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Color War

When I went to sleepaway camp as a kid (for five summers, eight weeks at a time) the worst thing that I had to endure was color war. Each bunk, and each age group in the entire camp, was split down the middle. Even the counselors in my own bunk could be on the opposing team. We were either white or blue, and almost all of the competitions that made up the war were fought against the kids we saw every day. There were swim competitions and foot races and trivia contests and ultimate Frisbee. We had to learn songs to cheer for our side, and wear t-shirts with our team colors. And at the end of the war there was a huge tug of war with the whole camp pulling on one or the other side of the rope.

I’m not sure what the purpose of color war was meant to be, maybe a team building exercise, or a chance to compete at the activities we’d just been doing carelessly each day before that, but the unintended consequence, or at least I hope it was unintended, was that we got to feel what it would be like to have to fight with our friends and neighbors, and it was awful.

By my last summer, I actively campaigned against not only my own involvement in color war, but its existence altogether. At thirteen, I could finally articulate the pain in the fact that my counselor, my mommy-substitute for two months, would be actively rooting against me for at least 24 hours. It was shattering.

It would be like splitting my family in half, with Grandma and Butterfly on one team and Cricket and I on the other, and every meal we ate, every TV show we watched, would be a battleground. Cricket would lose her mind.



This is what I’ve been thinking about lately, with the American presidential election in its long swing through hell. There are two teams, that’s it, and it’s a fight to the death to see who gets to represent each team, even if no one, really, can represent 50% of the country to anyone’s satisfaction.

In a multiparty system like Britain’s parliamentary system, smaller parties can win seats in the parliament and have influence in governing. A party that wins 20% of the votes in a multi-party system, will get 20% of the seats in the legislature, and a voice in parliament. In a two party system like we have in the United States, we can still have third parties, and have had many of them, but they rarely gain traction. Why? Because in winner-takes-all elections, the 20% a third party may be able to muster doesn’t win them any power. This is why Bernie Sanders is running as a Democrat, despite being an Independent, as well as a Democratic Socialist.

Americans seem to be comfortable with our two party split, our black and white dichotomies, not to put too fine a point on it. There are many people who’d like to make the next division Christian versus Moslem, as if everyone in the world is either one or the other. But that assumes that all Christians are one, and all Moslems are one, and that everyone else doesn’t exist. That’s what you have to do to create this two team system. You have to whitewash, or blackwash, everything.

The dichotomy between Republican and Democrat has never been more extreme in my lifetime than it is right now. During the Bill Clinton era, the constant complaint was that both parties were so centrist that choosing one over the other was just about brand loyalty and nothing deeper than that. Today, it’s a deep divide.

I think I’d be more comfortable with proportional representation, just because it fits my world view better. Let me fight with the people I’m actually in disagreement with, instead of a whole team of people who have to be loyal to each other no matter what they actually believe in.

Except, at least with the two party system, Trump has to won a majority (or if there’s a third party candidate by November, a plurality) of the votes in order to get into power. In a multiparty system he could win just 20% of the vote and at least have some power – and I would have to deal with that. Though it’s hard to imagine someone like Trump being interested in that kind of power. He’s an all or nothing kind of guy.

Another benefit of the two party system is that outliers like the Ku Klux Klan, who may still be a presence in certain states, cannot elbow their way into either of the big parties and get to power in the country overall. But, maybe that’s also part of the problem – most of the country had no idea these outliers were there. We didn’t know that there were going to be so many Trump supporters bubbling up, because until they reached a critical mass they were invisible in our winner-takes-all system.

But, I like the idea that in a family, even if there are certain people with more power, the minority voices – like Cricket’s and Butterfly’s – still get heard and still have a vote. They may not have the final vote, or the most heavily weighted vote, but they still count in the delegate math. Maybe Butterfly would be in the “food, glorious food” party, advocating for extra meals and extra treats. And Cricket would be in the “I want to play” party, advocating for extra outings and more interactive time with her people. They could work together on certain tasks, helping each other reach their goals, as long as they are both satisfied by the outcome. And on other issues they wouldn’t work together, but might find common cause with Grandma (“let’s go to the beach”), or with me (“snacks in front of the TV would be nice”). It’s a more flexible system, and allows people to be more honest about their beliefs and motivations.


“Grandma! It’s time for gardening!”


45 - and salty

“Grandma, aren’t you thirsty?”



About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

102 responses »

  1. countryphotogal93

    Those are some hilarious and sweet pictures of your dog. 🙂

  2. Things sure are a mess right now aren’t they? I like your suggestion, I like what both Bernie and Hilary say and wish they were working together.

