Could the USA’s loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup be a Turning Point in how Americans see themselves and how the world sees America?
TD joins a rising chorus of folks saying it could well be. This could take a while, but the seed has been sown.
Maureen Dowd, Pulitzer Prize winner, best-selling author, and the inimitable op-ed columnist at The New York Times, is on to something with her July 4, 2014 column, “Who Do We Think We Are?” She starts off with: “Once our nation saw itself as the undefeatable cowboy John Wayne. Now we bask in the prowess of the unstoppable goalie Tim Howard, a bi-racial kid from New Jersey with Tourette’s syndrome.”
She sets the global stage with this: “With our swaggering [Reagan and the Bushes] and sanguine [Clinton/Obama] image deflated by epic unforced errors, Americans are playing defense, struggling to come to grips with a world where we can no longer dictate all the terms, win all the wars and lead all the charges.”
“The old verities,” she says, “seem quaint. If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll lose out to those guys who can wire computers to make bets on Wall Street faster than the next guy to become instant multimillionaires. Our quiet traditional virtues bow to our noisy visceral divisions, while churning technology is swiftly remolding the national character in ways that are still a blur. Boldness is often chased away by distraction, confusion, hesitation and fragmentation.”
The stage for this possible transformation was set earlier this year, before the games got started, when German-bornJügen Klinsman, the manager of the US National Soccer Team, said the US Team could not win the World Cup. He was loudly and roundly criticized for this honest and realistic assessment—something Americans are not used to hearing. After all, in our version of football, Vince Lombardi, popularized the American attitude toward sportswith the misguided quote: “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Then along came Tim Howard who Nate Silver, a celebrated political/sports analyst without peer, claims had the best performance of any goalkeeper to date in the World Cup. He blocked 18 shots and the two that Belgium scored were in extra time. Belgium should have scored 4.5 goals statistically. Check this statistical analysis out—it’s a comparison of Howard’s performance with the other goalkeepers.
A change of heart and mind is a tall order for us. America labeled itself as a “shining city on a hill,” a bold claim when it was first made back in the days when American was in “diapers,” not even a nation yet. America wasn’t a world player at the start of WW1 100 years ago this year, and we didn’t come into our own until WW2 some 20 plus years later. Then Ronald Reagan, nothing more than an actor with a script others had written for him, gave rise to the notion of American exceptionalism—now the mantra of the political right.
America sees itself as the only referee on the global political arena getting the calls right about as much as Referee Carlos Velasco Carballo did in the game between Brazil and Columbia, calling a ridiculous 54 fouls, missing many, and giving few yellow cards as the game got out of control right from the start when Brazil decided to gang up on their friendly, rather stunned neighbors.
Regrettably, Americans probably always will call it soccer and not the language of the world, fútbol. But America’s greatest performance on the global village pitch was a quality loss, not a bully win. I like the new brand. Viva America!