American politics, you see, has largely devolved into a form of point-scoring and score-keeping even more useless than the results of a regular season Rams game. And what happened between officer Darren Wilson and Brown in Ferguson last August is now fully enveloped in American politics.
To the latter point first. A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News illustrates how opinions on the subject actually hew more closely to red-blue than black-white. On the central question of whether Wilson should have been indicted, whites are more likely than blacks to say no. But Republicans feel far more strongly about it than whites on the whole.
The reason why is simple: White Democrats -- an increasingly small part of the white population -- are less likely to agree with the grand jury's decision. Under half of whites strongly approve of it. More than half of Republicans approve; more than half of Democrats don't.
So we get debates like the ones we saw Monday, centered on the fringes of race relations. There's the endlessly stupid back-and-forth between the police and the football team over whether or not what the team's management said was an apology. There are the increasingly grotesque attempts to undermine reporters covering Ferguson. Unrelated to Ferguson, there was the exhaustive critique of a Hill staffer who disparaged President Obama's children in a Facebook post -- and then had her own record of teenage misbehavior made public. If you're keeping score at home, the first two match-ups were probably draws; the Democrats scored an all-important (not really) point on the third.
Last December, it was a different set of issues, but the same sort of attention to minutiae. On one hand was the ever-so-brief suspension of Phil Robertson from the TV show "Duck Dynasty" over his description of gays and blacks -- a situation that prompted, among other things, a statement from Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) in Robertson's defense. And then there was perhaps the dumbest dispute of them all, a moment in American politics that will forever be known only as "Pajama Boy."
Both of those conflagrations erupted mostly online and in the midst of a news lull, but each linked back to larger issues. The Phil Robertson friction was a subset of the debate over whether or not Christianity served as a legitimate reason to oppose homosexuality, a debate that peaked with Gov. Jan Brewer's (R-Ariz.) decision not to sign into a law a bill that codified that rationale. The Pajama Boy chattering was about the success or failure of Obamacare, among other more subtle things. But instead of high-minded disputes over the First Amendment or the merits of Obamacare, we talked about long beards and footie pajamas. Because, why not?
To some extent, that's understandable. An Internet-infused world rewards quick, sharp, digestible responses. For all of the superficial-but-real enthusiasm for deep, thoughtful analysis, riffs on headlines are far more common. (Especially in the comment section.) Those little feuds attract our attention even when there is more substance to debate in part because they're easier: It is easier to engage in a discussion over whether or not football players should echo the protests in Ferguson than it is to analyze the history of racial tension in St. Louis and the police-community relationships that gain attention in the wake of a tragic death. The latter is much more complex and impenetrable.
That is as charitable an assessment as I can make of this behavior -- a behavior to which I, admittedly and like everyone else, fall victim. Politics is a complex endeavor; the overlap with America's racial past and present is perhaps its most intricate part. By assuming that we can "win" a political debate in that space based on what was said in a phone call between two representatives of institutions in the greater St. Louis area is not only incorrect, it reinforces the polarized actions of everyone in politics. Why figure out how to prevent other tragedies like Michael Brown's when you can instead bolster your reelection or gain new Twitter followers with a particularly incisive take on something far from the central tension?
I can't tell you who won the debate over Pajama Boy. I don't know who will win the Great St. Louis Ram Apology Feud of 2014. But I know that neither makes any difference, and that both will soon be forgotten. Whoever's tallying up the score on this nonsense, just please declare a winner already.