View­ing pol­i­tics as a team sport un­der­mines the qual­i­ties that make this coun­try ex­cep­tional

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group Depew Buf­falo

WASH­ING­TON – There not be­ing nearly enough dis­cus­sion of char­iot rac­ing in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, it is worth re­call­ing the story of the Greens and the Blues. These were the two main rac­ing teams of the Byzan­tine Em­pire, and they gen­er­ated con­sid­er­able sport­ing en­thu­si­asm. A clash of their fans in the ri­ots of the year 501 took per­haps 3,000 lives. Ac­cord­ing to the judg­ment of many his­to­ri­ans, these teams did not orig­i­nally have po­lit­i­cal def­i­ni­tions. Blues, it seems, hated Greens mainly be­cause they per­sisted in be­ing Greens, and vice versa. But over time, the teams be­came iden­ti­fied with politi­cians and re­li­gious move­ments.

When it ap­peared that both pow­er­ful teams were unit­ing to over­throw Em­peror Jus­tinian, he blocked the ex­its at the Hip­po­drome and had his troops slaugh­ter per­haps 30,000 fans. “Within a few min­utes,” writes his­to­rian John Julius Nor­wich, “the an­gry shouts of the great am­phithe­ater had given place to the cries and groans of wounded and dy­ing men; soon these too grew quiet, un­til si­lence spread over the en­tire arena, its sand now sod­den with the blood of the vic­tims.”

This is hardly a con­struc­tive model for deal­ing with ex­ces­sive fac­tion­al­ism. But the ex­am­ple points to the dan­ger of view­ing pol­i­tics as a team sport. Cit­i­zens can en­gage in civil dis­course and pro­duc­tive com­pro­mise. Ra­bid fans can only be ap­peased by vic­tory.

The most com­mon form of crit­i­cism I re­ceive from con­ser­va­tives when I point out the ten­sion be­tween Trump­ism and ac­tual con­ser­vatism is that I am help­ing the other side in a win-or-lose con­test. This ap­proach to pol­i­tics is cul­ti­vated by Pres­i­dent Trump, who em­pha­sizes solidarity with his po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural team to draw at­ten­tion away from his own in­com­pe­tence, ig­no­rance and ide­o­log­i­cal het­ero­doxy. Much of his pub­lic rhetoric is in the form of trash talk, which many Amer­i­cans seem to pre­fer to the bor­ing lan­guage of pol­icy dis­agree­ment or to the high­fa­lutin lan­guage of shared as­pi­ra­tion.

Trump not only en­joys neg­a­tive po­lar­iza­tion, he de­pends on it. If your po­lit­i­cal ref­er­ence points are de­cency, char­ac­ter and a com­mit­ment to the com­mon good, the pres­i­dent is an on­go­ing dis­as­ter. If you be­lieve that pol­i­tics is the zero-sum strug­gle be­tween cul­tural teams or tribes, then you want the most vi­cious bully on your side. There is no se­ri­ous ar­gu­ment for Trump based on his own virtues. He only makes sense if pol­i­tics is a cruel and bit­ter game.

The im­pli­ca­tions? At one level, a pol­i­tics based on team loy­alty ceases to serve po­lit­i­cal pur­poses. It may be en­ter­tain­ing – to those who find demo­cratic de­cline a hoot – but it makes the build­ing of work­ing coali­tions to con­front spe­cific prob­lems more dif­fi­cult. Any­one who wishes to co­op­er­ate with el­e­ments on the other side on, say, ed­u­ca­tion re­form, or health re­form, or en­ti­tle­ment re­form is viewed as giv­ing aid and com­fort to the en­emy. 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.

The preva­lence of team group­think has un­der­mined the po­lit­i­cal func­tions of a va­ri­ety of in­sti­tu­tions. Think of the ju­di­cial con­fir­ma­tion process, which has been a spec­ta­cle of raw par­ti­san­ship for decades. Se­na­to­rial de­lib­er­a­tion on qual­i­fi­ca­tions and tem­per­a­ment has de­volved into a con­flict waged by com­pet­ing po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

Yet there is also a deeper level of harm to national ideals. Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Amy Chua de­scribes Amer­ica as a “su­per-group.” Peo­ple of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties, races, re­li­gions and cul­tural back­grounds can all have full mem­ber­ship. No one is forced to aban­don his or her iden­tity at the door. But the Amer­i­can su­per-group is held to­gether, ar­gues Chua, by “a strong, over­ar­ch­ing col­lec­tive iden­tity.” And this model is rel­a­tively rare in his­tory. It is un­usual, says Chua, “to have both an ex­tremely di­verse, mul­ti­eth­nic pop­u­la­tion and a strong over­ar­ch­ing national iden­tify ca­pa­ble of bind­ing the peo­ple to­gether.”

This source of strength also makes Amer­ica es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to iden­tity pol­i­tics of left or right. When the over­ar­ch­ing iden­tity is weak­ened by declar­ing hu­man dif­fer­ences to be pri­mary, or when some sub­group of lighter-skinned peo­ple claims ex­clu­sive own­er­ship of our national ideals, some­thing rare and valu­able moves to­ward his­tory’s dis­turb­ing norm of tribalism. It is play­ing with a form of fire that has burned time af­ter time, through na­tion af­ter na­tion.

These are the stakes when cit­i­zens be­come fans and turn the hon­or­able call­ing of demo­cratic pol­i­tics into a de­struc­tive game.

Michael Ger­son Con­sider the source when it comes to tweets

Af­ter read­ing the March 22 let­ter, “Trump launches tacky tweets against war hero, McCain,” I have two things to say to the let­ter writer: First, thank you for your ser­vice. My hus­band was a United States Ma­rine Corps cap­tain, two tours Viet­nam vet­eran, who un­for­tu­nately passed away last year due to med­i­cal is­sues that were a re­sult of ex­po­sure to Agent Or­ange.

Sec­ondly, my mother in sim­i­lar sce­nar­ios, would say to me, “Con­sider the source.”

Suzanne Ozolins

Union­ized postal work­ers out­class Ama­zon Flex

In Buf­falo Ama­zon Flex this past week­end has started de­liv­er­ing Ama­zon pack­ages.

Pre­vi­ous to this for over half a decade the United States Postal Ser­vice (USPS) and its union­ized let­ter car­ri­ers de­liv­ered these pack­ages.

If as a cus­tomer you no­tice a change in the de­liv­ery lo­ca­tion of your pack­age this is due to pri­vate couri­ers are not au­tho­rized to place mail and/or pack­ages in a USPS mail­box.

If let­ter car­ri­ers find items in a mail­box with no af­fixed USPS postage, they are re­quired to re­turn the items back to the post of­fice and the USPS is re­quired to charge the sender postage due for the item(s). This may de­lay the de­liv­ery of your Ama­zon items.

To avoid de­lays, in­struct pri­vate couri­ers to not use the mail­box as a de­liv­ery

Peg­ula should ask tax­pay­ers if they want a new sta­dium

It’s nice that Terry Peg­ula and his friends are try­ing to de­cide what kind of sta­dium Buf­falo can af­ford.

But how about ask­ing the city tax­pay­ers what they would like by giv­ing them the chance to vote on it, a new sta­dium or bet­ter roads?

Let’s see where our pri­or­i­ties should re­ally be.

Frank DeCarlo

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