Can you ever remember a time that you cared about the size of a politician’s hands? How about a time when you actually thought it mattered that a politician needs to drink water all the time? I know that you’ve never heard a politician make reference to how well-endowed he is until Thursday night. Usually, the dumb and inconsequential shots that people take at politicians are for either gossip or humor from the great Jon Stewart and Co. But it has never come from the politicians themselves.
That time has changed. The race for the Republican nominee, which has followed the path of Donald Trump, has gone off the rails. (The Democratic race is more mature at this point, but I’m not gonna hold the current version of either party up as the epitome of how politics should work.) At one point, it was only Trump that took personal shots at people for stupid reasons, but now, Cruz and especially Rubio have joined in.
And you know what sucks? They’re right to do it. It demonstrates a special level of immaturity not only for the politicians to engage in this kind of BS, but for the people of America to care as much as they do about it. Of course, the American people are just that immature. And I’m not playing politics and saying that Republicans are the ones who are getting too invested in this kind of 3rd grade-level of discourse, because people from all ends of the political end of the spectrum have become heavily invested in the shitshow that is the 2016 presidential race.
One thing to know about me: I’m the king of weird analogies that somehow make sense but also make you wonder, “What kind of weird, possibly insane dude comes up with that thought???” So here’s one of my best ones: The 2016 election cycle remind me of trade deadlines in sports. Hear me out.
On February 17, a day before the NBA trade deadline, Amin Elhassan went on the Dan Le Betard show on ESPN. Le Batard talked with Elhassan for awhile about actual basketball, and it was a pretty enlightening conversation. Then, Le Betard called out the other guys who work on the show and said, “You guys didn’t even listen to a word of that!” He and Elhassan correctly stated that nobody listens to real, substantive discourse, because they only care about what Le Betard refers to as basketball’s version of “gossip.” The others on the show then proceeded to ask Elhassan about tons of rumors, most of them complete BS, because that’s what they cared about. I’m pretty sure that none of the trades actually happened the next day, but that’s what entertained the masses: empty rumors.
(You’re gonna have to trust me that that exchange actually happened. ESPN’s Podcenter still has the same template as they did in 2008, and they apparently don’t believe in people being able to find their programming. Trust me, I searched for 20 minutes.)
The hockey trade deadline doesn’t get the same coverage as its NBA counterpart, but I noticed the same phenomenon. It’s much sexier to write a Buzzfeed-style listicle like “5 teams that should trade for Loui Eriksson” than it is to write about how this team or that team has gotten better at controlling the neutral zone. I also sometimes write such columns which are so more superficial, even though I started this website with the goal of writing more substantive columns.
Our politics are the exact same way now. I’ve largely given up on cable news networks (if you want to know what’s actually going on in the world, watch Vice on HBO), because they’re the best parallel to our sports networks on trade deadline day. Random trade rumors that were probably taken off Twitter, meet false controversy over Hilary Clinton not tipping at Chipotle (which I’m pretty sure that no one has ever done). “Sources say,” meet “My dick is huge.” And Elhassan and Le Betard not being able to talk about actual basketball, meet CNN interrupting an important discussion about NSA surveillance to tell us that Justin Bieber is in front of a judge:
I’m not breaking any news by telling you that Americans often don’t focus on the important issues, especially when so many of my fellow millennials don’t have the attention span to read a full article. But this isn’t just a millennial problem. It’s true that too many of us young people get our news solely from The Daily Show and Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook newsfeeds. However, cable news networks, for example, have a median viewership age of 127 (all numbers approximate). It’s not a new thing for people to only know the superficial details of the happenings in the world, as people have been ignorant since the beginning of time.
Let me ask you something; you know how the biggest difference between people’s political views usually revolves around taxes, especially on rich people? My question for you is, do you even know the federal income tax rate for those in the highest tax bracket? What about how much that rate has changed over time? And how many people around the country who claim to care a ton about politics do you think could answer that question?
Here’s the answer to the first two questions, by the way.
Back when Rick Reilly was a great columnist, he loved to mention that sports were not an escape of real life, but a reflection of real life. Unfortunately, that’s more true than ever in this case. Now, I’m not saying that you need to stop reading fake trade rumors just for the hell of it. I do that all the time, and you might even find me posting a column that is simply low hanging fruit, because it’s so freaking addicting to dream of Boogie Cousins leading the Celtics to 3 championships after Danny Ainge trades 7 assets for him. The problem is that such thinking seeps into more important parts of our lives than sports. It’s hard to find anyone who loves sports more than I do, and I’m convinced that nobody loves the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins collectively more than I do. Despite all that, I have to admit that a few things in life matter more than Dont’a Hightower’s impending extension or Marcus Smart’s potential to be the best player on a championship team.
Choosing who runs our country is one of those things. If you want to buy into trade rumors and sports’ version of gossip, then that’s fine with me. But don’t let it translate into politics. The American people have begun to support their political parties and ideologies the way that we follow sports teams, and we can’t do that. Not when it leads you to care more about the size of a politician’s package than the actual policies that are at stake.