Politics as team sports

(((Greg Camp)))
7 min readMay 17, 2021

Politics as practiced in the United States broadly has the character of team sports in which Democratic and Republican voters show concern more for the letter that appears in parentheses after a politician’s name than about policy.This claim will shock many readers on the first pass, but consider the attitudes found in promotions of #MAGA, despite its nebulous definitions that depended on whatever Trump might say from minute to minute, or in the insistence that we #VoteBlueNoMatterWho, a demand that is structurally one that a devoted Cubs fan could make. We divide the nation into red states and blue states, creating the expectation both among residents and among people from other parts of the country that I as someone who lives in Arkansas must be a Trump supporter or that a voter in New York has to agree entirely with Nancy Pelosi, despite the latter’s representation of a district on the opposite coast of the continent. As I will suggest below, something of this approach to a country’s governance is to be expected, but we go astray when we lose a clear sense of the point of the exercise.

This is nothing new and not uniquely American. In the case of the Nika Riots in the early years of Emperor Justinian, sports and politics took on an interchangeable character, and it is possible to consider Alcibiades, the sometimes Athenian politician and general, in the manner of a quarterback, moving from team to team in search of a better contract as the Peloponnesian War played itself out. The framers of the American constitution saw this as one of the greatest risks to our new republic. The authors of the Federalist Papers, for exampleJames Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and briefly John Jay — agonized over what would happen if factions — one way that they described parties — took hold precisely because they understood how joining up in teams has the effect of splitting a society into pieces.

The unfortunate consequence of their anxiety was to build into our system a failure to recognize the inevitable. A gregarious species is going to form tribes, and though I have taken something of a disparaging tone toward the nature of parties, at the same time, I have to acknowledge that combining together for a common purpose is an effective way of getting things done. But if we are to have functioning politics, the tension between the individual and the collective — between…

(((Greg Camp)))

Gee, Camp, what were you thinking? Supports gay rights, #2a, #1a, science, and other seemingly incongruous things. Books available on Amazon.