I certainly do not mean to demean sports. In my opinion, participation in team sports is one of the very best ways to prepare for life. Through my participation in team sports, I learned the value of practice, preparation, competition, teamwork, determination, toughness, and sportsmanship. When I was young, sports challenged you to do your very best. If that wasn’t good enough, you congratulated the other team then you went home and you worked even harder to improve yourself.
Unfortunately, I believe the sports culture took an ugly turn sometime around the late 80’s and early 90’s fueled, I believe, by cable sports networks. It was about that time when I first heard college fans boo the visiting team before the game even started; when I heard sports radio jocks call out and demean amateur players; when I heard fans demonize opponents; when I heard someone pronounce the runner-up of a tournament as the “first loser.”
Whether or not it was coincidental, that cultural change also happened to coincide with the self-esteem movement distinguished by the idea that you’re special; that no one in the world is exactly like you; that it’s bad for you, or your child, to be average. Receiving a C on a report card was akin to receiving an F. Though returning WWII vets were once proud to call themselves “Average Joes,” modern Americans began to consider the term average to be an insult. Everyone seemed to believe that they were exceptional.
Winning and excelling became all important. The long-time American tradition of cheering for underdogs was replaced by cheering for “winners” even if their winning is the result of cheating.
Not surprisingly, that attitude has carried over into our politics. Our politics are no longer about policies and values that will benefit the majority of Americans. Now it’s about winning at all costs. For some, even that is not enough. For them, it’s not enough for their side to win. The other side must lose. They want to punish the “libtards.” They wear shirts saying they’d rather be Russian than be a Democrat. They display bumper stickers that say “Christians cannot be Democrats. Democrats cannot be Christians.” They call Democrats an angry mob. They try to suppress, or even outright block the votes of those who might vote against them. They gerrymander districts to ensure that their political opponents are under-represented. They attack their opponents with horrific lies and attack ads. They dump manure at the doorstep of Democratic headquarters. And they think nothing of stealing the emails and communications of Democratic organizations.
Thanks to people like Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, there is no room for compromise. Indeed, a willingness to compromise is considered a sign of weakness. Such politics go beyond tribalism. For many Republicans, politics are an all-out war against the other tribe. But history tells us that, in order to survive, even the most primitive tribes eventually learned to stop fighting and seek peace. Those that failed to do so were wiped from the face of the Earth.