Brexit, Trump and Pollyana

The United Kingdom has left the European Union.

Next week — probably on Wednesday — the US Senate will vote to acquit President Trump of High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

I will not give you my opinion on either of these events. If you know me, you know my politics, and we can just leave it at that.

But we can all agree that these two events show a shift in where the world’s big western democracies are headed, politically speaking. Whether you agree that this direction is a step forward or a step backward, I think we can all agree that about half of the people believe the former, and about half of the people believe the latter. And so America is truly a nation divided, a nation cleaved in two. So is Britain. I cannot speak for UK political history, but while this is not the most divided America has ever been, it certainly feels like it sometimes. And honestly it feels like the entire world is in the same boat — though I admit that that is a rather insular notion on my part. But really, it feels as if you are either left, or you are right; there is no middle ground. And the gap between the two is growing greater. And — and for me this is the worst part — people on each side are failing to see people on the other side as actual human beings, with thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears. Instead, we see them as monsters, or dullards, or over educated ivory tower racists.

The worst part? I don’t see this really changing at all very soon. Barring a giant squid being dropped on New York City, or a pneumonia like virus named after a shitty beer wiping out, let’s say, a third of the world’s population, I just don’t see the two sides coming back together, at least any time soon.

I remember when I first felt stress, for instance, in early elementary school. And then it went away. And then it came back. And then at some point in like sixth grade I realized that I was stressed all the time, and that’s been the way it’s been ever since. After a while, something — even a terrible something — can be become normal, just the way things are.

You can get used to anything, you can miss anything. These are phrases I say all the time. And sure they sound like empty platitudes, but they are also 100% true.

And so if something is broken, we get used to it. And when it’s really broken — like our politics are — while we get used to it, it’s not going to fix itself. Barring a cataclysm like a civil war, these days are our new normal unless we — all of us — actively try to change that. I talk about old roofs a lot. When a roof is broken, it’s never going to fix itself. No matter how long we hang around, it’s never going to get repaired unless we do something about it. We. Humans. People. For while things cannot repair themselves, humans can heal and grow and change. We can fix this. We have to fix this.

Some folks will point to the 1960s, another divisive time in America. Probably even more divisive and disrupted then our current times. I mean, National Guard troops were shooting kids on college campuses. We’re not quite there yet. Some folks will say the 60s got better, that over time divisions healed. But I don’t really agree with that. I think people just got tired, and then it was the 70s and there were drugs and the 80s and even more drugs and everyone decided to move on and kick the can down the road. The wounds of the 60s never healed, and begot what we have here today.

Roofs don’t fix themselves. Neither do furnaces or cars or toilets.

Or politics.

But everything can be fixed.

This is the point in the post where I usually relate this back to sport, to cricket. And I will still do that, but I will do it with the warning that this is not enough, not nearly enough.

Yes, sport heals. It brings people of all walks of life and political persuasion together to share a common goal. I play soccer with people whose world view I abhor. I watch Arsenal with people whose world view I abhor. And while we might never agree on some things, we know each other as people, as friends. We care about each other and see each other as humans. The importance of that cannot be overstated. And I think sport is one of the very few bridges between our two worlds. I would not know these people otherwise. We would all just be in our insular little bubbles. Art, music, work, movies, television, all of these things for the most part feel like extensions of these bubbles. While sport does not.

And cricket? As usual, even more so. Even more than soccer, or other global sports. I am a 40-something while male in the United States who has a pretty good grasp on the political situation in India, who can point out Bangladesh on a map, who has friends in New Zealand, England, Guyana. Soccer is a global sport but we still just cheer our national team, and watch teams in Europe, firmly in our bubble both. But cricket breaks us out of our shells, and shows how big the world really is, and how long life really is.

I haven’t been watching a great deal of cricket lately, but the game is still teaching me.

But the irony in all of this, however, is that the path the world is currently taking might make it more difficult for cricket to bridge these gaps between us. Take Jofra Archer, for instance. Born in Barbados, he has English citizenship through his father, and is allowed to play for England after the ECB relaxed its residency requirements. No one right now sees the rules for citizenship and immigration changing to the point where Archer would not be allowed in England or to play for England, nor do people on either side want those rules to change, but that is where we are all heading: to a closed border society, where my side of the river is my side of the river, and your side of the river is your side of the river. I am not saying that that point of view is wrong, I am just saying that is the way the tide is turning, and that it might end up hampering this great international game that has so much more to teach us.

And it’s already happening, with Brexit eliminating Kolpak status for cricketers. And even without Brexit, the Cotonou Agreement is set to expire at the end of the month, which is going to severely limit players from the Caribbean and South Africa and their pursuit of the work permits needed to play county cricket in England.

Our world is getting bigger, but also getting smaller. Borders are closing, maybe forever, and as those borders close, we lose out on the chance to see the people on the other side of those borders as human beings, people, friends.

Maybe I am overstating things, playing Chicken Little or the Boy Who Cried Wolf. And maybe smaller worlds are better worlds, maybe our silos will protect us, and maybe even protect our planet. But it’s hard to see fewer interactions, fewer shared goals, as a net positive, and it’s easy to slip into doomsday scenarios where once again all we know looks the same, and all we know is what is around us, and where what we don’t know is remote and evil and wrong.

I don’t want to live in that world.

I don’t think anyone does. No matter their side of the aisle.

And so let’s work together to find common ground. Because there is always common ground. Let’s make sure future Jofra Archers can go to England and play cricket, but let’s also make sure people with similar backgrounds who aren’t world class bowlers also have opportunities to better themselves. Let’s reasonably protect our borders to provide safety and comfort, but let’s also allow the people who need to cross them to cross them.

Now I have reversed course, now I am Pollyanna. But when I look at the people I have met through sport, through cricket. When I look at what I understand about this big old world because of sport, because of cricket, I cannot help but feel a little hopeful. We are all people, we are all in this together, and the vast — vast — majority of us want the world to be a better place for all those who live here. When I look back on the World Cup last summer, I don’t see a country divided, embroiled in a once-in-a-generation fracture, but I see a country rising as one to cheer on Jofra Archer, bowling at Lord’s, in the world’s greatest international city, while the whole planet watched. That’s the future I want. Not just for cricket, but for all of us, everywhere. Our politics divide, but we are all human, and we all want great things, and that afternoon in London I think showed us all that we are capable of getting there.

Of getting there together.

It’s a big world. We’ll be okay. I really do think so. And I think so because of cricket.

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