The Imperfect Politics of Ted Lasso
True change calls on us to ‘believe’ without bravado
If you watch Ted Lasso, you’ll know (and likely love) the “Believe” sign hanging over Coach Lasso’s door. Yes, it invites folks to believe. But just as importantly: Unlike more standard motivational office fare, it’s handwritten, crooked, and barely held up by blotches of tape. In other words: It’s perfectly imperfect. Which is exactly the right mood in which to conduct politics.
It’s also exactly the mood Americans can’t seem to strike. Even in our darkest hour, Americans tend toward an upbeat brand of bright-eyed, rah-rah-optimism that can, ironically, tend to make matters worse.
For starters, American hope is often not so much hope as a sense of absolute certainty that the universe (or God, or the stars, or any number of other cosmic spirits) will give us what we full well know is owed us, by darn it! In other words, it’s often less a Lasso moment of “believe in what can happen when you show up and put in the work,” and more a spirit of being pretty sure that we’ll be getting whatever our heart desires because heck, we’re awesome and why would we not get all the amazing stuff we deserve?
American hope is often the anti-Lasso: A sense of “believe” framed by a spirit of bravado.
Not unrelatedly, American hope is also often out of touch with the vulnerable ways embodied memory, historical trauma, and structural inequity work in the lives of our neighbors. It can lead us to expect neighbors to “forgive and forget” and — while we’re at it — finally give us that big bear hug we’ve been waiting for (cue up the soundtrack to your favorite rom-com). But the problem here is not simply setting our sights on unlikely outcomes. The problem is that it makes us worse at civics.
When we secretly hope that neighbors (especially the minoritized and marginalized ones) will “get over (fill in violent practice/system/industry that Americans have unleashed on the group in question),” we invite ourselves to take up a whole range of holier-than-thou, indignant, and impatient comportments: “Why are they still so bitter?”; “What more do they expect from us?”; “When will they finally shut up about X?”; etc.