  3. Sometimes it is more like a circus.

  4. I like your ideas about proportional representation. It might change the dynamic enough that things can change!

  5. My camp was white and green…… 🙂

  6. I like Cricket & Butterfly’s system

  7. A biscuit in every bowl.

  8. We don’t have proportional representation in the UK, although we have many parties, ours is a first past the post system. At our last election more people in total voted for parties other than the Conservatives but because they won more seats, they are the ruling party. As its close there are still times when the Conservatives don’t get their way as the current split means that although they have a majority, if some of their members don’t vote with their whip then they’ll loose a vote.

    It’s very complicated and I’d argue that smaller parties don’t really have that much influence, except in close voting, as the government still writes the legislation.

    The irony is that many would like proportional representation, but because it wouldn’t favour the Conservatives (and they hold government), they won’t allow a vote on it or bring forward the legislation it requires. I’d welcome it. It might make for more “interesting” governance but at least people would get what they voted for.

    I agree with you though, minorities should be heard, particularly when they have four paws and a furry tail 😉

  9. I come from a country where no one listens to what the people have to say, and watching American politics, it seems your politicians are going the same way!

    I was brought up in the “normal” school system, and never fitted in well – although I passed exams etc.
    Once I married, we lived far from a school and I had to teach my children the first few years until they could attend boarding school. I was told there was a lady available to help us – check that we were “on track” with school work. She ran a Montessori preschool. The first time I walked into the classroom, I was hooked. When I later did my degree, in ECD, I did my teaching pracs there and later taught in a Montessori school.
    Now, when teaching older kids I use the apparatus helping children who encounter reading difficulties and other learning problems. There is no competition in a Montessori environment and I realised it was this competition that had caused me so many problems over the years. I’m not competitive, I’m pretty cooperative and hate to see other children lose.

    Any competition in a Montessori environment is confined to the sports fields.

    Love your dogs!

  10. Pingback: Color War | Free info

  11. Sound thoughts, Rachel. How much I agree with you re children being set up in competition with each other is evidenced by the fifth paragraph in this post:

  12. Cricket and Butterfly have it right! That last photo is just too adorable!! 😀

  13. Sometimes American politics makes me want to hibernate. My grandoggies would be in the “rub my tummy all day” party!

  14. American politics have always been rough and tumble. I don’t mind that part of it. I just hate the corporate interests having all the real say. I wish Americans weren’t taught to despise their country. Maybe we would have more active participation in politics if people didn’t feel such shame and demoralization.

    • I was listening to something on the radio the other day, about how we learned to be cynical about our government from the Vietnam war, and then Watergate, and we’ve never really recovered. I don’t know how the recovery could take place, but it certainly won’t come from Donald Trump.

  15. It is so enjoyable to see (or better, read) how you choose your “ingredients” for a story and how you blend them together. You even manage that the word “Trump” does not stick out like a splinter. Butterfly’s “food-face” is the cutest!

  16. There’s a lot of things I agree with here. The color war, like several psychological experiments, shows just how easy it is to divide people with an invented or immaterial difference. If the difference exploited is one with deep historical roots, like Christian and Muslim, Catholic and Protestant or Black and White, it’s far more dangerous. Even people who clearly fall into neither group (Jewish or Hindu; Orthodox, Jewish or Hindu; Far Eastern or Arab) are forced to join one side or the other. A society that has worked perfectly well with people from different backgrounds getting along well enough (like Bosnia before the war) is split down ancient lines and people who don’t want to take sides or abandon friends in the “wrong” group are forced to do that because their only protection comes from the militants of their own group. So it’s vital to stop the preachers of hatred at an early stage.

    As for American politics, as an interested student from outside, I can see that as you say divisions have widened and hardened – not just since Bill Clinton, I think but gradually with minor movements the other way since the 1960s. The primary system doesn’t help because it encourages candidates to appeal to what fires up their party’s supporters; and mutual gerrymandering of congressional boundaries has encouraged the trend by reducing the number of marginal districts which cannot be one by someone with a narrow appeal. Finally, the nature of the Democrat/Republican divide seems to have changed – away from pocketbook/class issues and of course away from memories of the Civil War (so South Carolina votes Republican and Massachusetts votes Democrat) towards social issues or issues of diversity – and these are issues on which people often have strong, fixed views.

    • It’s getting scary over here.

