Team spirit. It has a long, well-endowed history in our national consciousness. The team’s down thirty points in the championship game, the coach makes a stirring half-time speech, and the downtrodden losers come roaring back. The Marine squad faces certain death at the hands of the yellow fanatics, the squad leader makes a speech, and— You get the picture.
The same dynamic unites disparate tribes. The faith-prosperity evangelist and the best-selling New Age guru share the philosophy that we create our own reality: think it hard enough and it comes true. What’s needed, first, is a sense of the team, the tribe, the collective identity, and secondly the charismatic leader. Sounds a bit fatuous if not fascistic, but that’s who we are. Including, I hasten to add, we progressives.
I can’t adduce evidence to prove this point beyond my own gut feeling. The need for tribe, for team, for community is at the core of our human existence. We’ve always been tribal folk, for better and often for worse. It may not have always been US vs. THEM, but at least it’s always been US. As we’re divided by the economy, by the deification of competition, by family dispersal, by individualist ideology, by a diversity wider than Imperial Rome, the hunger is greater and greater.
An appeal of theatre to its practitioners, apart from aesthetics or career, is that each cast forms a temporary tribe with a clear objective: survival through opening night. And oddly, the senior class play doesn’t rely, as does the football team, on competition or victory. Still, the football team boasts the stadium full of fans, the cheerleaders doing ecstatic backflips, and write-ups in the local paper. It’s the sports team that extends “team spirit” to the masses—even though a win or a loss carries no material impact whatsoever to the lives of the fans.
The implications? In the political realm, my proposition is that, to a large degree, we vote for our team. Issues matter strongly to a few, but the red baseball cap matters more, and you’ll readily forego your own interests for the sake of wearing the baseball cap. All that’s required is a well-crafted rationalization, supplied by the think-tank, to be repeated three times a day and just before bedtime. Plus, an opponent who insists on talking about wonky stuff like race and class and income gaps and the spotted owl.
But I’m not talking about dimwit drop-outs in battered ‘82 pickups. I’m talking too about well-educated friends—and myself—who are fully aware of the issues and appalled at the Great Orange Lord of the Death Star. We need our tribe too. My fear is that we don’t know that we need it, and so we don’t understand that others do.
Somehow we feel that the issues will unite us, and if Democrats trumpet the most progressive agenda, we’ll answer the call and surge back to win the game despite the current 96-point deficit. Sanders, Warren, Booker—anyone who bats .999 on the issues. I’d like that too. But it won’t be enough. We also need our distinctive cheers and slogans and baseball caps.
Not that I mean this literally. I’m not going to wear a fucking baseball cap, not at my age. I’m only stating the challenge. Rage is a great short-term launch fuel, but it only lasts so long, and it can easily turn against your own allies. Right now I see the team of Abe Lincoln Senior High, my alma mater, running all over the field, tackling each other, not knowing where the ball is, and the cheerleaders debating the fine points of the issues instead of yelling, “Go, team!”
I’m not optimistic, though I’d really like to be. In high school we always had a “pep rally” in the auditorium before a game. The dippiest thing I ever sat thru. But now I’d welcome an upsurge of pep.
I don’t have the faintest idea how it comes about. I only know that we have to kick our addition cold turkey. The addiction is to the sense of “Messiah.” We have elevated the Presidency to godhood. It’s kingship, it’s Big Daddy (a handicap to females), it’s the Second Coming. It’s a fatal addiction. Yet again, as I said, it’s ours and we have to own it. Maybe we need our Messiah figure, though we’ll surely fight to the death over who will occupy that impossible post. I would much rather that all prospective candidates might come together, resolve that whoever prevailed they would meet weekly over beer and pizza, and listen to one another. That might be the starting point of pep.