Contributing columnist Luke Borman says that Americans should use the Olympics as a time to put political differences aside and unite in support of their country. 

We’re blessed to get to experience the Summer and Winter Olympics every four years and even more blessed they overlap so we get the Olympic Games every two years. Beyond that, the U.S. is fortunate to have such a diverse and talented population that our athletes consistently rank among the best in every sport. Other countries might specialize in one event and put all their resources into training their athletes for one day of competition, only to be beaten by the U.S.

We have the distinct privilege of not even realizing how good we have it. We’re used to winning. So, let’s not take that for granted. We can all take some time out of our overcommitted lives to turn on NBC while we’re studying or eating. If that’s too much, download the NBC sports app and follow along in between classes at Showker, on the bus to ISAT or in line at Starbucks. Our athletes deserve our support, and with the growing division in our country, they’re a perfect force to unite behind.

America is the most politically polarized it’s been in decades. Friendships were severed after the 2016 election and 2017 didn’t bring the return to normalcy promised by both sides. If anything, the U.S. is even more divided on politics. On campus, tensions have stayed high for quite some time. I’ve been called names for wearing a Washington Nationals cap, due to its resemblance to the president’s signature headwear, and it was recently that a fresh tribute to a departed brother of JMU’s Omega Psi Phi chapter was painted over with a “Trump 2016” message.  But we don’t need to stay so discordant.

In political science, there’s a phenomenon called the “rally ’ round the flag” effect. In short, it’s the observation that when a country is attacked or goes to war, the approval rating of the head of state skyrockets. Two weeks after 9/11, George W. Bush hit the highest presidential approval rating of all time — 90 percent. The idea is that we become more proud of who we are when there’s an outside force attacking us.

I call for a similar thing to happen during the Olympics, albeit more peacefully. We’ve wasted the past three years locked in a political cage fight. We paused briefly during the 2016 Olympics, but the presidential campaign and the fact that both major candidates largely ignored the games drew away from their unifying effect. Now is our time to stop fighting among ourselves and put our competitive American spirit to use, cheering on our Olympians against the other countries.  

In the Olympics, we’re given the gift of having something to unify behind that’s not politics. By making mutual connections over supporting the same bobsledders and hockey players, we can move toward a deeper mutual respect and empathy. Politics isn’t the whole of life, but rather an accident of it. When Democrats and Republicans come together to cheer on the best our union has to offer, it lays a base relationship. When the games are over and we go back to politics, it’s easier to see the people who disagree with you on guns and government spending as people and recognize that the difference in opinion doesn’t mean anyone is better or worse than the other.  

If we can’t pull ourselves together this February, it’ll be dispiriting. After all, North and South Korea, two of the most politically different countries on the planet, marched in the opening ceremony together and fielded a co-national women’s hockey team at the games. One country is communist-authoritarian, one is capitalist-democratic; one is the sworn eternal enemy of the U.S., and the other is one of its closest allies. They’re separated by a minefield and a history of conflict, yet their common Korean identity, divergent for almost 75 years now, is enough to bring them to march and compete together, if only for one event. We must learn from the Koreans how to overcome differences much smaller than theirs to celebrate our commonalities. Our national identity must be strengthened this Olympics so that going forward, we’ll go together. It’s time we stopped being red and blue states, and start being United States.

Luke Borman is a junior international affairs major. Contact Luke at bormanln@dukes.jmu.edu