      • It’s getting VERY scary over here. My mind keeps going back to the time I read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. It took me two weeks to read all 800+ pages of that book. I had to keep taking breaks as it is quite difficult to read with tears gushing from my eyes. I literally became sick while reading certain parts of the book.

        I am extremely frightened at the thought of Donald Trump winning the election. In all of my 53 years on this earth, I have NEVER witnessed so much hatred. At the risk of sounding like a complete moron, I will tell you that I have cried almost every single day since he made the decision to run. In my favor, it is a known fact that furbaby lovers can be overly sensitive at times. My six rescue babies will attest to that.
        Most days I want to pack my bags and hop a plane going towards Florence, Italy. Life was so much more carefree and meaningful during my years there. Anybody want to join me?

      • Politicians have been comparing everyone to Hitler and Nazis for years, but this is the first time it’s legitimate. I’m thinking, now that Space X has come up with a reusable rocket, moving to another planet is going to be our best option.

      • Amen on going to another planet! For the first time in my life, I am very close to having panic attacks. I cry at least 4-5 days a week. I am also appalled that the powers that be are taking our rights to control our own uteruses. I no longer have one but I am extremely worried for the women that do. It seems we are going back in history. I am highly concerned that we could actually lose ALL our rights if Trump gets elected. I am just shocked beyond belief at the number of women voting for him. I seriously don’t understand that one.
        Thank you so much for responding to my post. I love meeting new people and sharing our thoughts, opinions and ideas. I have an open mind about many things and am always willing to entertain the idea that I might just be wrong about something.

      • The last I heard, officially, 73% of women think Trump is an asshole and would never vote for him. I don’t know where that leaves the other 27%.

      • I think perhaps they are allowing their hate to outweigh their common sense. I am not trying to be disrespectful. I just feel that maybe they grew up being indoctrinated with racism and discrimination. Dang! I finally found a $3 word in my brain! Killer. Maybe there is hope for me after all.

      • That is true. We can hope

  17. cannot be WON not “one!!

  18. Here in the UK they want to change the voting system to one where we list our preferences in order. In the event of a tie, a secondary count would take place and all second choices of the party with the least number of votes would be taken into consideration (I think that was the idea, but nobody wanted it when it was put to the public vote). IMO all of our politicians are scumbags and liars, and I can’t even say our PM is the best of a bad lot as he’s one of the worst!

  19. Great pics of the dogs by the way. Especially ‘Food’. Don’t you just love ’em?!

  20. I loved the very mature insights of the young “you”. It is too bad that our society has devolved into a we-them mentality when what is needed is more cooperation. I think that Twitter, Yelp, and such have moved us in the direction of confrontation rather than collegiality.

    • It’s so frustrating, because the intention of a lot of social media outlets was really to bring people together. Ideally, knowing each other better would allow us to come to more reasonable compromises, but…

  21. My vote goes with the Butterfly – Cricket Parties – they are apparently more compatible with my world view!! 🙂
    I heard Trump this a.m. on TV and once again thought I must surely be living in the Reality Show called The Comedy Candidate: You’re Fired.
    Geez Louise, as The Red Man would have said.

  22. I just love seeing pictures of your babies each week, and they’re are both beautiful. But I must admit a secret heart warm each time I see a new Butterfly pic. She is SO ADORABLE. No offence Cricket, you are a lovely girl too…Thank you for sharing and for putting something that I continue to strenuously avoid participating in – America’s political circus as I see it – in terms that even people like me can relate to and not become rabidly angry or disgusted by. I do believe your viewpoint is the first I’ve read this whole year that didn’t evoke those emotions in me…so kudos! And you know I have a “Vote For Butterflies…they’re free” sticker on my refrigerator now… 😀 (I also have a “Vote For Crickets – They’re Amazing” one on my car….. 😉

  23. Well articulated article you have here. Lots of pros and cons for changing. I don’t know what the answers are. The dog pictures are soooo cute!

  24. I loved this! The analogy was brilliant! Can you please call The folks in Washington and explain it like this? Plus, I LOVE the dog!

  25. We don’t have proportional representation in Canada. It is kicked around after every election. I would be in favour of it. They say the downside is not having a regional representative. But in our riding I can’t remember when a regional representative made a difference. That is one good looking dog. Take care. Bob

  26. Our boy would wholeheartedly support the candidate advocating for extra chicken treats for good dogs 🙂

  27. Thanks for writing this. I’m living in Germany but Europeans in general cannot fathom why we don’t try for a multi-party. I wish I knew how we could head in that direction! And I wish the US population could seek the Middle Way.

