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OPINION: The Toxic Impact Team-Sport Partisanship Has on the Soul of America

by Craig Berlin, published

Team sports and competition are popular, from baseball to mixed martial arts. However, our politics are increasingly filled with partisan rancor, and unfortunately, despite Americans disassociating with the two major parties in large numbers, positions are increasingly associated with one side or the other.

Losing friends over political beliefs in the age of social media, particularly during the Trump era, is nothing new. I’ve drawn the scorn of family and friends -- many of whom came from the film and music industries -- for years since I became more libertarian.

Now, if I’m too critical of Donald Trump or right-wing violence, I’m starting to see the same reaction from conservatives. You’re either with us or you’re against us it seems.

In politics, the allure of power is a powerful attractant and seems to supersede principals. The Democratic platform on illegal immigration sounded like today’s GOP in 2008 but by 2016, no such sentiment remained.

Increasingly infatuated by the ease of casting Republicans as racists and xenophobes, the Democratic Party that lost some 900+ state legislature seats, 12 governorships, 69 House seats, and 13 Senate seats under Barack Obama surely couldn’t resist the temptation of changing demographics and a metamorphosis on immigration policy, especially with someone like Donald Trump running for president.

Meanwhile, a host of Republicans who largely condemned Trump’s behavior and rhetoric, have somehow found a way to turn the other cheek. Ted Cruz now welcomes Trump’s support despite insults and accusations directed toward his father and wife during the campaign.

I grew up a left-leaning centrist wary of associating too much with a party. As I evolved into a classical liberal with libertarian leanings, my distrust didn’t change. Party affiliation has always pushed people into acceptance of a platform that doesn’t line up with much more than a slight majority of their views, hence “the lesser of two evils” being an altogether too-frequent election choice.

Now, there’s no room for moderation, nuance or calling out both sides because winning is all that matters and the end justifies the means in the sort of intellectual civil war we find ourselves in.

ALSO READ: Bombs in The Mail: Will Political Leaders Call for Civility Now?

How did we get here? As with the many issues we face, we shouldn’t be blaming it on one thing, nor solely on the other side. I’ll see your white supremacists and raise you one Antifa, or so it goes. But if we don’t figure something out and a way to mitigate it, we are likely in deep trouble.

We are already at a point where the immediate knee-jerk reaction to mass shootings is as likely to be partisan finger-pointing as sadness. When your first thought about who sent bombs to a bunch of prominent Democrats is conspiracy theories, it’s a pretty good sign you’ve lost perspective. Neither the discovery of a mass shooter being a middle-aged white guy or an ISIS sympathizer should be a “see, I told you so” moment.

The most egregious recent incidents are from perpetrators who appear to be from the far right: synagogue shooter Robert Bowers is a vehement anti-Semite who frequented alt-right websites and hates Trump along with the Jews, who he believes controls the president. Authorities apprehended Cesar Sayoc on suspicion of mailing bombs to 14 people who have been critical of Trump and had a list of more than 100 potential targets.

The association with the president’s confrontational rhetoric and combative style has been swift and plentiful.

By the domestic numbers, larger-scale violence of this type from the far right has outnumbered that of the far left, including radical Islam, by about 73% to 27% since 9/11. That of course doesn’t take into account international incidents and doesn’t mean things aren’t ramping up on the other side.

It’s been less than a year and a half since a gunman targeted Republicans at a baseball practice, wounding Steve Scalise and five others. Just this month, two GOP candidates were assaulted in Minnesota after a Democratic staffer joked that Democrats would "bring [Republicans] to the guillotine" after the midterm elections. And a New York man was arrested for threatening to kill two U.S. senators over their support for Brett Kavanaugh.

The following week, authorities indicted a man accused of sending letters containing toxic chemicals to Trump and several other administration officials. Most recently, shots were fired into Republican headquarters in Volusia, Florida.

All of these are concerning and yet, we’re mired in a blame game of who’s worse. Some historical perspective should be worth considering.

Yoav Fromer writes via the Washington Post that the American left, which once had extremists using violence, largely abandoned it over the last few decades while the far right headed in the opposite direction:

“The more activists have failed to preserve their waning political influence and achieve their goals through the democratic process, the more inclined they have become to take up arms and challenge it. The left has successfully integrated into most political, economic and cultural facets of the country, but members of the extreme right say they have been devastated by the economic effects of globalization, disempowered by multiculturalism and disenfranchised.... This sentiment has led to the rise of militia culture and violent resistance on unprecedented scales since the 1990s.”

Fromer doesn’t see the current landscape as threatening from the far left. He admits there is a resurgence of left-wing extremism characterized by attempts to stifle the free speech of conservatives, belligerent attitudes toward corporations and capitalism in large-scale protests, and anti-Zionist movements peddling conspiracy theories about Jewish control, but believes nothing that defers to violence as a matter of course. He doesn’t contend that the left is inherently superior but rather, “cleansed itself through a painful process of introspection.”

Even if true, he might be a little naive; it wasn’t that long ago that Bill Ayers and his militant group, Weather Underground, opposed the Vietnam War by bombing police stations, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon, and the Symbionese Liberation Army did all that along with bank robbery, kidnapping, and murder.

Recent attacks such as the ones listed above along with the growth of Antifa, whose self-professed methods needn’t be legal and include violence and taking up arms, may be a good indication things are changing.

Our president continues his demonization of those he disagrees with, channeling his old friend, Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man Roy Cohn. Trump admitted in 1980 that Cohn had been “vicious to others in his protection of me.” With Cohn gone, he must be looking out for himself.

Before he became a senator, Cory Booker tweeted “in the rush 2 vilify our political opponents we are more likely to become a reflection of what we don’t like … a force 2 change it.” Yet, just a short time ago, Booker alleged that anyone supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is

complicit in evil.

I’ve personally reached my limit of those who unilaterally defend Trump's incendiary rhetoric. He is deliberately divisive and while he has a right to confront his critics, he usually makes it personal and over-the-top.

When the president praises an elected official like Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter, it’s hard to absolve him of responsibility for the current atmosphere.

I am equally sick of people downplaying Antifa and acting as if Maxine Waters wasn't issuing a direct call to action against her Republican colleagues, or the "fightin' words" being put out by Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, and Michael Avenatti don’t matter.

Michelle Obama said "when they low, we go high." So much for that.

Where are we headed? Recent events don’t engender optimism. We are boiling in a cesspool of partisan rancor and if we despise each other more than our real enemies, we all lose.

Photo Credit: Natasa Adzio /

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