Okay, having now exhausted the sum total of this Fix team member's knowledge of sports, let's get to the real point: The last few weeks in politics have been rather raucous, notes Bill Galston, expert on domestic policy, political campaigns and elections at the Brookings Institution, where he's researching the implications of political polarization. (Galston was also an adviser to President Bill Clinton.)
And the way Galston sees it, it has a lot to do with a lack of political sportsmanship.
In case you are in need of a brief review, Donald Trump has spent the better part of the past seven days insisting publicly that a Mexican American judge and quite possibly a Muslim one likely did not have the capability to fairly hear legal cases in which he is involved. Most recently, he has demanded that his surrogates find a way to defend those ideas and not waver. Republicans have called Trump's statement racist but declined to un-endorse him.
Separately, Bernie Sanders has gone from insisting that there was still a way for him to win the Democratic Party's nomination, despite an objective little thing called math, to expressing disappointment about the audacious way the Associated Press used those numbers Monday to project Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Sanders and his camp declared it "premature," insisting that superdelegates can still be taken from Clinton. (Sanders's backers, meanwhile, took to harassing female reporters.)
Yes — in 2016, there is a real dearth of political responsibility or displayed commitment to democratic principles and goals that are larger than winning or losing, Galston argues. In other words: There's a shortage of the political equivalent of good sportsmanship on the field.
By sportsmanship, he means the recognition that it is okay to fight hard to win but to also have some personal limits. It is okay to lose with dignity instead of fighting in the mud or refusing to admit that your race is done or endorsing a man you previously argued was a con man. That's what the well-crafted and thoughtful concession speech, endorsements and and platform-content negotiations are for.
There are ways to force one's issues into the public sphere without public tantrums. And depending on the candidate, the competition and the pressing maters of public policy, sometimes the wisest and perhaps the most decent thing a candidate can do is quietly back away from the spotlight. Or, if necessary, make principled and consistent critiques after dropping out.
This election cycle, those are all behaviors that have been a bit scarce, Galston said.
"When you are a candidate, certainly for the highest elected office in the land, you have some responsibility," said Galston, "to do your best, to support the principles of a healthy democracy. And that includes trying to keep the justified indignation of your followers from turning into something less productive and actually destructive."
But it's not just Trump and Sanders who have displayed some habits that run afoul of Galston's definition of sportsmanship.
Before ending his presidential bid in March, Sen. Marco Rubio's (Fla.) campaign featured some rather soaring comments about human decency, American democracy, diversity and Trump. This was then followed this month by a reversal and promise that he will wholeheartedly back a Trump who today remains so unchanged that GOP officials are deeply worried.
Rubio is the candidate who in March warned that the country is out of touch with its history and culture of settling differences at the ballot box. At the time, Rubio called what's happening "grotesque" and specifically said that the front-runner in his own party was largely to blame.
It's a video worth watching, and it begs the question: Where have these concerns gone? Have they become less important than Rubio's hoped-for future in the party?
And before that, a floundering Chris Christie lobbed a lot of semi-personal attacks at Rubio. Christie, like Rubio, was once regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party.
Then he dropped out and stood behind Trump at a podium exhibiting a series of facial expressions the Internet thought most suitable for a hostage video. There were a lot of people who couldn't make much sense of why the New Jersey governor seemed to jump at the chance to endorse Trump. But he sure looked like a man who had essentially said that Trump was too undisciplined and inexperienced to become president but was now wholeheartedly and fully endorsing Trump without so much as an explanation for changing course. And this week, Christie has offered a character reference for Trump. Trump is not a racist, Christie has said again and again.
It seems candidates that have been far more successful and influential this election cycle than Rubio and Christie — namely, Sanders and Trump — have shrewdly come to recognize that there is political gold to be mined from encouraging their supporters to view the entire electoral system with something more than skepticism or even suspicion, Galston said. When Sanders and Trump speak to their supporters, the opposition is all too often the Visigoths at the gate.
Trump has declined to suggest or say firmly to his supporters that violence should not be a regular part of their political participation. Instead, he has said some protesters deserved a butt-kicking and suggested there might be riots if the nomination were taken from him at the GOP convention. He has found reason and time to complain about attacks launched by protesters at his supporters, even to describe them as constantly victimized. Trump has even suggested in public that he might pay one of his battling voter's legal fees after a Trump supporter assaulted a protester. Then, Trump kind of changed his mind, but only on those bills.
Sanders, meanwhile, is sticking with his math-and-time-do-not-matter theme. When Sanders's supporters resorted to violence in Nevada, Sanders took a few days to resoundingly rebuke that behavior. And this week, his supporters have taken to describing the AP's call on the nomination Monday night a form of voter disenfranchisement for the states voting the next day.
It really is not a coincidence that both Trump voters and Sanders supporters have been repeatedly described as volatile, abusive, distrustful of the electoral system, displeased and anxiety-filled about their economic lives and social standing, Galston said.
Trump's voters are, as is by now well-known, a mix of the Republican electorate, but heavily rooted in a group of poor and working-class white voters who have seen their actual economic fortunes fall. They are Trump voters, at least in part, because they agree with Trump's assessment that social and demographic change along with trade policy are the cause. For these voters, if some people and countries could be put back in their "proper" places, then the proper order of all things — defined by their prosperity and freedom alone — would follow.
Sanders voters have been widely described as "young voters." A more accurate description based on polling data would be progressive voters with particularly heavy footing among young, college-educated whites and white liberals who do not have degrees, Galston said. Every one of these groups has also, in recent decades, seen the range of economic and social opportunities they can reliably expect decline. And some of those people are quite angry about it, too. They, however, like Sanders, are more inclined to point the finger at corporate greed, general disrespect for workers and students, and the corruption purchased in government with campaign donations.
"People resent loss more than they enjoy gain; any behavioral economist can tell you this," Galston said. "Of course, if you really think about it, life is far from perfect for most minorities in the United States. White families still fare better on almost every measure. But for people of color, for those who are immigrants and those for whom the immigrant experience is only a few generations behind, and certainly for African Americans, there are continued struggles, but there is also ample evidence that things are better than they were before."
"There is an upward narrative arc for these groups," Galston continued. "For lesser-educated white Americans, there's almost nothing that has happened in the last 30 years that's made life demonstrably better."
It's worth noting that once you take party out of the equation, across the board almost every major group of voters — women, whites, people of color, those with college degrees and those without, those who live in cities and those who live in suburbs — all point habitually to jobs and the economy as their primary political concern.
"We should, as a country, be paying greater attention to all of this — the real economic and social struggles of all Americans, not one group or one struggle to the exclusion of the other," Galston said. "This really need not be a zero-sum game. But to do that, you do need political candidates willing and able to advance that, for the sake of the democracy. That kind of political responsibility has to be greater than a personal desire to win."