Sports are set up as a “zero” sum game. Someone wins and someone loses. Most would agree that Americans like to win. Our whole society seems set up on a competitive matrix. It starts well before Little League age and extends into adulthood and beyond.

A few years back I went to my grandson’s T-ball game. What a great concept. Every kid gets to bat every inning. Every child takes his glove and goes onto the playing field while the other team has a turn at bat. Where better to learn the lessons of participation and cooperation. Then someone hit a ball into the outfield and three little boys ran after it like it was one of Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies. As the three neared the ball one of the boys pushed the smallest one aside, grabbed the other boy by the arm and swung him into the fence. He then picked up the ball and began running back toward the infield. The runner was circling the bases and several boys yelled for him to throw the ball, but he was not about to share such a hard won prize. Thus, did competitive nature reveal itself in even the most neutral of settings?

I have loved competition almost from birth. We did not have Little League when I was growing up but that didn’t keep all the neighborhood kids from meeting at the closest empty field, placing large rocks out for bases and mimicking the best players of our favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals.

What followed continued into adult life and only seems to slow slightly as one reaches an older vintage. We tend to admire those who have strong aggressive tendencies. They seem to get things done, much like they used to on the playing field. Competition? Oh yes.

There is a parallel to this in political life. President Donald Trump says we Americans need to get used to winning. He says we are going to win so much it will get boring. Here-in is the beginning of an interesting conflict. In more than 60 years of watching national politics I have observed that winning at the top levels is not only very difficult, it is hard to measure. Like in physics, every action seems to have an opposite reaction. When Abraham Lincoln used the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves his detractors said it would be the end of us. When Harry Truman integrated the military, when Dwight Eisenhower forced the desegregation of schools, when Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into existence, when Barak Obama directed the creation of Obamacare, many said each action would be the end of us. Detractors appear each time there is a change in government policy. The point is that criticism comes with each action despite the fact that compromise involves the multiple sides of an issue and is always required to reach a decision at the highest levels. When the critics are after you it is hard to know whether you are winning or losing. Someone said, “When you are up to your rear in alligators it is hard to remember that your purpose is to drain the swamp.”

In truth, a president never wins unless the people he is serving win. One could say that winning comes when something good and long lasting is done for the people. The secret of winning is not in coming out on top in the competition it is, instead, related to long term benefit for the people. And, assessing benefits for the people is difficult, sometimes taking decades.

The best advice to our president is to take the emphasis off of winning and place it on long term accomplishments for the people. Then the president can expect the ride to be bumpy but, in the end, the people will appreciated him and history will treat him well.

— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states. Books by Hopkins currently available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble include “Journey to Gettysburg” and “The Wounds of War,” both Civil War-era novels, and “The World As It Was When Jesus Came.” Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.