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Politics are not Sports, and when Voters become Fanatics, No One Wins

Sunday Evening Editorial: By Joe Malburg

Liberals are whiny, arrogant, entitled hypocrites. They are so clueless. They want to destroy the fabric of America. They want open borders, will allow pedophiles to use the bathroom of their choice to victimize children, support the murder of unborn children, hate God and Country, don’t support our troops, are coming for our guns and will turn the streets into lawlessness and chaos by de-funding the police and empowering looters and rioters. Liberals push political correctness and cancel culture, but only for conservatives. The left is just a bunch of socialists and communists just waiting to turn America into Venezuela. How could anyone ever be so dumb as to vote Democrat, liberals are ruining this country.

Conservatives are backwards, racist, redneck assholes. They are so clueless. They want to turn this country into Nazi Germany. They want to keep immigrants in cages, hate all LGBTQIA+ people and minorities, are obsessed with guns and violence, do not respect women, defend the criminal elements of the police and military and would sooner let this country become a fascist dictatorship than see progress that disrupts their white privilege. Conservatives push their religion on everyone and use it as an excuse to spew hatred. The right is a bunch of selfish, entitled bigots and bullies ready to hand America over to the rich. How could anyone ever be so dumb as to vote Republican, conservatives are ruining this country.

This is what happens when we start by defining other people instead of letting them define themselves. When we use groups and labels as substitutes for individual people, it creates a shortcut to hate. It’s hard to hate your neighbor who gives your dog treats over the fence, but if you assume their Trump 2020 sign means they support white supremacy, hate away. It’s difficult to see the guy next door who shovels your sidewalk when it snows in the winter as the enemy, but if his support for Black Lives Matter makes him an Antifa terrorist, who wouldn’t give him a dirty look. This dehumanization allows us to not see people we disagree with ideologically as the person who changes our oil or makes our latte, but instead as an “other”, someone who is a part of a group that stands against all the things you stand for. This is what is happening in America right now, on social media and in our own backyards. We no longer see each other as Americans in the fight together, but as right and left and more starkly, right and wrong. In a country that promulgates the notion that “United We Stand, Divided we Fall”, it seems foolish to think we can survive such divisiveness forever.

Politics in America has undergone a decades long metamorphosis from civic responsibility to sports entertainment. It starts when you pick a team, and just like in sports, where you live and who the people around you follow has more than anything else to do with which team you pick. And just like in sports, where it is impossible for you to have a team where everyone is both a good person and good at their job, so it is when it comes to political parties. You’d never agree with every decision the leadership of your favorite team makes and likewise, is it really possible you agree with one party on every single issue? But sadly, as with sports, in today’s political climate, folks just want to win. They will look past a lack of honesty, character or conviction if they can just be sure their team will win. Fan is short for fanatic and fanatics are fast to justify every decision, defend every mistake and always point the finger at corruption in the system or from their opposition as the reason for any defeats.

There is an old saying about Michigan football, the winningest program in college football history, “they never lost a game, they just ran out of time.” The same sort of blind faith and extreme reverence for one's own “side”, funny when it comes to football, has now pervasively permeated our political parties. “My” political party/candidate is never wrong, and if they are, the other side is even more wrong. That’s why supporters on any side can see so keenly the flaws of their foes while somehow averting their gaze from their own worts and foibles. In reality, we should know better, especially those of us who are sports fans. There is no surer way of destroying a franchise than ignoring the shortcomings and repeating bad practices. Fans who continue to show up and support a team that is an objective failure only empower that team to keep failing. The best supporters of and more importantly, members of an organization, worry little about what their opponents do other than to be prepared for how to combat them. Instead they focus on improving themselves and coming up with better personnel and strategies to prepare for success. A true winner looks in the mirror for the solutions to their problems, not elsewhere for someone to blame. We’ve come to a point where we have to look at ourselves critically before no one likes what they see anymore.

Whenever you find yourself at a crossroads, it’s important to ask, how did I get here? It’s hard to remember or tell for sure if we have terrible choices politically because we started putting party over people or if we started putting party over people because of the terrible choices we’ve had. One important factor to reflect on is that despite the tremendous weight that the two major political parties carry in our system, it is independents which make up the largest chunk of American electorate. While each party constitutes about 30% of voters, more than 40% of people identify as independent. That number has been steadily rising for decades despite the fact that we feel more polarized than ever. This seems like a positive trend and overall, I think it is. Where it complicates things is that people are fleeing from what is perceived as the middle of each party, leaving a vocal and sometimes extreme minority to lay hold of greater control. So as the parties become smaller, they also become more fervent in their enthusiasm for themselves and more obstinate towards their rivals. The parties don’t come to the people in the middle with reasons why they are the best choice so much as they try to pull people towards their end of the spectrum by revealing the horrors of their adversaries. The result, again, is more and more people feeling alienated by both parties and the cycle continues.

