Constable: Bitter Facebook enemies unite behind Cubs
Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I see the posts from gun-loving conservatives who pass along “news” about how President Barack Obama is an African-born Muslim terrorist, the first lady is genetically a man and their daughters were kidnapped as infants. At the other end of the political spectrum are posts from Bernie Sanders-loving, Ronald Reagan-hating left-wingers who can't believe George W. Bush and Dick Cheney aren't in prison.
These people vehemently disagree about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the U.S. flag. They seem willing to end up black and blue because of their harsh disagreements about the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter. They could not have more diverse opinions when it comes to Syrian refugees, women's rights, climate change, gun laws, religion, the Confederate battle flag, fracking, evolution, Donald Tump and Hillary Clinton. Some share a story headlined “Larry the Cable Guy to Hillary: You Will Be the End Of Our Country!” Others post Socrates' quotes as a way to rip Trump. They can't even find common ground on pickup trucks, music or cheese snacks.
They come from such opposite sides of the political and social landscape that it's difficult to imagine them agreeing about anything.
Yet they both click the “like” box for any post supporting the Chicago Cubs. Even the guy who says he's voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson jumps into the all-inclusive Cubbie lovefest.
“A big part of our identity is the group we belong to,” says Jon Mueller, 59, a professor of psychology and an athletics mentor for men's basketball and tennis at North Central College in Naperville. “These groups are really important to us.”
Sometimes people bond over membership in the same religion, race, age or gender. Sometimes geography plays a role. Sometimes social status is the link. And sometimes it's the Cubs who bring diverse people together.
“We have an in-group bias,” Mueller says. “We have a preference for our own group, and we see our group as superior to the out-group.”
As we know from political posts, facts aren't as important as what we feel in our hearts. Cubs fans are on the same side. Wrigley Field might be the only place in the country where a conservative fan of Donald Trump and a liberal supporter of Hillary Clinton can high-five over a homer hit by a catcher from Venezuela.
“We prefer to like people in our own group,” says Mueller, who notes that sports also come with an easily defined enemy. “Sports provide a common external threat. The fact that sports involves competition makes it far easier for this us vs. them mentality.”
Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians is easy. You need to have some knowledge to enter a debate about the pros and cons of income-tax plans, or even to compare the bullpen strengths of the Indians and Cubs. But it's apparently very easy to like a musical montage of Cubs video highlights set to “Go, Cubs, Go.”
“I see all these cars with W flags driving down the streets,” says Mueller, adding that this sort of universal togetherness has happened outside sports. “Briefly, after 9/11, we brought the country together because we had a common external threat.”
That Cubs fan unity, like the post 9/11 unity, has a short shelf life.
“It's not going to keep us together forever,” Mueller says.
I've already seen cracks in the Cubs alliance because of “America's Dad” Tom Hanks, whose portrayals of a gay man with AIDS, a war hero, an astronaut, Buzz Lightyear and Forrest Gump make him universally loved.
“I know the entire world and three-legged dogs and orphan children are all rooting for the Chicago Cubs,” Hanks said this week to “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, who is a Cubs fan. “I'm rooting for the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series.”
“Toy Story 4” might make us Cubs fans overlook his baseball loyalties. In the meantime, it's sort of fun to think that haters at each end of the spectrum can cheer for the Cubs together throughout the World Series, as if our mutual fanaticism bridges all our other gaps.
“People find out they're both Cubs fans,” Mueller says, “and they walk away thinking, ‘Well, that guy's not bad.'”