Play tennis like a Republican!
“The perfect match is finding a way to win that match.” –Brad Gilbert, U.S. tennis champion and famed coach to tennis stars; author, “Winning Ugly”
Among passionate tennis hackers like me, there are two types of players.
Type A players will do anything to win. Winning is everything. Tennis is a game and the point of games is to win.
Many don’t play so well. Their strokes look less like Federer and more like they’re fighting off a swarm of murder cicadas. But they play just as viciously.
Dink, drop, push, chop, psyche, it’s all fair game and a proven way to frustrate, demoralize and “beat” far better players. The hoary Grantland Rice advice, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” is for losers. Like Type B players are.
Type B players care about how you play. Winning isn’t everything. Winning ugly is even worse. Even losers can win by losing greatly.
These players want to play well, get a sweaty exhausting workout, have fun, and work on their strokes, shots and strategies. They’d rather be humbled by someone better — that’s how you get better — than easily beat someone worse. No fun in that.
When they hit an unintentional winner, Type B lifts a hand in apology. Sometimes they don’t even keep score! They honor the game, win or lose, and very much hate playing with Type A players.
In politics today, Republicans are the Type A play-to-win and Democrats are the Type B respect-the-game.
This is not a slam on Republicans. To the contrary, it may be the elusive universal theory that explains our unbridgeable political divide.
More practically, if Democrats want to win more for their growing base of voters, they need to take lessons from today’s Republicans who are leveraging their shrinking base to stay in power.
In tennis terms, here’s how:
1. Dispute the score.
Two-fold benefit: You can claim points you didn’t win and disrupt your opponent’s game.
That’s why Republicans keep disputing the 2020 election results, performatively claiming “The Big Lie” that Trump won, and recounting Arizona.
While the chances of overturning the election are nil to bupkis, Republicans know The Big Lie thrills their base and drives the Democrats crazy. A win either way!
2. Challenge line calls.
Your opponent called your shot out from two feet away from the ball.
You also clearly see your shot was out from the opposite baseline, 78 feet away.
So what? Like disputing the score, vociferously arguing your shot was good and wearing down your opponent who has a healthier psychology and so doesn’t care as much about winning also has the double benefit of “winning” points and gaslighting.
That’s why Republican politicians continue challenging Trump’s landslide loss, like John McEnroe screaming “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!!!,” even though Republican judges and state legislators called the election results good.
Challenging the election call also wins points with Trump voters and deliciously triggers the libs, which is crucial when you have no alternative policy agenda.
3. Work the rules.
Few tennis hackers know all the official U.S. Tennis Association rules.
Some are obscure, like if your hat falls off and you trip over it, you don’t get to call a “let” and start the point over.
Many tennis rules are discretionary that only sticklers (aka, douchebags) enforce, like calling “hindrance!” when an opponent grunts to pick up your sad block dink accidental “winner” shot.
Type A tennis players will use, ignore, invent or twist the rules however possible and necessary to win. This is why an eerie number are successful lawyers.
Similarly, Republicans win by ignoring, reinterpreting or changing the rules as they go along. With a straight face.
For instance, Senate Republicans justified their refusal to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination during an election year, but then justified rushing through President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination during an election year.
Republicans also declared that impeachable presidential rule-breaking, such as abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and incitement for insurrection, is unimpeachable. Especially when their former president and his media continue to captivate his poor, dumb, insurrectionist base and control the party while he plots his triumphant return to power like a Socialist dictator.
Disputing the score, challenging line calls, and working the rules are all tacit forms of cheating, if not de jure or de facto, then certainly de douchebag.
Cheating in tennis works if you: a) can get away with it; b) can’t win any other way; c) lack basic decency, manners and morals; d) don’t mind being hated; or, e) any or all of the above.
Republicans know they can’t win if everyone votes and everyone’s vote is counted equally. They know where our demographics are heading, and that the party is over for the traditional white GOP and their “family values” after Trump disgraced every family value. It’s no coincidence that Republicans lost every popular vote in the last 20 years except in 2004.
No wonder Republicans need to cheat. You almost feel sorry for them with their desperate last-ditch efforts to win by: rigging the vote through gerrymandering; suppressing the nonwhite vote; buying the vote with unlimited secret money thanks to their Supreme Court Citizens United decision; and denying the vote to 700,000 Americans in Washington, D.C., to protect Congress from two Black Senators.
I’m not criticizing Republicans per se.
I’ve served with many Republicans. I know many Republicans. Republicans are friends and tennis partners of mine.
But today’s Trump-captive Republican Party are no Republicans.
Like Type A versus Type B tennis players, the difference between Republicans and Democrats today comes down to respect for the game. The game is politics, but if you take it seriously, it comes down to governing our country.
Democrats love government, and want to use it to make America better. Republicans hate government, and want to destroy it then claim it doesn’t work. Like in any pursuit including tennis, who would be better at governing?
For Type A tennis hackers, the spoils of victory may include a $20 club trophy and an ego snack to feed a tragically insatiable need for validation.
For today’s GOP, the spoils may include an unsustainable cling to power along with historic infamy and irrelevance.
Is that winning?
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.