A typical weekend in our family involves my wife traveling to a baseball tournament, while I go to a soccer tournament, or vice versa, with grandparents often pitching in. Though the odds, and genetics, are against our kids playing in college, much less beyond, we are hopeful the lessons learned will be applied beyond the world of sports. Our kids have played on teams that seemingly cannot win, and others that go undefeated.
Like so many parents, we want our kids to learn the value of hard work, striving, discipline, teamwork, and winning and losing graciously. I welcome the competition, and smiled inwardly when my kids kept score even when the adults tried to discourage them from doing so. My kids have shed tears in the face of hard defeats, and worn proudly their unwashed winning jerseys. Simple experiences, like learning not to blame the referees or make excuses, will serve our children well as they mature and enter the real world.
The growing sense of entitlement and victimization evident in our society makes me wonder if our political leaders ever learned these lessons. I am not simply condemning partisanship or suggesting we all holds hands and sing “Kumbaya.” While I would like to see less name-calling and more cooperation in the political arena, I also believe that substantive disagreements over consequential issues can and should arouse passionate debate. What worries me is that the Left seems determined not just to win, but to also delegitimize their opponents.
Americans Are Tired of Elites Who Sneer at Their Beliefs
It is hard to find common ground, while recognizing real differences, if one is quick to condemn any who disagree as racists, sexists, or otherwise immoral. Those terms rightfully carry a powerful punch, but risk losing some of their impact if used promiscuously. I believe one of the reasons for the populist surge that powered Trump’s candidacy is the frustration many decent, middle class Americans feel as academic, political, and cultural elites sneer at their practices and experiences.
While conservatives have been busy running and building things in the market, liberals have done a good job at capturing the academic, entertainment, and media citadels that together define so much of our popular culture. (I am reminded of the students that once derided my classmates and me as “doers, not thinkers.” We regarded the epithet as a compliment.) University faculty, Hollywood stars, and reporters are so much more likely to be liberal, that it is noteworthy to find the conservative exceptions. However, supposedly conservative-leaning institutions, e.g. the military and the business world, do not exist entirely apart from the popular culture and are therefore not immune from these liberal influences.
The result has been a dominant liberal mindset that values pluralism and diversity above all else, except for those who disagree with them, i.e., conservatives. I once asked Larry Summers, when he was President of Harvard University, about the underrepresentation of conservatives among the school’s faculty and students. He replied this was due to the fact that evangelical Christian parents were less likely to want their children to attend Harvard, and that was good for them and for the institution. (I think the irony of Harvard’s Christian heritage was lost on the luncheon audience. Perhaps they are still atoning for their role in the Salem Witch trials.)
Liberals Increasingly Live In a Bubble
The danger for our society is a liberal mindset convinced of its own virtue a priori, and unwilling to contemplate different conclusions if presented with different facts. We used to call such people fanatics. Witness the controversies on university campuses, with students agitating against the right of speakers to present ideas with which they disagree, the ridicule conservatives face in popular culture, and the opposition Republicans routinely encounter on editorial pages and in nightly newscasts.
It is too easy in an increasingly heterogeneous society for an individual to grow up, be educated, and live their lives surrounded by others who affirm their political, religious, and cultural preferences. Many liberals genuinely find the experiences of gun-toting, church-attending, small government conservatives to be foreign. In years past, even when there was not agreement, at least familiarity bred respect. Too many liberals no longer feel the need or see the point in trying to persuade others, thinking the superiority of their positions to be self-evident. They are more in the business of shaming than converting.
The shifting lines of political correctness and accompanying indignation threaten not only conservatives, but also the legacy of past liberal icons like Presidents Wilson and Jackson, as well as more recent liberal heroes, as President Clinton had to defend his crime bill and welfare reforms on his wife’s campaign trail. (Imagine the liberal outrage when they discover Harriet Tubman’s attachment to the same guns and religion so famously derided by then Senator Obama!)
We Must All Learn to Win And Lose Graciously
Rather than simply sneering at their opponents, liberals will have to learn to respect them and truly welcome the open discourse and competing ideas they claim to champion. The splintered reaction to Brendan Eich’s “outing” two years ago evidences at least some self-awareness among the Left.
However, after winning a Supreme Court case decision recognizing gay marriage, the Left continues to bully bakers and photographers into participating in those weddings, rather than simply finding other more willing providers. The Left continues to try via Obamacare to force religious organizations to provide health care services that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs, rather than simply providing those services directly. The point seems less in procuring a cake or an abortifacient, and more in embarrassing the opposition.
Our kids have learned to shake hands with the opposing team, whether they have won or lost. They have learned today’s runner-ups can be tomorrow’s champions, as no team is likely to win every time. They have learned how to win and lose graciously; today’s liberals can learn a lot from these kids. Maybe the Left should have spent more time in Little League.