“Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing” is a quote often attributed to the late legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi. Unfortunately, our society has viewed this philosophy of winning at any cost and by any means as the polar star of what defines our country.
Probably no individual in my lifetime has personified this philosophy more than the current president of the United States. To Donald J. Trump everything he does has to be identified with winning. As candidate Trump stated in a 2016 speech “We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be sick and tired of winning….” This focus on winning for Trump is so obsessive that even when he doesn’t win, he has to delude himself and his followers into believing that he did in fact win and any story to the contrary is “fake news.”
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The maniacal drive to win has helped foster the so-called “tribalism” of contemporary politics and the demonization of those who are standing in the way of your tribe’s winning. Take Roy Moore’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Alabama. Moore, accused of various incidents of sexual misconduct toward minors, has evoked a national firestorm. But most of the Alabama Republican establishment and some nationally have focused far more on the importance of “winning” that Senate seat than on the validity of the allegations against Moore. After all, winning is the only thing that matters.
This drive to win also has the Republican-controlled Congress desperate to pass a tax reform bill so they’ll have a “win” to brag about to voters in the coming year. I’m all for tax reform, but the rush to get the win, as opposed to a serious, bipartisan public process, does not lead to sound legislation. While I support easing the tax burden on individual citizens and small businesses, I’d like to know how many industry specific loopholes that allow huge corporations to not pay their fair share are being eliminated. I haven’t heard anybody talking about that. But after all, winning is the only thing that matters.
Finally, with the college football season stampeding toward the national championship playoffs, the focus on winning again reaches new heights of craziness. This week, Texas A&M fired football coach Kevin Sumlin, whose overall record there was 51-26. This year’s team was 7-5.
The athletic director at Texas A&M called Sumlin “a first-class person,” but winning two-thirds of the games he coached, in maybe the toughest conference in America, wasn’t good enough. After all, winning is the only thing that matters.
Not everyone gives in to this mentality. This week, UNC Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose declined to fire football coach Brad Lambert after a one-win season. But from the White House to the fields of Alabama to the playing fields of college football, winning has become “the only thing.” I can’t help but recall, however, the lines penned by the great sportswriter Grantland Rice, who in 1941 wrote “For when the One Great Scorer comes, To mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost – But HOW you played the game.”
Maybe it’s time America took those words to heart. Winning is important but losing sight of how those wins are attained and at what cost to principles and morality the wins are achieved, is not what we should be about.
Orr is a former N.C. Supreme Court justice. Email: greenponds.