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Friday, November 17, 2017

Forget Policy, Politics Is Just Team Sports

Everyone wants their preferred team to win, and that's just as true of politics as it is of sports.

Go, team! Come game day, our boys are going to mop the floor with your guys. It’s a rivalry that goes back almost as long as the game itself, and we’ve got a score to settle. Never mind that the players today aren’t the same ones who made the team great originally. Heck, they’re not even the same town. They’ve bounced around from team to team, sure, but today they’re ours! And never mind that ownership of the team has never remained a constant, with billionaires with no connection to the sport able to buy and sell franchises as a way of boosting their portfolio and/or their public profile. Never mind that literally the only thing the members of this so-called team actually have in common is the color on their uniforms. We’re loyal fans, and by golly, we’re going to stay that way for as long as it takes!

Red vs. Blue

Okay, I admit it. I’m not a sports fan. I don’t get the tribal celebration of one group of players over another, a grouping that can change every year at draft day and magically transform cherished heroes into hated villains. But for many Americans, team sports fandom is a way of life, and it’s time to accept that this mentality doesn’t stop when the season ends. It carries over into politics too.

Trump wants to deport illegal immigrants, but Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president ever. It’s a bitter pill for guys like me to swallow, those who obsess over policy minutiae and fret about the governing philosophies of politicians, regardless of which party they belong to. But the truth is, most people don’t care about policy at all. They just want their team, the Red Republicans or Blue Democrats, to win.

Don’t believe me? You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice the incessant drumbeat in the mainstream media and across every social media platform that Donald Trump is the worst human being ever to occupy the oval office (or possibly, depending on your news source, to exist at all). But what makes him so bad, or at least so much worse than his predecessors?

Trump wants to deport illegal immigrants, but Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president ever. Trump is perpetuating several wars (Democrats are still anti-war, right?) but he didn’t start those wars. Most of them were started by, you guessed it, Barack Obama again. The Leader of Code Pink, the anti-war group, has even admitted that it was difficult to get supporters to protest Obama’s wars in the same way they protested George W. Bush.

Much has been made of Trump’s “locker room talk,” and I’ve even heard people call him a rapist. But during the scandal surrounding Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky in the late nineties, there were plenty of Democrats who were loath to think ill of the president, and there remain plenty today. The abuse of power of a sitting president propositioning a White House intern is far worse than a mere bawdy conversation held in private, but no one wants to criticize the leader of their team. 

Everyone’s a Hypocrite 

As a libertarian, I don’t like many of Trump’s policies and have no interest in defending them. But the truth is that Trump hasn’t really done much of anything that previous presidents, Democrats even, have done more aggressively. So why does the left hate him so much? Simple, because he wears red instead of blue. He’s not on their team.

I’ve had conversations with friends who were convinced that Bush was a war criminal, but who worshipped the ground Hillary Clinton walked on. Republicans are not immune to this syndrome either. Things that made them howl with rage under Obama are met with only muted concern, if any, now that Trump is in office. For example, the tax plan now working its way through Congress would have been denounced as the work of a tax-hiking socialist if it had originated from the Obama White House. Now, Paul Ryan, who once claimed to be a disciple of Ayn Rand, is cheerleading a plan that will increase taxes on many Americans. Where’s the outrage? When Obama said “I have a pen and a phone,” referring to how he intended to circumvent the normal constitutional process to push his agenda through, Republicans went nuts. But executive action is tolerable under Trump, not just because it results in outcomes his supporters favor, but because he’s the leader of “their team.”

This is why it’s so hard to have a productive conversation with people on the opposite side of the aisle. I’ve had conversations with friends who were convinced that Bush was a war criminal, but who worshipped the ground Hillary Clinton walked on, despite her relentlessly hawkish foreign policy positions. My mistake was trying to use policy arguments to persuade people that the politicians they are voting for don’t care about women or minorities or peace or jobs or privacy. I was baffled when these arguments failed, but the reason is simple: the voters don’t care about these things any more than their representatives do. They just want the blue team to beat the red team.

I’ve heard the presidential election referred to as the Super Bowl of politics. It’s only recently that I’ve realized this is no metaphor. For all too many people, they’re literally the same thing.

  • Logan Albright is the Director of Research at Free the People. Logan was the Senior Research Analyst at FreedomWorks, and was responsible for producing a wide variety of written content, research for staff media appearances, and scripts for video production. Logan also managed the research and interviews with congressional candidates used for endorsements by FreedomWorks PAC. He received his Master’s degree in economics from Georgia State University in 2011, before promptly setting out for DC to fight for liberty.