Three Cheers for the Home Team
Updated: Apr 30, 2019
The US midterm election is over. Democrats now control the House of Representatives. Republicans have a majority in the Senate. And a sociopath is still President of one of the world's increasingly dangerous superpowers.
Here in the UK, Brexit sucks up almost all energy, and people like myself look in horror as the country positions itself for a terminal dive into decline. Former Prime Minister John Major wrote: "There is no doubt in my own mind that our [Brexit] decision is a colossal misjudgment that will diminish both the UK and the EU... It may even, over time, break up our United Kingdom."
But enough of these woeful facts. Let's turn to metaphor. Consider how the US election demonstrates human beings' capacity to turn critical events into a game. There are winners and losers, cheerleaders and mascots, loud-mouthed commentators giving blow-by-blow empty interpretations, raucous fans rooting for their team, angry crowds screaming, people getting hurt. Oh, and endless overtime; the US election cycle is about two years long. When it's all over, the debris is collected and the arena cleaned up-- until next time. In the US, ‘next time’ comes quickly. As soon as a round is over, the Bully-in -Chief takes the field and dirties it up again.
You don't have to take my word for it that politics is a blood sport. In the mid 1900's, the Welsh MP Nye Bevan (architect of the NHS) said it. (He also remarked on his deep hatred of the Tory Party, suggesting they were lower than vermin. And this is way before Boris Johnson.)
And here's Barack Obama, that most restrained of human beings, commenting on the political process:
[An election is]... not mechanical…. There is always the possibility of surprise. And in that sense it’s a little bit like sports. It doesn’t matter what the odds are…. And that makes it scary if you’re rooting for one team or the other, but that’s the drama of it.”
Quintessentially, the bloodiness of athletics embodies a traditional macho ethos. That ethos dominates how contemporary politics operates: winner takes all, opponents are crushed (or killed), there’s only one victor.
What might a democratic process predicated on other ‘rules’ look like? It’s not clear , but it’s a question to consider before we tear ourselves to bits in the name of democracy.