Stay Beautiful, Pittsburgh

The Most Significant American Athletes Ever

I try to get up to Citi Field to see the Phillies play the regular season juggernaut New York Mets every year. When I do, I try to get a picture of the #42 shrine in the Jackie Robinson rotunda. I consider Jackie Robinson to be one of the few indispensable American athletes. His societal impact is that big. There are very few athletes as significant as him. My list is the following, in no order:

  • Jackie Robinson- broke the color barrier in baseball.
  • Michael Jordan- arguably the best basketball player ever, also completely changed the scale of sports marketing and earnings potential for athletes.
  • Babe Ruth- the first true superstar in American sports.
  • Muhammad Ali- whether it was his epic fights or his historic anti-war stance, Ali captivated American culture.
  • Jesse Owens- the guy was the most dominant athlete of the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany. He dismayed and humiliated the most awful dictator of his times, a man who would have killed him.
  • Hank Aaron- he broke Babe Ruth’s records, and did it in the 1970’s Deep South.

That’s my list. There are actually better athletes. There are other close calls. But these are the most groundbreaking., in my opinion.

About Me, Again

Do you remember life before the internet?

From a purely technical standpoint, no. The internet existed in 1983. Most of us just weren’t on it then. Prodigy and America Online started to become a thing when I was a child, and really took off. They kind of hit their pinnacle when I was a teen, and then were gradually replaced by the “search engine period.” Today, obviously everyone is online all the time with smartphones. Basically the internet is now ever present.

I think what this question really is- were you around before people lived their whole lives online? When kids didn’t grow up with smartphones, when you couldn’t look up literally anything in a few seconds, when you called friends instead of texting or messaging, pre-social media, etc. The answer to that question is yes.

America Thinks The System Sucks

I pulled out of the gym parking lot earlier and got behind a truck with the license plate “MAGA USA.” As I do almost every time I see someone with Trump gear, I reminded myself this isn’t normal. I don’t fly a Biden or Obama flag on my house. My license plate isn’t about Bill Clinton. This is cult behavior. It’s also literally unique to the last seven years. I constantly remind myself that a majority of Republicans disapproved of Donald Trump when he entered the 2016 race. MAGA is bigger than the man that leads it, or Ron DeSantis, or Mike Pence. Absolutely none of the “serious” people seem to get why it happened though.

Within the “establishment” circles (I hate that word), there is a fundamental belief that our system, the post World Wars “order” that organizes our world, has been a rousing success. There’s pretty good evidence of that. Statistically it’s hard to argue. Americans live in a nation that enjoys a remarkable standard of living. Our market economy creates unheard of wealth. Our military is the strongest in world history. Poverty exists here, but it’s mild compared to much of the world. There are instances of failure, but we mostly have clean running water, solid schools (elite higher ed institutions), safe streets thanks to police, fire fighters, and other civil defenses, paved roads, remarkable innovation in the technology sector, and a basically free society (for now). By most big picture metrics, we live in a great time, in a great nation. For the most part, the entirety of official “establishment” Washington (and state capitols) holds this to be true. The Bush Republican Party would argue this is a credit to an innovative and free market, as well as a strong national defense. The Democratic Party would say that an active government role in our economy and advancements in the rights of the marginalized got us here. Regardless of why, both are all too happy to say “the state of our union is strong,” every year.

The problem is that a gigantic chunk of our society doesn’t agree. This is how MAGA went from a ridiculous slob riding down an escalator to having completely engulfed and replaced the Republican Party with a movement, then winning a national election. It also explains a third of the Democratic Party voting for a self-avowed socialist the last two elections. There are a vast number of Americans suddenly willing to “blow up the system” in recent years. Barack Obama left office vastly popular for a second term incumbent, and yet a sizable minority of the public wanted to take a blow torch to Washington. They almost re-elected the dumpster fire in 2020. They put that mess in charge of the U.S. House with a clear majority of the votes in 2022. The dissonance shocked a lot of people. Perhaps it shouldn’t have.

