Maybe you have heard that some or all of the Golden State Warriors may decline an invitation to celebrate their NBA championship at Donald Trump’s White House, if Donald Trump chooses to invite them, which he has not yet. Maybe you have also heard that yesterday morning, an angry man with Bernie Sanders themes on his Facebook page shot up the baseball diamond where the Republican team was practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game.
Maybe you look at these two stories and see two stories, sort of vaguely related in their themes of sports and politics and, in the very broadest possible sense, distaste for Republicans. The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, in her column today, sees a deeper relationship. An angry man with Bernie Sanders themes on his Facebook page shot up a Republican congressional baseball practice, and therefore, actually the Golden State Warriors should visit the White House and shake Donald Trump’s hand.
“What’s needed now [that an angry man with Bernie Sanders themes on his Facebook page shot up a Republican congressional baseball practice],” she writes, “is not more exiling, more estrangement, more distance, more abstracting of political opponents into paper targets,” but rather “tolerance” and “persuasion.” Now that an angry man with Bernie Sanders themes on his Facebook page shot up a Republican congressional baseball practice, Americans have a duty to reach across divides; to engage, even—maybe even especially—with those with whom we know we will disagree.
The Warriors, attractive public figures as they are, have a unique ability to cut through all the shouting and perform an act of critical social activism: They can be exemplars of political civility at a time when it’s most needed. They can gracefully agree to meet with someone they may oppose with their whole souls and stand in a room with him and grip his hand and then turn around and tell the world, this is what Americans do; even when we disagree, we shake. We don’t shoot.
This column has drawn some harsh responses, on Twitter and elsewhere. Not unreasonably! Just at a glance, maybe you object to Jenkins somehow seeming to put peaceful boycott and gun violence on the same side of a violence-versus-nonviolence spectrum. Maybe you’re baffled by the notion that visiting the White House can be a conciliatory, politically neutral act when the president is historically unpopular and draws literally all his power and validation from his occupancy of that building and office. Maybe you object to the idea that a predominately black sports team should shoulder responsibility for fostering healthful political discourse in the United States by smiling at and shaking hands with the white supremacist currently rolling back civil rights protections across the federal government. Maybe you’re puzzled by the suggestion that a sports team must—or even can—reassure us all of the continuity of American tolerance when the president himself became president by rejecting it. Maybe you don’t think the Golden State Warriors—and not the president who explicitly exhorted his followers to violence during the campaign and threatened the city of Chicago with martial law mere days after his inauguration—bear the moral burden of demonstrating that “even when we disagree, we shake. We don’t shoot.”
One of those who raised relatively mild objections is ESPN’s Bomani Jones, a frequent and thoughtful interrogator of the intersections between race, politics, and sports. In a series of tweets, Jones pointed out that Jenkins’s column never even touched on the subject of race, which surely would have some bearing on the question of whether a group of mostly black athletes, from what’s still largely coded as a black sport, would want to visit this particular president.
He also red-flagged the implication that the Golden State Warriors possibly choosing to boycott Donald Trump’s White House is the moment to wring one’s hands over the vital importance of tolerance.
These seem like reasonable points of dispute! Luckily for him, Sally Jenkins definitely for sure 100-percent believes all of this high-minded stuff about the vital importance, at this critical juncture, of engagement across established cultural and social divides, and definitely was not bashing a pair of ill-fit but chronologically overlapping news stories into the Take Macro.
It’s important to engage civilly with people with whom you disagree, unless they are disagreeing with your column about the importance civil engagement with people with whom you disagree, in which case you should shut them out. This is too important to argue over!