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Sports often can impart life lessons.
The “tribalism” of fandom reflects something innate in our humanity. I am a Patriots fan. Why? Because my father was, and we live in New England. That makes them “our” team.
I have literally no connection to the organization. As an individual, my existence is irrelevant to them. Nevertheless, they are “my” team. And I contrast myself against “others” supporting different teams. Like the New York Jets. Yuck.
This is “in-group” bias.” Commonality increases trust. “Otherness” increases distrust.
The same applies with political outlooks. During the Cold War, while Republicans and Democrats would often disagree on policy positions, there was always another “other” out there: the Soviet Union.
“Politics stops at the water’s edge” was a famous quote recognizing GOP support for Democrat Harry Truman’s efforts to establish NATO. Both groups were Americans first.
President Ronald Reagan notably wondered what would happen to the rivalry between the U.S. and USSR if some extraterrestrial threat arose. A bigger, badder “other” would cause the superpowers to – at least temporarily – set aside their differences in favor of their common humanity.
Since the early 1990s, the United States has not had a substantial “other” to moderate the two-party system. “Terrorism” came close, but was too amorphous to cement a strong, common focus. China has geopolitical aspirations, yet has not – thus far – established itself as a true counterweight to America in world affairs.
With the lack of an “other,” some Democrats and Republicans have turned their attention – and ire – on each other.
The same is true of the Russian Federation, the successor to the Soviets. Led by a former KGB spymaster, the nation is facing huge internal weakness. COVID, corruption, and economic weakness have all undermined Vladimir Putin’s regime over the past several years.
So Putin decided to find an “other.” Enter Ukraine.
The long history between Russia and Ukraine is the stuff of dissertations and books. Russian nationalists feel a strong connection to the country; the Kievan Rus is claimed as the birthplace of the modern Russian nation.
By focusing the attention of the Russian people on foreign affairs, Putin distracts them from the rot arising from his regime. He uses “NATO” as the new boogeyman, playing on historical memory.
It is a remarkably fraught moment. What comes next is anyone’s guess.
However, if last weekend’s NFL games have their own lesson to impart, it is that imminence can be illusory. Tom Brady appeared to add yet another game-winning drive to his already illustrious career. But he didn’t. The Buffalo Bills were 13 seconds away from a remarkable victory. Until they weren’t.
Reading headlines will make you think that a shooting war will break out at any second between Russia and Ukraine. The chaos seems imminent.
Unless it isn’t.
Things can always change. The offenses of the Rams and Chiefs taught that to the Buccaneers and Bills, respectively. Hopefully, NATO’s metaphorical quarterbacks – the leaders of the largest nations – can avert the last second defeat of diplomacy in the Ukraine.
One of Joe Biden’s arguments on the campaign trail was his supposed expertise in foreign affairs. He came up far short in Afghanistan. Yet, if politics end at the water’s edge, Americans should support him as he works with NATO to try and defuse the situation.
The only person who stands to benefit from hostilities is Vladimir Putin. And whether you are a Republican or Democrat, we should all agree that his interests oppose American interests.