Like many Americans on January 20, I was fixated on the pageantry of Inauguration Day. There is powerful symbolism in bringing all the characters—outgoing president, past presidents, vanquished primary opponents, the legislature, the judicial branch and however many (was anyone counting?) citizens—into the process by which power is transferred. This particular Inauguration Day had more central characters involved than any in recent memory, but in keeping with tradition, their daggers were put away for a short time and for a noble purpose.
The commentators all spoke about how uniquely American this process and ceremony are, and that is no doubt true. But other countries have something that we do not have—a ritual that frequently brings people of all political stripes and walks of life together to feel national pride and cheer for a singular national purpose.
How do they do it? They have a national team playing an international game in their national sport against a traditional and competitive rival. We do not have that, and I wish we did. It would bring a sense of common purpose to the nation more often than once every four years, and in a more lasting way. When India plays Pakistan in cricket, the population of each country is united in support of its team. When Argentina plays Brazil in soccer, national pride and national identity are at stake. There are many other examples.
One reason we Americans do not have a similar dynamic is that our collective passion is diffused through many different sports. The Olympics offer a great sense of national pride, but that pride is spread throughout multiple sports and events. In single-sport events, golf’s Ryder Cup certainly creates national excitement and pride for golf fans every two years, but it doesn’t go to the core of the country in a “we are all in this together” way. Even on our signature sports day, Super Bowl Sunday, we take different sides.
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