By Bradley Hale, Ph.D.
We have just witnessed an extraordinary moment in history. Not only did the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, but they did so by overcoming a 3-1 deficit. Of course, as impressive as the Cubs were this past season, they could only boast a .640 winning percentage in the regular season. The best of the other playoff teams could only muster a .586 winning percentage. In other words, the best teams in baseball still lose a lot.
As Cubs fan and political columnist George Will has pointed out, baseball is the best sport for nurturing American democracy, since it accustoms Americans to losing elections.
A brief overview of presidential elections reminds us how vital this is. Since 1960, Republican and Democratic candidates have each won seven presidential elections, a mediocre .500 winning percentage for both parties. Since World War II, Republicans have mustered two more presidential victories than Democrats. Stretching back to the election of 1900, Republicans have won one more election than Democrats. With those winning percentages, neither party would have made the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs in 2016.
I am writing this piece before the results of the 2016 presidential election have been tabulated. I don’t know who is going to win the election. I am sure that some of you reading this will be celebrating, and some of you will need to be consoled.
Whatever the outcome of the election, I expect that our attention, at least some of it, will turn back to our day-to-day lives of family, friends, study, work and leisure after Nov. 8.
Even if the strangeness of 2016 keeps us focused on politics beyond Election Day, we will all have non-political matters demanding our attention. Research papers will vex those whose candidate won, as well as those whose candidate lost. Democrats, Republicans, Green Party-ers and Libertarians will all have to worry about labs and exams. Quotidian concerns will once again be at the forefront of our lives.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, it might be hard to believe that this is good, but it is. This series of columns is intended to make politics a safe discussion topic for the dinner table. If we are to succeed in this goal, we need to remember that while elections are consequential, we tend to inflate their significance when we’re in the middle of them. This is especially true of presidential elections. We’ve heard candidates and pundits suggest that this is the most important election of our lifetime, a claim made in almost every presidential election. Perhaps it will prove to be so, perhaps not.
One thing the study of history teaches us is to view our own times with perspective and humility. At this moment, even if we can make educated guesses, we don’t and can’t know the true meaning of the 2016 election.
What the Chinese statesman Zhou Enlai said in 1972 about the French Revolution is true about this 2016 election: “It’s too early to say.” Thus, I will happily leave it to my future colleagues to discern the place of 2016 in history.
I am not trying to dismiss the significance of the 2016 election. I believe it is important, and I will have strong opinions about the results and their consequences. I am, nonetheless, trying to maintain perspective. After all, whoever won or lost the election, the responsibilities, routines and rhythms of everyday life will continue. My dogs will still demand to be walked, papers will still need to be graded. I will still enjoy reading good books, listening to beautiful music and watching baseball. Spending time with family and friends will still enrich my life.
So, as we approach Thanksgiving and its potential for rancorous political discussions, we should keep politics in perspective. Elections will come and go, parties will win and lose. But our God is a good, gracious and sovereign Father whose love endures forever.