  28. Really insightful. Thanks.

  29. Your dogs are really cute!! I love all of the pictures you take of cricket and butterfly.
    😊 Have a wonderful day!😊

  30. Choppy will be joining Butterfly in the Food Party, that’s for sure!

    And I hope all is well with you – I’ve been remiss in not stopping by for far too long.

  31. Very nice job! I enjoy your writing.

  32. Your camp experience sounds awful. Girl Scout Camp was never like that. The most competition we had involved three legged races. As for dogs making decisions, why not… they do around here. Yes, I agree the Parliamentary System sounds better. Perhaps we will see more parties here some day after the two we have splinter. I wish.

  33. Another nice topical article. I like proportional representation. However it results in horse trading and ineffective coalition governments some times. Nice pictures of Cricket and butterfly!

  34. Happy to read your post.. exceptional articlet!!

  35. I think I like Cricket and Butterfly’s parties better than our own…they would get a lot of votes, judging by the comments here! I’m sad not just because of how split things are between the Dems and Republicans, but even about how much the Bernie and Hillary supporters are fighting each other right now…we’ve got a lot in common–it’s not worth all the hostility and bickering.

    • I try not to pay attention to the infighting, but it shows up on facebook every once in a while, and it always surprises me. Cricket and Butterfly may disagree on certain details, but they would defend each other to outsiders no matter what.

      • Right? The political fighting seems to be all I see on my FB these days. It makes me very sad and I try to avoid commenting on it, because I really don’t think it’s worth losing friendships over a crazy election year :/

  36. Is there such a thing as ‘Democracy’? The malfunctions you describe are shared by us in UK because, unfortunately, our wishes as an electorate do not coincide with the interests of the money-men who guide our vote. As the generations slip by, power and money become ever more closely allied, and the gap between representative and represented grows ever wider.

    Once, in our dark damp tunnel, there was an idea that offered a brief spark of light: someone suggested the nation should provide the only funding for electioneering; and all lobbying and private interest should be aggressively excluded. It was only a brief flash – a flicker, no more. The corridors of power are tortuously long and confused, and their recesses are very deep. The idea is buried in there, somewhere, like so many others that will never re-emerge.

  37. We have been away from America the past 6 months and sit in awe at the madness we see on the BBC. Some of the news networks refer to Donald Trump as the “reality tv star”. It’s so nice to be disconnected from what must be on all of the time in the US. Its embarrassing to watch sometimes.

  38. I like the analogy. I like your summer camp story. I ran away from summer church camp when I was 12.

  39. I realize that this post is more about politics, but the story about camp just strikes me as so horrible.

  40. What a fantastic post! I am in 100% agreement with you regarding the desire to have a multi-party system and that all parties would have a voice. What could be better than that? And will we ever get there?

    And that photo of Butterfly is literally too cute for words. Seriously, it must rank up there in the Top 10 of cutest dogs ever.

  41. Thank you for your incredibly sensible post! I feel a kindred spirit from my childhood where I hated competitive sports. I was never a “team-player” because I was asthmatic, couldn’t run or catch a ball, and was far happier when buried in a book on the sidelines. I still am.

    The endless aggressive fighting and dividing between people (who, if left to find the common bonds between them, would more likely turn to kindness, mate-ship, and building things together instead of breaking them down) really does no one any good. I often imagine God sitting up in Heaven, banging his palm against his forehead and saying, “No, no, no – why are you doing that? I put you on earth to help each other!”

    If your dogs and my cats can see the way forward, why can’t the rest of the world?

  42. My entire childhood was all about competition. I skated and swam competitively and I loved it. The reason I loved it was that there was still so much camaraderie with other skaters and other swimmers. Even those on the opposing teams would cheer when someone excelled. And our sons were in so many competitive sports and hobbies it’s hard to name them all.
    But when they were doing their things I noticed some of the parents had a truly terrible attitude about winning and losing. She actually bought a shirt for her daughter that read “Second Place is the First Loser.”
    Children and dogs, in general, have it right. They’re happy to meet new friends, work out their differences with a little growling and then go right back to enjoying each other. It’s when the adults get involved that things go horribly wrong.
    I doubt politics will ever change. As they say, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see it in the fiefdom we have in Washington now. But I have hope that there will be enough kids who, as they grow up, will refuse to let minor differences separate them as we do now. I pray they can work out their differences and get right back to working together.
    It’s probably pure fantasy to believe that the outside influences children encounter every day will not affect them for life but it’s a fantasy I am unwilling to set aside. It’s my hope for my grandchildren.


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