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Choosing Sides as a National Pastime I Chuck's World


Last updated 10/26/2017 at Noon

On some mornings, following their graveyard shift, my son and a few coworkers head out to breakfast before bed. It’s not actually breakfast, but waffles rarely need even a flimsy excuse. And it beats bars and strip clubs, at least from my perspective.

Lately they’ve been switching things up, and eating at Chick-Fil-A. I was unaware until recently that this franchise had extended to our area; five years ago, which is the last time I checked, the nearest one was 400 miles away.

Eventually we had a discussion about this, my son and I. He had some vague memory of a Chick controversy, irrelevant for the most part because, again, we weren’t running the risk of accidental eating barring a spontaneous trip to Idaho.

It took me a while to remember what the fuss was all about. There was some public corporate opposition to same-sex marriage, and then opposition to that. Boycotts were proposed and organized, although the conflict now feels quaint, a relic of a simpler time, while half-witted Nazi admirers threaten synagogues in Charlottesville, blood stains the streets of Las Vegas, and most of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico have been without power for a month.

The boycott succeeded in the sense that Chick-Fil-A decided to stop getting involved in controversial political and/or social matters. It failed in the sense that people apparently really like their chicken sandwiches.

We all pick our poison, although I’m not sure we give it much thought. I don’t; to paraphrase Bill Clinton, I sometimes forget who I’m supposed to hate. I make a dozen consumer choices a day, at least, most of them driven by convenience, not conviction. Sometimes you just want a sandwich.

And sometimes you just want to watch football, and now we’ve got ourselves a game.

I’ve been watching football games for over 50 years. I began playing flag football when I was 9 years old, and continued into high school, where I reached my level of incompetence quickly. I continued as a spectator, though, sometimes drifting away for a few years, always returning.

And I’m always startled when I pick it back up, either following an absence or an off-season. The elegance of athleticism and physical grace is tempered by the brutality of the game, and by now most of us are familiar with chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the horror stories of lives lost. Many of us are conflicted, apparently, still watching and still wondering about our priorities.

But if you say something mean or snarky about the Seattle Seahawks, offhand or aggressively, even just joking, you and I are going to have words.

Most of this is silliness, not worth mentioning. We could claim some sort of regional loyalty, but plenty of people up here have no interest in football, and no one is arguing that they’re lesser citizens. Football has always been fantasy; I can pretend to dislike the Patriots and the Cowboys, but only because they win too many games and threaten my team. It’s all pretend. There are no evil sports teams, a ridiculous idea.

Except the Raiders. I have no idea how people like the Raiders.

And I hate the Yankees because the Yankees win too many baseball games. This isn’t philosophical, it’s tribal, and more and more it’s us.

Why is skepticism or acceptance of anthropogenic climate change, which has been talked about since before I was born, divided so sharply along political lines? Because Al Gore popularized the subject, and he plays for a political team. If it’s not your team, then apparently scientific consensus and verifiable facts disappear into ideology. Not that this is new (see: History, world); it’s just dumb, and self-defeating, and fatal.

It’s not just football, or fried chicken. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that many people who voted for Donald Trump thought he was unfit for the office; they just really wanted to see the other team lose.

What if Ronald Reagan had written “An Inconvenient Truth,” or Rush Limbaugh? What if Hillary Clinton had given tacit approval to white supremacy? What if Tom Brady had taken a knee?

What if Russell Wilson had been drafted by the Raiders?

OK, that last one was crazy. I think I made my point.

America is broken. If we couldn’t find common ground five years ago, when 20 first-graders were murdered in Newtown, then I don’t know how we ever achieve anything resembling consensus this side of North Korea lobbing ICBMs into Snohomish County, which is a little late.

Tribalism has arguably been built into our DNA, a byproduct of liberty, forged by revolutionaries and robber barons alike. Only a few details have changed from the arguments that led to our Civil War and the ones that followed and remain, 150 years later.

We’ve muddled through. I suspect we’ll continue to muddle, and I can actually imagine a situation that doesn’t involve nuclear war or environmental disaster in which we find a sense of unity. Maybe we’ll all redefine our tribes. Maybe those pathetic boys who couldn’t find a date will throw away their Tiki torches and embrace tolerance.

Maybe we’ll learn to recognize strength in diversity, and hope in our lack of homogeneity. Maybe we’ll live in a fossil fuel-free world, ride in driverless cars, and munch on meatless sandwiches that taste like chicken.

And maybe the Raiders will become America’s Team. There’s always hope. I hope I’m dead by then, but maybe that’s just me.


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