One Team, Two Teams, Red Team, Blue Team: Divisive politics are here to stay

Does anyone else try to block out some memories from the Thanksgiving of 2016? I wouldn’t blame you. For many of us, that was when we discovered which relatives were “those” relatives. However, life was not always this bleak, and politics have never felt more important. As a boy, my father told me the advice he received: “Never discuss religion, politics or your salary in public.” That is not the world we live in today. People wear politics on their sleeves, and some make it the cornerstone of their identity. Many commentators have noted this division and how it has become reflective in purchasing habits, dress and social mores. But very few ever venture into why people are now so polarized by and engaged in politics.

The answer is glaringly obvious. Without other activities, your political identity takes up a larger portion of who you are. Over the past 50 years, there have been declines in religiosity in terms of professed faith and attendance, as well unionization, ethnic and civic associations and all manner of other associations that once brought different types of people together. Now, we live in the atomized world of tomorrow where we can hand-select sources of information and individuals that align with our views. Innovation is said to bring the farthest reaches of this world into the 21st century. Yes, you can now send instant messages to someone in Kazakhstan. I’m sure they appreciate the mail, but our neighbors are becoming strangers. 

The neighbors we once prayed with, played bridge with and reminisced with are now “others.” They suddenly hold ideas we find irredeemable, despite remaining fundamentally the same. There is still one place we come together as a country, mostly, and that place is sports. Far from being the last bridge to unity, it acts as the gasoline to the fire of our division. Imagine a whole generation brought up with no associations aside from sports teams and politics — no circumstances where spectator reservation was implored or tact encouraged. I bet you’d root for your political party the same way you would for the Jets. You’d root for that team regardless of where their policy went because it is not about results; it is about victory. 

We have political rallies, super fans, slogans and memorabilia galore in a way that borders on obsession. It is almost sacramental. And if you think I’m only talking about one side, you might warrant some self-examination. They say that there’s a tool for every job, but there is really no solution for this. This is simply the new world. There was no solution for the end of feudalism or industrialization or the end of the British Empire. It is merely what happens next. We can try to be as Atlas was, but Atlas didn’t have a mob of sycophants gnawing at his heels, wishing his downfall like they were rooting for the Red Sox. What should we expect of our freedoms in this future? I guess that all depends on how you treat the opposing team.