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April 15 2019

Politics as Sport: “Your Team” Should Not Define You

by Betsy Pearson

March Madness may have ended last week, but American’s are still fighting ruthless battles for their teams off the court. In the heat of the next presidential election cycle, Americans are pitted against each other for the sake of party loyalty—often leading to social media fights, and arguments over the dinner table. Political party affiliation has become such a defining characteristic that it has changed the way millennials date. Politics has become an extreme sport, but what are the consequences of such blind party allegiance?

Michael Gerson wrote for The Washington Post last week comparing political party support to sports team spirit. Similar to the story of the Greens versus the Blues, Gerson argues that such tribalism is dangerous as it dehumanizes large portions of a population. He explains the difference, “Citizens can engage in civil discourse and productive compromise. Rabid fans can be appeased only by victory.”

Criticism is due on both sides of the political aisle. Gerson continues, “A politics based on team loyalty ceases to serve political purposes.” Both “teams” are in danger of viewing the upcoming election as a dichotomy, and the results to be won by either the “good guys”, or the “bad guys”.

For conservatives, the 2020 election is poised to be about socialism versus capitalism. Yes, socialism is bad, but let's not turn the 2020 presidential election into another red scare. Capitalists need to educate about the benefits of free markets without using scare tactics when talking about different economic systems. USA Today reported last week that if conservatives cannot make the case for capitalism, they risk losing the millennial vote entirely.

At the same time, liberals are working to redefine their party platform. Young faces in the Democratic party want to rebrand the left as more extreme, but hardly consider how their rhetoric fuels the hysteria on the ground—for example when AOC said people would die if we didn’t pass the Green New Deal. We remember the meltdowns following the 2016 election; the closed streets, people calling off work and out of class, officers put on the lines of aggressive assault. Just a few days ago truck drivers planned to block off a major highway in Chicago in protest of Donald Trump.

For many, the ashes are still smoldering from the bridges burned during the 2016 election. When we think of our family, neighbors, and friends across the aisle as “evil” we not only lose those relationships, but we also lose any hope of bipartisan reform. Othering the opposite political party disincentivizes legislative cooperation, as Gerson explains: “Anyone who wishes to cooperate with elements on the other side on, say, education reform, or health-care reform, or entitlement reform is viewed as giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Hope for bipartisan reform is lost if we are stuck in partisan gridlock. “If the main standard in politics is the victory or loss of the tribe, then the task of passing laws to make conditions better becomes secondary and suspect.” adds Gerson.

If we are able to shed our teams’ colors for just a moment, we are able to see just how tribal we have become. In my family I often position myself as a translator of sorts between my very conservative father, and my very liberal younger sister. Instead of telling a socialist to go read an economic book, try to understand what life experiences led them to support a more communal system. Similarly, instead of assuming conservatives hate clean air, try to understand what issues they prioritize above environmental issues. If we start to prioritize policy instead of politics, we might just be able to salvage our dinner table conversations yet.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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