Game Recognize Game

In this spot, which all three of you have been breathlessly refreshing all throughout the election cycle, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the sportification of politics — the way that people, especially ones with the least to lose from the actual policies being enacted by winning parties, tend to treat politics with the same approach they would sports fandom.  The debate thus becomes less over the substantive difference between two political ideologies and the methods they employ to win elections and more over which side you happen to be on and how bad you want victory.  That this is happening is really no surprise, since the time is long past when the ultimate goals of Democrats and Republicans were substantially different; it’s not hard to think of politics as sports when both sides are basically competing for the same goal.  It would be different if one side wanted to score more goals and the other side, say, wanted to tear down the stadium and replace it with a communal garden; but in the absence of real oppositional ideology, we end up getting a contest where the terms are narrowed to which party will start the most foreign wars, or do the most to reduce social welfare spending.

It’s no surprise that, since politics have become sports, that sports are rapidly becoming politics.  That’s always been the case to a greater or lesser degree, with NASCAR occupying the social territory of Tea Party types and baseball being the last bastion of urban liberals (socialists used to like soccer before the new-money types got hold of it), but it’s really become pronounced in the most recent election cycle, with the ultimate result being that within a single fortnight, I’ve had to face up to two nightmarish occurrences:  the certainty that our next president will be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and the even more terrifying reality of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.  Not only has this been a worst-case scenario for me personally, as a fan of the now-forgotten White Sox, unluckily the last team to win the championship before the age of social media, but it’s been an excuse for the worst people on social media to trot out their most fatuous political sports analogies.  Even in the era of the thinkpiece, these have been unusually thick-headed and dumb; but, combined with the ascension of a team so simultaneously entitled and hapless, they’ve become downright toxic in their arrogant stupidity.

The most common ‘hot take’ is that the Cubs represent Hillary Clinton, the scrappy underdog that nobody believed in but who achieved victory through pluck and perseverance, while the Cleveland Indians represent Donald Trump, because they have a racist cartoon for a mascot.  This is idiotic on every level.  For one thing, you pretty much lose the right to be identified as an underdog the minute someone you are married to becomes President of the United States.  For another, Clinton is far and away the favorite in this election.  She’s more like the Yankees, who she used to pretend to like when she was running for office in New York.  Also, the Cubs are famously owned by a gaggle of right-wing billionaires who are big Trump supporters, and while Trump is undoubtedly racist himself, he doesn’t make it a habit of running around with the kids from the Cherry Clan box.  As gross as Chief Wahoo is, I’m pretty sure the Trump campaign has more racist fans than the Cleveland Indians do; and the Cubs took six years longer to integrate their team than the Indians did, so I wouldn’t push that angle too hard either.

The click-mongers at Vox and Five Thirty Eight took a slightly different tack, attempting to establish with a surprisingly widespread misunderstanding of the difference between odds and probability, that the Cubs stood a worse chance of winning the World Series than Donald Trump stands of becoming president.  Not only was this fundamentally incorrect, it had the insalubrious effect, after the Cubs finally clinched the title, of throwing a bunch of soft-headed liberals into a panic, having already forgotten that in their previously preferred scenario, the Cubs were Hillary Clinton.

All of this isn’t to say, though, that there isn’t a good political take on the World Series this year, and I think I’ve found it.  Attentive readers — you know who you are, because there’s only one of you — will recall that I did some moaning about the back-slapping tendency of contemporary liberals to do things in the name of ‘fairness’ like, for example, pay thousands of dollars to the North Carolina Republican Party after a bored teenager set one of their offices on fire, only to have this allegedly magnanimous gesture blow up in their faces when the state G.O.P. began an entirely predictable program of African-American voter suppression.  Many liberals are so wrapped up in the idea of respectability, of civility, of a false sense of equanimity that they assume that everyone likes them as much as they like everyone, and that if they just keep on being oh so lovable, everyone will have as high an opinion of them as they have of themselves.

That’s not how sports or politics work.  When your opponent is on the ropes, you don’t lend him a helping hand so the fans can see a fair fight; you pummel him into jelly and crush his every hope of recovering.  You take your victory as an opportunity to humiliate him even further.  You don’t pay for his weight training and protein powder so he can mount a credible comeback; you destroy him and do it in such a way that everyone else thinks twice about even facing you.  You beat him so badly that anyone who dares to challenge you in the future is good and shook.  And you especially don’t expect everyone to love you, especially the people who hate you.  I have heard from literally dozens of Cubs fans goggling at why I, a White Sox fan, am not happy to see “Chicago” triumph.  That’s not my Chicago.  That’s not my team.  Their victory is not my victory.  They’ve earned the right to lord their victory over me, but only a schmuck would expect me to be happy for my opponent’s success.  Wanting to be loved by everybody, as the Democrats have already learned and the Cubs are going to learn soon enough, only ensures you’re going to be hated by everybody.  Enjoy your time at the top, but never forget, the rest of use are waiting to take your place.


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