If you’re reading this piece, it’s safe to assume you are old enough to remember games. To be more specific, the reference is to childhood games you played with other children, not alone in your bedroom with a device in your lap, on your bed or across the room on your desk. Imagine a time when kids knew one another’s names and forged life-long friendships. Remember a time when kids were equipped with the social skills needed to resolve conflicts and disputes without gangs, guns, parents or the police.
Boys played street games. Skelly, flicking bottle caps around a huge square game board drawn on the asphalt with over-sized colored chalk. They played stickball with a cut-off broomstick and a little pink ball– a Spalding or Pensy Pinky. They played touch football in the street or in the grass if there was any to be found.
Girls played lightning-fast Double Dutch, with cool lyrics like, “Down in the valley, where the green grass grows, there sat Janey, sweet as a rose. Along came Johnny and kissed her on the cheek. How many kisses did she get this week? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…” They faced-off and clapped hands singing, “Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black, black, black, with silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back, back, back…” and so on. They played Jacks, with the little red ball and the snowflake shaped metal jacks. Onesies, twosies and threesies, etc.
I remember games boys and girls played together like “Hide and go seek” or “Hot peas and butter, come and get your supper.” The one thing in common with all of these games was playing fair. It was an unspoken rule that you played fair. If you were caught cheating, you might find yourself on the receiving end of an angry group scolding or worse– the losing end of a fist fight. Playing fair was serious business.
The most common version of cheating was the classic rule-change. The rule-change is a tactic deployed by a party determined to win at all costs. Here’s an example of an exchange between a potential cheater and his buddies: “That line was not out-of-bounds, we said the curb was out.” “No, the curb is not out, the line has always been out, that’s why we draw it in the first place– it’s out. Yo man, every time you’re about to lose, you try to change the rules.” “Do not!” “Do too!” You get the picture!
In the Old West, a cheating card shark was often met with fatal consequences– a perforated torso. Modern day casinos employ sophisticated technology at great expense to guard against the talented card counter and technology designed to “beat” the house. If a cheater is caught, they’re likely to be physically ejected, prohibited from returning, and possible prosecution. Other games and sports like hockey, soccer, boxing, tennis, golf, wrestling, basketball, football, ping-pong, baseball, and every Olympic event has its rules. NASCAR and Formula One have rules. Penalties are applied when those rules are broken.
Cheating is simply breaking the rules to obtain a decided and unfair advantage. Cheating is inherently dishonest. Cheating is deception, intended to conceal unfair play– the proverbial ace up the sleeve.
Cheating is not new, and because of man’s propensity to cross the line and behave badly, there has always been a need for officials. Umpires and referees monitor play for fairness and adherence to a game’s rules. Judges and magistrates officiate legal proceedings presumably to assure rules are followed and laws are upheld.
Cheating is slight-of-hand, the con, the swindle, the fraud. Cheating is the filibuster, rezoning and regentrification, the Big Lie. Cheating is new voting legislation obstructing a citizen’s ability or opportunity to vote. Cheating is Bernie Madoff, Mitch McConnel, Lindsey Graham, Donald Trump, and when the cheater is a bully, he looks you in the eye and says, “So what? What are you going to do about it?” That’s gangster! But don’t overlook the cowards who turn a blind eye to the deception.
When Malcolm said, “we’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled” he was referring to those responsible for the deception, but also those complicit in the deception, who remain silent, like a ref ignoring an obvious foul. When former President Obama spoke of guardrails, there was a presumption on his part of referees in the game. He believed there were baseline guardrails of decency, honor, honesty, courage and fair play. He believed someone would have thrown a flag on the play and called “roughing the passer– 15-yard penalty, first down”. He must have believed, as did many of us, that ultimately a player would be thrown out of the game for behavior unbecoming the sport– in this case, politics. He was admittedly wrong.
That’s what’s on my mind!