In the era of dog-eat-dog politics, we need more cats
American politics have fallen into a dog-eat-dog cycle where we’re either biting or being bitten. Maybe it’s time for more cats.
My family has owned several cats over the years, and they’ve all been ridiculously proud beasts. They don’t seem to need or even desire approval or affection like their canine counterparts. I can’t think of a cat I’ve met that didn’t look annoyed at being picked up by a human. Rammer and Jammer, my parents’ cats, offer frog, mole and rabbit pieces as tribute, but it’s more of a contract in exchange for room and board than a desire for praise.
Most humans are far more needy. For as confident as many of us are in our views, many of us need people to scratch us behind the ears and affirm our opinions. If only we stopped there. Too often we try to dominate dissenting perspectives by bearing our teeth and growling. After decades of abuse from political leaders, our reaction isn’t too different from that of terribly frightened dogs.
Cats might hiss and scratch, but they reserve the real brawls for the big-ticket disputes. They don’t waste their energy. Cats literally have a nap named after them.
When Sappho, my recently departed retriever, would see a tennis ball under the couch just out of reach, she might as well have been chained there. She would stick her paw as far as it would go, try to smash her head under the couch, and generally lose her mind…because tennis ball.
One of the family cats might have slapped a paw at the ball, realized it was out of reach and moved on. The ball remained under the couch either way.
Recently, I’ve seen friendships disintegrate because of different perspectives on President Donald Trump. Forget the issues. He’s just one politician. Pick up even more controversial political topics, drop them on social media, and you’ll see countless Americans refuse to relent on their arguments even if they’re not convincing anyone.
The cats among us have better things to do. They won’t waste time trying to convince their Democratic neighbor that he or she is a rabid socialist. It’s the tennis ball under the couch. It’s just not going to happen.
If cats are bothering to expend effort, they’re generally focused on the result. As I was doing the dishes, I spotted the neighbor’s cat outside my kitchen window sitting motionlessly by a ground squirrel burrow. I finished all the dishes, and the cat hadn’t so much as flinched save the occasional flick of its tail betraying predatory excitement.
Recently, I haven’t seen much patience in our politics. Too many of us react to every offense as if it’s the first shot in the American Revolution. Show a little patience, pick the moment and make the point when it impacts our policy dialogue. That said, we shouldn’t similarly treat our political opponents as prey.
Sappho’s approach to catching squirrels was quite different. She would typically jam her nose in the hole and dig furiously. The squirrels would simply find another exit.
Likewise, most of us dig into political arguments quickly and often lose sight of our objectives. At some point, Sappho stopped going after the squirrel and simply decided that digging the hole was the reason she was there in the first place.
The result: Big hole, no point. That’s a result we should try to avoid in our politics.
To be clear, we shouldn’t all be cats either. We need emotion and a moral quality to our political activities every bit as much as reason and pragmatism. Aristotle correctly described humans as political animals. I’ll always be a dog person, but these days I wouldn’t mind having a few more cool cats in American politics. Then we can break out the laser pointers and really have some fun.
Image credit: Glue Promsiri