Tennessee politics has become a one-sided boxing match that exhausts all participants

November 29, 2022 6:01 am
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Three years ago — three months into my 40’s — I had my midlife crisis.

A friend of mine had mentioned a boxing gym that he really liked, so I decided to try it out. I went to the heavy bag classes and even learned a few combinations. Some jabs, hooks and kicks to a stationary target made me puff my chest out a little bit more than usual. There was something satisfying about exacting some stored rage onto something that couldn’t hit me back. After about six months of that, however, someone talked me into training for an actual fight. I wish I had stuck to the bag.

I trained for a few months before the fight—sparring against other fighters and learning that boxing had a lot more strategy to it than I expected. In the end, though, I also learned that a fight was just a fight.

In the middle of the ring when the opening bell rang, it dawned on me that the only way for the fight to finish was if I made it to the end or if someone knocked someone out. Not too long into the match, my opponent squarely connected a punch with my face; I heard the crowd groan. Obviously, I knew the punch was hard because I felt it, but I also realized it was so forceful that the crowd heard it land. There were a few more like that during the fight.

By the end of the second round, with my face bloody, I just wanted it to be over.  I had landed a few punches—one knocking the head gear of my opponent to the side, but by the final round, I didn’t care about winning. I just wanted to survive and not embarrass myself. My arms were heavy and at one point, I honestly felt that I would rather weather the storm of the blows than try to defend myself. I just wanted to make it to the end. I was tired of fighting.

Recently, I’ve had that same feeling about politics in Tennessee and beyond. I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of screaming into a void. Watching Tennessee descend into a theocracy while conservative politicians legislate bills that strip people of freedoms and marginalize minority groups has left me exhausted. I also recognize the privilege I have to simply feel exhausted because many of these bills will never directly affect me or my lifestyle. I can’t imagine how tired and despondent members of targeted groups must feel.

While a lot of progressives were celebrating the mid-term elections and the stifling of the red wave that ended up being a ripple, it made me feel worse about Tennessee. 

Tennessee politics has become like a one-sided boxing match, with the Democratic Party fighting as if one hand was tied behind its back and the Republican Party throwing haymakers.

Gov. Bill Lee easily cruised to a victory by hiding. He refused to debate his Democratic opponent, Dr. Jason Martin; he rarely made appearances in front of the press. It was a strategy that highlighted the way power is being consolidated in the General Assembly with an overwhelming majority of fundamental conservative politicians introducing and passing laws that are not in the best interest of the general population. They attach their legislation to narratives of disinformation that elicit emotion. Rarely is any issue explored with depth and nuance in the public arena.

Information is disseminated now through soundbites and memes, both shallow mediums that feed on fear. Just like a boxing match, when one side hits, the other side counters—a jab followed by a right cross. The opponents descend further away from each other with each strike. The problem with Tennessee, though, is one party—Democratic—is fighting with a hand tied behind their backs and the other party—Republican—throwing haymakers.

One of the first bills introduced for the upcoming legislative session was by Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson and it dealt with an issue that every Tennessean should be concerned about:  affordable childcare options for working parents. 

Just kidding. The bill introduced was about Drag shows.

I’m almost positive that a bill seeking to close primary elections will be introduced as well as other bills that will further affect public education and more that could affect the LGBTQ community all the while ignoring that the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has hundreds of children sleeping on office floors. Protecting children isn’t exclusive to drag shows and abortion, right?

Conservative Tennessee politicians are only latching onto these issues of morality because a vocal minority of their constituents are pressuring them to do it. I can only assume these constituents feel backed into a corner and threatened by the wave of change they’ve seen in society over the last two decades. I’m not excusing their behavior and rhetoric, but simply trying to understand it. And, maybe that’s what we need to do more—seek to understand.

At the end of my fight, which I lost by decision, I found my opponent in the locker room and we took a picture together. We shook hands and laughed about how the experience would more than likely be our first and our last. 

Making friends with our political adversaries won’t solve all our issues, but opening some doors of communication with our neighbors might. It’s worth a try, at least, because it doesn’t feel like we’re winning the fight right now. And, in the end, people’s fundamental rights are at stake. That’s far more important than winning an argument.

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Gabe Hart
Gabe Hart

Gabe Hart is chief communications officer for Haywood County Schools and a former teacher of English and Literature. He writes a monthly op-ed column for The Jackson Sun as well as feature stories for the quarterly journal, "Our Jackson Home." He also serves on the education committee for the newly formed Jackson Equity Project which seeks to advocate for equity and justice for marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed people living in Jackson. Beyond writing and teaching, Gabe enjoys spending time with his fourteen year old daughter, exercising, and listening to music (specifically The National and Jason Isbell.)