Polling says the public has felt we’re on the wrong track since at least 2008, and in reality since 9/11, with few exceptions. American households (and individuals) are saddled with unheard of personal debt for most of the big ticket items needed in adult life- education, cars, homes. Americans are working more hours than ever, but they’re not getting union rights like past generations, or overtime pay, pensions, and employer benefits like they did in the past. Low skill labor went from good paying factory jobs to Walmart wages. Opioid addiction, and addictions in general, are an epidemic that is literally killing Americans of all political stripes. Record numbers of grandparents are raising children. The majority of marriages are ending in divorce. Mass shootings are the norm, not an exception. Institutions from the Catholic Church to the military have been engulfed in humiliating and unthinkable scandals. The banks took advantage of us, and got bailed out. Bernie Madoff and Enron defrauded us, and we seemingly got no recourse. If you add up all the folks who lost in all of these “micro aggressions” within our society, you understand why a majority of Americans think we’re going in the wrong direction, regardless of what the macro statistics say. Even dumb things like inflation just compound this feeling.

With all of that working against “normalcy,” it shouldn’t be shocking that a lot of people are willing to believe in any conspiracy, and vote for a complete circus clown. Like I say about sports all the time, sometimes that stats are misleading. That is where we are. The people in the government, the press, the lobbyists, they have statistics that show the country runs well. They then go solve issues that don’t really connect with a huge chunk of the public. The public then thinks the system doesn’t work for them. And they look for change, even if it makes little sense to “the village.” (My term for DC) Then “the Village” collectively tells them how horrible MAGA or Dem populism is, and the public largely shrugs, because they already think everything is a hellscape. If nothing is good now, what’s so bad? Still other voters see Trump for the shitbag he is, but like the idea of upheaval in DC, and among policy “elites.” For many folks, just “disturbing the peace” in the system is an improvement on the system. That disdain for the status quo is driving the bus right now.

We are entering a third Presidential election in a row where MAGA Trumpism is dominating the GOP, the party it first cannibalized with it’s rage. From the moment Jeb(!) Bush was humiliated on stage as “low energy Jeb,” the Republican Party ceased to be small government and neoconservatism, even if the policy positions didn’t change instantly. The cult is going to increasingly demand their party represents the things they want, no matter how stupid they sound. This is why you see the increased emphasis on culture wars and extracting pain from the elites they don’t like (on both sides). The Democratic Party has managed to mostly avoid the same fate from the DSA left, but 15 years of being governed by Obama era politics is a historically long period for a party to stay in it’s paradigm. Congress is largely dysfunctional at this point, but you already see the rage creeping in with “oversight” hearings where the majority party calls in the target of their rage and yells at them for a few hours, then the topic usually dies off to the back burner. This rage politic is dripping into the functionality of our government. We literally almost defaulted on our national debt this week, and exactly what real policy positions were being fought over is only marginally clear. Most of the public doesn’t even know. Rage at the opponents has infected our politics absolutely.

All of this is not to say that I think voting for Trump, or DeSantis, or Pence, or any other MAGA figure makes any sense or is a good thing. It’s more to say that the first order of business in 2024 should be defeating this version of the GOP once and for all. Then it’s time for “the serious people” in Washington to realize the status quo is not great in America. A growing market, strong military, stable currency, and elections every two years isn’t going to cut it. Hopefully enough people will appreciate that President Biden rescued us from a dysfunctional train wreck, one more time. Then the question will become what comes next. What politician has their ear closest to Main Street, ready to answer the real questions facing America? I just pray it’s not a book banner.

40th Birthday Playlist #8

Here’s playlist #8.

Playlists 1-7:

40th Birthday Playlist #7

Sunday’s playlist:

Lists 1-6:

40th Birthday Playlists, Part 6.

40th birthday playlist #6.

Playlists #1-5.