Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Winners and Underdogs

Superbowl LII.JPG

During his 2016 campaign for president, the future '45 loudly promised a group in Billings, Montana: "We're going to win so much, you're going to get sick and tired of winning." Implied in this abject bit of bumptious bloviation is/was a truth which will likely bite the 45th POTUS in the seat of the pants one of these days: to wit that Americans actually don't like winners; that we as a nation and a people, generally speaking greatly prefer rooting for underdogs than perpetual winners. Need proof?  One need go no further than last night's Superbowl LII, which, as every sentient being on the planet knows, was won by the underdog Philadelphia Eagles 41-33 over the seemingly perfect New England Patriots. 

Without question, the New England Patriots are the most successful football franchise of the Superbowl era.  Quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belicheck are the only duo to have won 5 Superbowls. Brady is everything an all-American hero should be: handsome, humble, richer than Croesus, lives in a breathtaking estate with an even more breathtaking wife, the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Caroline Bündchen. Hell, the California-bred Brady probably never even had a zit when he was a teenager.  And Bill Belichick, though rather dour and taciturn, is to coaching football what Magnus Carlsen is to the game of Chess: simply the best there is. And yet, polls show that outside of New England, Brady, Belichick and the Patriots are the most hated football team in America.  Why? Because all they ever do is win; they are boringly predictable.  Not so the Eagles, who up until last night, had never won a Superbowl, having lost to the Oakland Raiders 27-10 in 1980 and the Patriots 24-21 in 2005.  And to make matters even worse, the three other teams in their division — the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins — had each reached the mountaintop multiple times.

There is something in America's DNA which gives causes most of us to root for the underdog - the upstart - and express contempt for the perpetual winner . . . whether it be in the realm of sports, civics or wherever competition is a way of life.  Why is this so?  What does the trend - some call it a need - to root for the underdog say about human psychology?  Some say its underpinning is our sense of fairness and justice, which is both common psychologically, and enforced culturally. When an underdog is challenged by a stronger force, we root for the underdog because we seek a balancing of the two forces.  Then there are those scholars believe that we have a need to identify with the underdog; that this plays somewhat into our sympathetic, cooperative nature . . . but it also plays into the fact that most of us see ourselves as an underdog on some level.

So, when '45 crows ""We're going to win so much, you're going to get sick and tired of winning," he has (perhaps unwittingly) stumbled upon something which, if rephrased a bit, would be a pretty profound truth. However, in true Trumpian fashion, he's gotten it wrong; it's not the winner him- or herself who tires of victory . . . it's the one(s) who witness(es) the winner's endless string of victories.  A more profound statement would go something like "We've become so tired of watching the other guys win and win and win that we can no longer stand it.  When I'm elected POTUS, it's finally going to be our turn!"  

In his own eyes, Donald Trump is both a victor and an underdog; a man who is both a stupendous success and an utter commoner.  This bipolar self-image is part of what makes the  man so unpredictable - not to mention impossible to figure out.  For he's no more a reviled perpetual winner (like the New England Patriots) than a much beloved underdog (like the now World Champion Eagles). If what social psychologists posit about the DNA sequence which causes us to ultimately turn away from (if not actually hate) the perpetual winner and reattach to the beloved underdog, then '45 is headed for his own none-too-pleasant rendezvous with destiny.

379 days down, 1,178 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone