September 9, 2020 10:33:29 AM
When people talk about today's political environment, the words used most often to describe it are "polarized" or "tribal."
Those terms are accurate, but I'm not sure they convey the current landscape in a way that really resonates with folks, not around here, at any rate.
Hardly a day passes that I don't hear someone say, "How could anyone vote for Trump?" or "How could anyone vote for a Democrat?" even though they have heard plenty about polarization and tribalism.
The same people also admit it didn't used to be this way. In an earlier era, there was a popular claim that "I vote for the man (almost always it was man), not the party." To the extent it was actually true, it meant that every election year, there was a substantial number of voters who could be wooed and persuaded to pick one candidate or the other.
This year, I think there are about a dozen undecided voters. The campaigning is focused on solidifying and motivating the base.
Polarized? Certainly. Tribal? You bet.
But I think the better way of looking at it where we are now in the context of where we once were is Mississippi State-Ole Miss vs. Levi-Lee.
Bear with me.
When I was a teen, there were a limited number of blue jean brands. The most popular were Levi and Lee. They dominated the market. Oh, Wrangler jeans were around, sort of like the Libertarian Party of blue jeans minus the enthusiastic following. You wore Wranglers because they were cheaper. Everybody knew it, so you didn't even bother to suggest wearing Wranglers was some sort of fashion statement or even a proletarian position.
Some people preferred Levis at a given time. Others preferred Lees. But the loyalty to either brand was fickle and the popularity of the two brands ebbed and flowed, based primarily on marketing.
I don't know of anyone who had an unwavering devotion to either brand. Over time, people wore both and never seemed to agonize over the choice. You might have a general preference, but if the other brand became more fashionable/appealing, you weren't above crossing the aisle, so to speak.
That's the way things used to be in jeans and in politics.
Today's it more like Mississippi State-Ole Miss or, if you prefer, Alabama-Auburn.
In my 61 years, I've never seen a fan from either school change allegiances from one to the other.
For better or worse, you are a Bulldog or a Rebel for life and there are absolutely no circumstances under which a committed Bulldog fan will convert.
No matter how bad things get, no matter how bad your team plays or how pitifully incompetent your coach turns out to be, you are not tempted to cross over. Oh, you might swear off your team and vow to go fishing or find some other diversion/distraction, but Mississippi State could go 0-12 and Ole Miss could win the national championship and you would not even entertain an idea of changing allegiances.
In fact, the other team's success would make you despise it all the more and make you suspicious of its tactics.
Beating your rival is an affirmation, not just of your team, but of you personally. Losing to your rival is a stain on your character.
The pain of losing is always greater than the pleasure of winning.
No one would ever seriously ask why you don't swap teams. It would be unthinkable.
It would be great for our country if our politics were a Levi vs. Lee proposition. But we live in a Mississippi State-Ole Miss world.
It's all Hotty Toddy or Hail State.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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