This has been a busy week what with Putin’s war in Ukraine and Old Handsome Joe’s State of the Union address and a number of other odds and ends like the convoy slowly making its way to DC to protest something or other and unemployment falling to 3.8% from 6.4% a year ago.
One thing that both the war in Ukraine and Loaded Boebert and Mad Dog Greene’s heckling of the president during his congressional address makes clear is that real danger of the sportisification of our politics. I mean, the needless completely avoidable deaths of a million real live dead Americans by an utterly controllable deadly pandemic should’ve already alerted us to this realization, but, you know, it didn’t. The sportisfication of our politics also explains why McConnell doesn’t want to run on a policy platform; he wants to run on a vilification of Biden and the Democrats platform and reap all the hate voting, instead.
Most pundits hardly take notice of sportification of our politics, partly because they profit from fanning those flames. Since Ye Olde Blogge makes no profit, we are free to objectionably write about issues more objectively with objectionable being the operative term there.
The Sportification of Our Politics
The University of Pennsylvania political scientist, Dan Hopkins, has posited that the average American talks and thinks about politics as if it were a sports team and that we are just the fan base for a sports franchise’s “nation” a la the Cowboys Nation or Lakers Nation. Just like we cheer for our favorite sports team and trash talk the other side, we are simply cheering for a political party and hating on the other parties not because of anything more important than we identify with the party or team.
In other words, politics is no longer about policies and outcome, it is about blind loyalty to your team and hating the other side.
The problem is that nothing much changes whether the LA Rams win the Super Bowl or Cincinnati Bengals win the Super Bowl. The next morning, we all go on with our lives, even the rabid Cinci fans continue on with little or nothing having changed for them. They are Bengals fans, they are used to disappointment and losing, amirite or amirite? I’m right, right?
Dire Consequences of the Sportification of Politics
Not so with politics. If Greg Abbott is governor of Texas, 246 real live dead Texans needlessly lost their lives in the Great Winter Storm of 2021. Neighbors stalk neighbors in the hopes of winning a $10,000.00 cash prize for turning them in for seeking or aiding and abetting an abortion. The state hunts the parents of trans youth.
And, let’s not get started on all the states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA or the Repube governors who refused to follow public health guidelines in combating a pandemic and purposefully made it worse.
Sports don’t cost people their lives, politics, do. There are people walking around dead today who would be alive if it weren’t for knee-jerk Repube opposition to Democratic laws and policies over the last fifteen years.
Causes of the Sportification of Politics
Nowadays, there are few local issues that will sway a vote. We evaluate all of our politicians based on how they relate to the national political positions of the two major parties. This is why we’re electing school board members based on their stance on critical race theory. Everything in US politics is defined as being part of the national political picture. Nothing is local any more. Like it or not, you’ve got to vote that way until we can decouple local elections from national again.
When we root root root for the home team or that sports nation that we identify with, we set off a cascade of chemical reactions in our brains. Namely we activate the wanting-and-liking system in the mesolimbic reward system. This is the system that is working when you want to do just one more thing. Like when you’re binge watching a TV show, you want to watch just one more episode. Or you’re doom scrolling your social media, you just want to look a little bit further down your timeline. Or you’re watching a ball sport on the TV, you want that game to go on forever.
Having that reward system activated, feels good. That’s the purpose of the reward, to reinforce you getting another. To keep you going after something that is helping you. Only, sports don’t really help us, do they? They don’t particularly hurt us, either. It’s harmless enough, but it does become a big part of our identity.
A similar thing is happening with politics nowadays. When we trash talk the other side, just like in sports, we get a big hit of dopamine in the reward-and-liking system. That’s why the sick meme that totally owns the other side gets all the shares and likes on social media.
This is why McConnell doesn’t want to run on a legislative agenda in 2022. He knows that the Democrats can run attack ads based on any policy they advocate, and attack ads are what garner votes. Once again, McConnell is playing the Repube rank and vile for the patsies that they are.
The Dire Consequences of the Sportification of Politics
So, now we’re stuck with Tweedle Dipshit and Twattle Dumbshit in the House standing up and howling at the moon during the State of the Union address like they’re common parliamentarians heckling a common prime minister, and passing it off as politics. The problem with treating our politics like we do sporting events is that politics matter a bit more than sports do. Politics affect people’s lives. Politics determines who lives and who dies.
If it wasn’t clear enough after our reaction to vaccinating and masking to mitigate the #COVID19 pandemic and save lives, or our reaction to curbing our use of fossil fuels and to slow climate change and save lives, then the war in Ukraine might be.
There is something about seeing the bombed out apartment buildings in Ukraine cities, watching panicked mothers trying to herd their children on to trains to escape the onslaught, hearing the cries of children in subway tunnels turned makeshift bomb shelters that tugs on the heartstrings, especially when they are all as lily white as the average MAGA Nation supporter. Especially, when the cities look like American cities or at least European ones.
There is something about seeing the average Ukrainien being handed an assault rifle and ammunition and told to prepare to fight off the oppressor that appeals to the deep masturbational fantasy of every Second Amendment Come-And-Take-It gun nut in America. They’ve been salivating over using their guns to fend off the jack booted government thugs for three generations or more. They can’t help but see themselves in the Ukrainiens in this fight.
If sportified politics is about identity and identity is about recognizing yourself in others, then the rank and vile can easily identify with the middle class white Ukrainiens now running for their very lives. No amount of Putin rimming by Tucker Carlson and Trump and other Repubes is going to change that. Our very model of a modern stable genius praising the savvy genius of the Kremlin is not going to change that. Perhaps that is why the Ol’ Pussy Grabber has changed his tune and is blowing less smoke up Putin’s ass and attacking Biden as being dumb, even as Biden is widely praised as having unified the West in opposition to Putin’s invasion.
Supporting Putin’s invasion of a European liberal democracy is clearly — undeniably — supporting the literal authoritarian assault on the West’s way of life. It may be just a little too clear and plain in ways that Putin’s assault on our democracy and disinformation campaigns were not.
Ukrainien resistance to Putin’s aggression resonates more deeply the American revolutionary psyche than any mere policy position could.
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