The U.S. government would love to use MLB as a distraction, again

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A return to normalcy. It’s an empty promise when “normal” is so terrible for so many, when normalcy is what helped bring us to this moment in time where even more lives than usual are in danger, when profits are being placed above the welfare of people and their lives. It’s an old promise, though, and a time-tested one that’s effective in its messaging, even if what it promises is underwhelming or outright untrue.

“A return to normalcy” is basically all that’s powering the campaign of the assumed Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, a campaign that’s hoping you’ll ignore that the “normalcy” it’s promising is what helped the current regime rise to power in the first place. It’s a card both the Dems and the Republicans can play to great effect, though, in terms of maintaining power and avoiding doing anything more than acknowledging the symptoms of some real issues. Just look at what Senate Majority Leader and Republican Mitch McConnell has been saying lately, about bringing Major League Baseball back:

“I called the commissioner of baseball a couple weeks ago and said, ‘America needs baseball,’” McConnell said. “It’s a sign of getting back to normal. Any chance?’”

“If we can salvage part of baseball, surely we can salvage football, as well,” McConnell said. … “I think the country needs sports.

“We’ve all missed that during the pandemic, and the sooner we can get at least some of our sports — and I think the one eligible to begin first, would be baseball — it would be a great morale-booster for the country and an indication that we are going to begin to get back to normal.”

Now, McConnell doesn’t necessarily believe in much besides gaining and maintaining power. Alex Pareene wrote a tremendous profile of McConnell last spring, titled “Nihilist in Chief,” and if you want more of an understanding of who the Senate Majority Leader is and what drives him, then you should read that in full. McConnell is not going to change who he is because someone accuses him of being a hypocrite, and there is nothing he believes in outside of holding on to power, which makes him difficult to pin down. So, it’s no surprise at all to see him talking about how the thing that matters here is that life appears to be normal again, even if it isn’t. Sports are back! Please ignore that the Republican-controlled Senate is refusing to put forward any plans that will actually help Americans during the pandemic unless those Americans are already wealthy, and that knowing this has caused the Democrats — who love to let McConnell dictate the terms of their relationship — to happily slide into not doing much to help, either, even in the house of Congress they control. Sports!

Earlier this week, Hannah Keyser wrote about McConnell’s “dangerous political theater”, and you should read that, too. These passages are key, though, so they’re included below:

We don’t need signs or indications that things are getting back to normal — we need things to get back to normal! And we need politicians who are trying to figure out how to do that safely before they start planning their own ticker tape parades or practicing their honorary first pitches.

Talking publicly about how important it is to shush people’s very real fears and distract them from still-rising daily death tolls and disastrously unprepared healthcare systems, to symbolically smooth over the gaping socioeconomic fissures revealed in the past few months, is a shocking example of saying the quiet part out loud. If you’re a fan of the sport, you should take it as a personal affront that McConnell would conscript the quaint, unquestioned patriotism of baseball to do so.

Congress has no qualms about using MLB to distract from whatever they are doing or not doing. which is not a new idea to them. The Iraq War wasn’t that long ago, for instance, and when Congress needed a distraction from that unpopular, murderous venture, they turned to Major League Baseball to find it. Former Arizona Senator John McCain was at the center of much of this, calling the Players Association executive director of the time, Donald Fehr, to Washington D.C. along with then-commissioner Bud Selig for multiple hearings on steroid use in MLB. He was far from alone, though, with his threats to find “legislative remedies” to PED use in baseball. President George W. Bush mentioned steroid use in MLB during his 2004 State of the Union address — in between discussing the threat of terror attacks and promoting abstinence for high schoolers to combat sexually transmitted diseases.

This wasn’t just a Republican ploy, either: the Democrats fully supported and voted to fund the Iraq War, too, and they had their own stars in this little drama. California Representative Henry Waxman focused the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on MLB on MLB and its steroid use — this is the televised session you remember, featuring the cratering of Mark McGwire’s reputation — with the committee not only blaming McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and others for ruining baseball, but also for having a hand in the death of young athletes around the country, thanks to their steroid use and failure as role models. As Jon Pessah notes in The Game, Waxman and the Oversight Committee had nothing to say about American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners and racking up human rights violations through rape and murder in the prison of Abu Ghraib, but they did have room for a television special on something someone else did wrong to help distract from all of that.

Congress got their non-Iraq headlines by televising these committee sessions, by threatening that MLB would be punished were they to fail to comply with various demands — the hearings, turning over what were supposed to be anonymous drug tests, increasing punishments for players caught using — and all of this despite the fact that, in the end, all of this, even the deaths the government tried to put at McGwire’s feet, was nothing compared to the unified government’s murdering of Iraqis, or that their blood-for-oil campaign created a vacuum from which ISIS formed, only furthering the death and destruction of the region.

They got their distraction, and Selig used the moment as an opportunity to throw the MLBPA under the bus in an attempt to absolve himself from any guilt in the steroid crisis, and then backed over them a few times for good measure. Hey, if Congress was going to come at Selig’s sport, he was going to make sure he found a way to make it work for him.

The U.S. government is currently predicting an eventual 3,000 American deaths per day as of June 1 because of the coronavirus, and they’re fine with that as long as the economy is safe, just as they were fine with the deaths of countless Iraqis if it meant they had access to new oil reserves and the ability to continue to push their agenda as hegemon and world police abroad. That, to them, is just a fact now, a thing that they’ve accepted will be worth their lack of caring, their support of the mega-rich and protection of their profits. They would love it if Major League Baseball were willing to be complicit in this violent shrugging of the shoulders: it would give everything a sense of normalcy, in the sense that life would appear to be going on while it ended for thousands more per day than it needed to. So long as things appear normal — really, as long as monstrous behavior is able to be normalized — then Congress, and McConnell, are getting what they want. And what they want doesn’t align one bit with what we need: don’t let the potential return of “normalcy” distract from that.

  • I learned a whole lot from this Shakeia Taylor piece on Effa Manley and her hidden life.

  • Kim Kelly wonders why WWE is considered essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but its workers are not.

  • Kim Stanley Robinson, author of quite a few excellent books about reshaping civilization before, during, and after a major crisis, has a piece in the New Yorker about coronavirus rewriting our imaginations and what is possible to reshape in society.

  • The Korean Baseball Organization has begun their season — possible in large part because their home country has handled COVID-19 far more successfully than MLB’s has — so Patrick Dubuque wrote a (free) introduction to the league’s teams for Baseball Prospectus.

  • Jon Hegglund wrote about MLB’s “Fifth Season” and disaster capitalism, and I’m not just linking to it so that there’s evidence that someone besides me is saying what MLB is doing with their pandemic agenda is a form of disaster capitalism.

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