile, and see their fans in a certain derogatory way. We’ve been conditioned to operate this way. And when we lose, we’ve been told there’s another game tomorrow night, next week, or next year. The next game helps us get over the last. It gives us a new opponent, new hope for winning, and a reason to keep improving.

Although I didn’t follow the Royals too closely during the offseason between 2014 and 2015, I stayed abreast of their moves. The front office analyzed its weaknesses and worked to improve the team. They signed new players, drafted young talent, and rebuilt their roster for the new season. In 2015, we won the most games in the American League, and used our experience from 2014 to march through the playoffs and into the World Series. And we won.

For some, the “next year” in politics is the 2020 presidential election. For others it is 2018 midterms. This means the next two to four years are our offseason. What do we do to make our “team” better? I hope that step one is to think beyond our “team.” We need to try to better understand our country, all of it. We also need to work to make sure our country — and everyone in it — better understand us. How well do you know the other side? How well do they know you? The answers to those questions point to, I think, the disunity of the country. Unlike sports, politics are not entertainment (even if the media treats them that way), there is no us versus them, it is all about us.

One thought on “There is No Winning Team

  1. Nick Sacco

    Great essay, Andrew. You and I share a lot of the same ideas on party labels and the function of politics, i.e. the importance of compromise. Since I’ve entered into the realm of adulthood (which for me is around age 22) I’ve been leery of affixing any sort of labels onto my political beliefs, largely because I reject any attempt to put them into a small box that doesn’t account for the many influences that shape those beliefs. Thinking of politics as a team game leads to sloppy, tribalist thinking that is bound to be accompanied by glaring hypocrisies and logical shortcomings. Worst of all, as you allude to here, I think it leads to one assuming that everyone on the “other” team has the worst of intentions and that everyone on “my” team always has the best of intentions, which in turn leads to unnecessary divisiveness and fewer opportunities for compromise and coalition-building. At the end of the day I am far more interested in what people say and do rather than attributing a label to those actions.

    Reply

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