If Ever There Was a Time: America and the World Cup

For the American people, the 2010 World Cup has already been remarkably memorable.

Although the tournament started with unbridled excitement for millions of stateside fans, their enthusiasm quickly muted as the U.S. salvaged a lackluster draw in the opening match against England thanks to a misplay by the English keeper, allowing the ball to squeak across the goal line.

Game two for the U.S. began dismally against Slovenia, who took a quick 2-0 lead. But the Americans came roaring back in a second-half rally, scoring two goals to tie the match before being robbed of a third and the presumable win after a terrible call by the match referee (causing FIFA to remove him from umpiring further matches).

With momentum on their side, the Americans looked sharp against Algeria in their third match — an absolute must-win if the team wished to advance any further. After more than 90 minutes of scoreless play and tense just-misses, Landon Donovan buried the rebound off of a Clint Dempsey shot to secure an amazing victory and send the Americans to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 1930.

For all the highs and lows of the 2010 World Cup, if ever there was a time for representatives of the United States to surpass a jaded modern America’s expectations of those who lead them, it would be on this monumental, global stage whereupon the U.S. National Team — an American underdog — possesses the historically immense possibility of reinspiring and reuniting an unbelievably dejected people before the eyes of the world.

“The Air of Discontent”

Efforts made on behalf of my primary nonfiction book project, THE QUIET LEADER, entail researching Op-Eds and news articles that encapsulate the spirit of the modern United States and the American people. When I began to take note of a major and historically unprecedented shift in national confidence, I feared that it would only grow worse, and it has.

The American people have lost faith in their leaders and have subsequently developed jaded eyes that look upon all elements of leadership and traditional institutions with cynicism and worry. The depressed modern American psyche is exemplified in a recent piece by Ron Fornier of the Associated Press:

Not the president of the United States. Not the chief executive of BP. Not Congress, federal agencies or local elected officials. From its fiery beginning, the Gulf oil spill has stood as a concentrated reminder of why, over four decades, Americans have lost faith in nearly every national institution.

It’s hard to summon that rising-sun aspiration when the unemployment rate hovers near double digits. When wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue unabated. When terrorists take aim from inside and outside U.S. borders. When the U.S. Treasury writes massive IOUs to China and public schools write off millions of poorly educated children.

Then along comes the oil spill to remind people of why they don’t trust leaders – and why so many Americans, looking for information and action, are turning instead to blogs, Twitter feeds and their friends.

How did we get to this point where people EXPECT their government to lie to them? And what does it say about where we’re headed? From their government, Americans don’t expect perfection. But the system requires that people at least have faith in their political leaders to be competent and accountable.

Around the same time, Bob Herbert from the New York Times launched into a more scathing and self-loathing opinion piece that harshly characterized the modern United States as indicative of the lack of intelligence of the entire American populace:

When are we going to stop behaving so stupidly? We nearly wrecked the economy and we’re all but buried in debt. But we can’t break up the biggest banks, and we can’t raise taxes. Now we’re fouling the magnificent Gulf of Mexico and ruining entire communities along the southern Louisiana Coast.

Whether these opinions are dead-on accurate and valid, or simply a reflection of overwhelming cynicism and pessimism that has befallen modern America, isn’t even important. The issue at hand is what is unquestionably clear: that the sentiments of anger, impatience, distrust and anticipated-disappointment have become the status quo. As much as they are a product of events that have unfolded in the past, they undoubtedly influence the direction of the country today and will unquestionably effect what unfolds tomorrow.

If Ever There was a Time…

Amid this historical context, some thousands of miles away, a team of representatives of the mess of our modern country and its national psyche suddenly becomes ignited with passion and determination: they stand down a longtime rival, a worldly powerhouse in England; they rally from certain defeat to survival against Slovenia; and then they rise from the depths of elimination to the glory of victory in a last minute effort of heart and vigor against Algeria.

We measure in feet and inches; the rest of the world measures in metrics. We feel degrees in variants of Fahrenheit; they, in Celsius. We call the very sport of the world soccer; they call it football. And though a traditionally disregarded sport in the United States, this team of undervalued and unappreciated athletes donning stars and stripes upon their chests possesses the historic opportunity that no elected leader or CEO, that no company or conglomerate, that no Hollywood star or teenage starlet, that no State-side sport or institution could possible achieve in America, 2010.

This American underdog is capable of exceeding dismal expectations of those who represent us: their fight has given us a chance — if only a reminder that we may, by our choosing — to stand tall again. If ever there was a time for the American people to be inspired; if ever there was a time for our country to be reunited; then let it be here and let it be now; upon the world’s grandest stage, with nothing to lose but so much to prove.

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