Wissot: When winning by any means necessary is the new norm
There was a Nike ad that ran during the Olympic Games several years ago which stated, “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” Ouch. The ad was met with an avalanche of criticism and was quickly pulled.
The ad’s message reflected the importance that winning plays in our madly competitive, sports-crazed culture. It reminded me of a quote attributed to the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
As important as winning is to us, how we win or the degree to which we are willing to cheat in order to win remains an important ethical question. The fruits of victory quickly spoil when we discover they were dishonestly attained. Life is filled with cautionary tales of what happens to those who are inclined to ignore the rules of the game.
I stopped watching the Tour de France after Lance Armstrong admitted to being a remorseless cheat, a man who won an unparalleled seven Tours while using banned substances. Armstrong went from the king of the road to the king of the dopers in a nanosecond. I became disillusioned with the three-week event, because what I once viewed as a great athletic challenge had become, for me, as phony and fake as WWE professional wrestling.
Medina Spirit, this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, was disqualified, and its trainer, Bob Baffert, suspended, after two drug tests revealed an excessive amount of a steroids in the horse’s system.
The Houston Astros were baseball’s world champions in 2017. The cheers of the crowds turned to boos when it was learned that the team reached the apex of the baseball world by using a sophisticated electronic sign stealing system, which enabled their batters to know whether pitchers were throwing a fastball or a curve before they were thrown.
Politicians want to win every bit as much as sports figures. Politics has been described as a “blood sport.” And with so much money and power at play, moral boundaries are easily blurred.
When cheaters accept responsibility for their crookedness, it demonstrates they are at least willing to pay lip service to that old, and to some, corny dictum: “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.”
But what does it mean when we stop caring about how we win? What happens when winning unfairly is more important than losing fairly? How do we maintain an ethical foundation in our society when we are willing to apply the revolutionary Frantz Fanon’s justification for violence “by any means necessary” to our unquenchable thirst for victory?
When we stop caring about how the Tour de France and Kentucky Derby is won or how a politician gets elected, then we have entered the danger zone that philosopher William James described more than a century ago as the “moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess Success.”
For all the chatter and buzz around the “Big Lie“ that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president because he allegedly won the election by fraudulent means, the real worry is the “Big Cheat,” which Donald Trump and his supplicants are laying the groundwork in order to “steal” future elections. Evidence of this can be found in the passage of a spate of new state level voter suppression laws, in the senseless “fraudits” of voter ballots previously counted multiple times, and in the attempt to bypass election officials in favor of Trump-friendly cronies in those state legislatures with the power to reverse voting outcomes.
When Trump ordered his lemmings to “Stop the Steal” on Jan. 6, he was really exhorting them to prevent the certification of a perfectly perfunctory vote count so he could steal the election for himself. It was like Bonnie and Clyde shooting John Dillinger as he was robbing a bank so they could rob it instead.
The Republican Party’s leadership, now largely composed of cowards in Congress fearful of being primaried by a vengeful Trump, are so hell-bent on preventing Democrats from winning future elections that they’ve thrown all pretense of moral honesty to the winds. The Party’s mantra now is we must retain political power “by any means necessary.”
I’m a wary optimist because I see no value in pessimism. I expect some people to lie and cheat and steal because that’s what some people do. But I don’t think all or even most of us do. I believe there are more smart than dumb Americans; more of us who trust science over science fiction; more of us who don’t get their political information from Fox News and Newsmax than do; more of us who think QAnon is strictly for nut jobs than don’t; more of us who prefer law and justice to law and order; more of us that want to address systemic racism rather than deny it exists.
A third of the country may have lost their marbles, but I take comfort in the fact that two thirds haven’t.
In less than two weeks we will celebrate the 245th birthday of our imperfect democracy. I believe there are more of us who want to protect and preserve it compared to the fewer among us who would risk weakening it in order to win elections “by any means necessary.”