If we want to change the current course we are on, we can’t keep repeating the same mistakes. We can’t keep trying to define other people's beliefs based on our perception and perspective alone and we can’t keep forcing people to move from the middle towards the margins. We have to live with each other after this is over, there will not be winners and losers after election day, just Americans. Historically, America has come back from worse divides. The Civil War most obviously, but the Nation has been tested many times before and since. At every crucial inflection point in our history America has faced a challenge that threatened to tear it apart and instead, ultimately brought us closer together. Let’s make a conscious effort to focus on the things that can bring us together today. Our love of country, family, community. Our compassion and courage as individuals and as a nation and our shared commitment to making America a nation that is an example for the rest of the world. Change starts from the bottom and moves up. We can’t wait for our leaders to change their tone, we must force their hand by being the change we want to see. The quickest way to stop hating someone or something is to understand it. If you want to change your attitudes towards people who think differently and change their attitudes towards people who think like you, get to know them. Understand what they really mean and really want. Listen and learn, don’t wait to talk and tell them how wrong they are. Don’t think of someone who is pro-choice as supporting the murder of unborn children, let them explain what that means to them. And don’t assume someone who is pro-life doesn’t respect womens rights, listen to what their stance means to them as well. Don’t ascribe bad motives or a lack of proper morality, ask for clarification when someone (especially someone you respect and/or care about) says something that sounds ignorant or hateful or just wrong. And finally, don’t focus on the differences, but instead work on finding common ground. Find the things you agree on when it comes to issues you disagree on and build from there. Understanding someone else is the fastest way to be understood, yourself. It’s also important to know the rules and history of the game you’re playing. I grew up playing basketball and every now and then when we played a zone defense, I (usually as the tallest player) would camp out in the middle of the paint and block shots and get rebounds. Whenever I was successful enough to frustrate opposing fans, I’d often hear someone from the crowd calling for a three second violation, which is assessed to an offensive player when they stay too close to the basket for too long. There is no such violation for defensive players until the NBA level. The opposing fans were calling for a violation that could only be called on their own team at that moment. Their passion for the game exceeds their knowledge of it and as a result, they end up saying something stupid and rooting for something not in their own best interests. This happens with politics constantly. Sports fans and political junkies often act like experts while having very little actual knowledge of the subject. Most people who claim to “have done their research” don’t even know enough to know how much they don’t know. Be willing to learn, not to change your opinion, but to strengthen it. When someone tells you you have a fact wrong, listen and if you do, concede that point. You don’t have to change your beliefs based on facts, but you can’t change facts based on your beliefs. A good rule of thumb in politics is to know your history. Before you weigh in on the Supreme court vacancy, understand how the process for filling such vacancies has been carried out historically. Knowing what's happened before can inform you on what will happen next.

Politics, like sports, is not about winning or losing, but how you play the game. But let's make one amendment to that, lets stop treating politics like a game, especially locally. In sports, it’s called Sportsmanship, in politics it’s just called kindness. We get all fired up every four years when a presidential election rolls around and in recent years that fire is never fully extinguished in between trips to the polls either. But the election is not the end, but rather the beginning; what you do after the election to hold our representatives accountable has far more impact on our lives than all the bickering we do leading up to our selection. Remember that you still have to work, live and co-exist with people of different ideologies for the entire time in between elections. If your candidate wins in November, act like you’ve been there before. Be humble in victory, look to build bridges while holding your candidate accountable. If your candidate is defeated, don’t pout and root for the country or community to fail. Be gracious in defeat, concede to the winner and give them room to reach out to you. . Regardless of who you voted for, the winner of the election represents you, and you should use that power for the benefit of everyone around you. And finally, let go of labels. Being liberal means something different to most people you think are liberal. And being conservative means something different to most people you think are conservative. Let’s start valuing people and community more than party and ideology and remember that the main thing that separates politics from sports is that unlike in sports, where the Lions play against the Packers, as Americans, we are all on the same team. We can only succeed together and we will only fail if we remain apart.


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