A Fictional Adaptation of Tribalism in Politics in the United States
by Mea Ayers
The bets are in. The Facebook posts are up, and the flags are out, lining the front yards. This is the day everyone has been waiting for. Countless hours of preparation and training paired with many days on the road have led to this built-up moment. First, there were the trials. Then, the lineup was released, and fans from every crevice of the nation – city and country, coastal and inland – began to anticipate what the future months would hold. Now, it’s here. The time has finally come! This is a day that will bring a great joy to many and a disappointing upset to an equal amount. This is the first day of the World Series… through the eyes Jenna and Todd Harrington.
When she finally finds the mustard in the back corner of her fridge, Jenna looks down at her phone and realizes that fifteen minutes have passed. Fifteen minutes…
“It’s 12:07! The Party has already started!”
What could possibly be a better way to meet all your new neighbors than to host a pre-game barbecue? As she approaches the front door, Jenna sees through the window a crowd huddled around her husband in the front yard. She assumes the hot dogs must have been a hit!
She straightens her indigo sundress before opening the front door to make her way to the table covered in hotdogs. New York Yankees flags clad her front yard filled with guests. Could this day be more perfect? However, the closer she gets to the crowd, the more she begins to realize that the faces of her neighbors seem…far from pleasant.
That’s not casual conversing. No, that’s shouting! A crowd of angry neighbors is screaming. To whom and for what reason she does not know.
“Todd! What on earth is going on here?” She shouts.
It looks as if the hate is directed towards her husband, but she realizes he’s not the other person yelling. It’s the tall, young guy who lives on the corner lot in the small, red brick house. What’s his name? Joe, Jim, Justin? It’s something with a J, she thinks. She takes a look at the crowd and notices a color trend. Shades of red pop out in a broad range of attire from subtle red buttons to full red tracksuits and painted faces.
For the first time today, she takes a real look around her street. Somehow, she failed to realize that their flag is the only blue flag that lines the street – theirs, and the guy who lives on the corner, the guy who is yelling,
“You can’t rip down their flag! They have a right to have it there.” The man from the corner house shouts.
A middle aged man in a red jersey cackles before responding. “Right? Wow Jamie. You’re one to talk!”
A younger man wearing a ridiculous red morph suit pipes up. “The last thing we need is another person in the neighborhood supporting that team. One is already more than enough to handle.”
Laughs rattle throughout the crowd before the morph suit man’s wife takes the stage. “Yeah, Jamie. Everybody knows the Red Sox are the leading team around here. Their stats are good. Plus, they haven’t had the slip-ups your team has had. Need I mention the pitching scandal?”
“They never found any proof!” Jamie screams.
“Oh please. Everyone knows they’re to blame! I don’t care if there is proof. I don’t care if there isn’t proof. They should definitely be kicked out of the MLB!” The woman responds.
Jenna interjects. “Does anyone want a hot do—“
“WHY DON’T YOU JUST SHUT THE HELL UP Marsha.” Jamie interrupts. “Everyone knows you only spit back out the bullshit your husband feeds you. And he’s an oaf, for crying out loud. Everything he spouts is garbage anyway!”
“OH REALLY! I’m spitting up bullshit now am I. Why don’t I just go ahead and spit up some more!” Marsha takes a step forward and spits in Jamie’s face.
Jamie, seething, wipes his face with one hand and clenches the other into a fist. For a second, it looks to Jenna as if he is actually about to punch Marsha in the face. Feeling that it’s about high time to end this very… unpleasant soiree, Todd steps forward. “You know what, party’s over. Why don’t we all go back to our houses and enjoy the game there? Everyone can grab a hotdog to go. I think this way, things will be more…pleasant.”
The man in the morph suit grabs a hot dog, and proceeds to walk over towards Jamie to pat him on the back. “Have fun!” He says with a smirk. “Enjoy watching your team lose.”
“I’d rather see the whole stadium burn down than watch the Red Sox win. So you better hope they don’t or I’m going to raise hell!”
Dumbfounded by what they just witnessed, Todd and Jenna hastily grab their flag and tins of food and hurry inside. While Jenna prepares two places at the kitchen table, Todd flashes on the TV. A pack of men painted completely blue flash up on the screen
“The Red Sox Suck!” A man on the TV shouts.
Todd flashes the TV back off and makes his way over to the kitchen table. He and his wife sit across from each other, in silence, eating cold hot dogs.
Breaking the silence, Jenna finally speaks up. “I really don’t know what has become of this country.”
Visualize the two largest rival teams of any sport you can think of. Now, think about those two friends you know that if left in a room to discuss their teams together, the outcome would be a shouting match or brawl. This event is not so unique. Similar acts of uncivility occur all throughout the country between countless teams and people from all walks of life. Kids in middle school all the way up through senior citizens join in on the fight.
Now, pretend that the two “teams” you are visualizing are no longer for baseball, but for political parties instead. Visualize the banners decorating front yards as campaign signs and not flags. The analogy may be unconventional…but it works. We live in a tumultuous time for American politics, a time where people raise their voices and lose their civility. What does it say about our political culture that we can compare our politics to a temporarily consequential sports championship?
Many people can probably visualize a recent instance when a pleasant time was ruined by a political argument. Maybe you were having dinner at the in-laws’, travelling with your friends from the other side of the country, or just enjoying a street barbecue with your neighbors; maybe you didn’t physically witness this uncivility in person but were horrified by something remarked by a news anchor, pop-culture figure, or radio show host. Political incivility has no gender, no age, and no political alignment.
As social beings, we naturally gravitate towards groups, our “tribes” so to speak. It is very easy for us to associate with like-minded human beings, sharing in ideas and belief systems. It is also just as easy to lose sight of respect and bash those with beliefs contrary to our own. According to Psychology Today, this form tribalism in politics causes us to lose our ability to “admit the other side has a good idea because of our own egos, especially if we have publically criticized the other side and rallied for our side.”
While we may associate exclusively with groups that share our belief systems, let us not forget the tribe we are all a part of: The United States. It is OK to debate with others and perfectly fine to agree to disagree. However, when we value the well-being of our personal tribe over the well-being of the country as a whole, that is when we lose our civility. Civility demands, by name, a certain level of courtesy and politeness; it does not demand that we agree with others, but that we respect them and their well-being. When we remark in a manner such as the statement “I’d rather see the whole stadium burn down than watch the Red Sox win,” we are not only being uncivil to others, but to ourselves. We are all part of the “arena” that is this country, and we owe it to the common good of our national tribe to practice civility towards the people we share our home land with.