Wednesday, June 23, 2010

American Exceptionalism

We win! At the last second. How exceptionaltypical.

ELEVATING THE LOWPOINTS. Mrs. CP just got off the phone with me. She objects to the term 'American Exceptionalism,' because it's suddenly au courant after not being being part of our national lexicon, well, ever. She's right about that. But sometimes a term acquires meaning by being denigrated, as Obama did with this one. It's traceable to this:

[E]arlier this year, while attending the European summit of the Group of 20 major economic countries, the president was asked if he believed in American exceptionalism. He replied, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

Before that, the term was more an academic historical discussion topic than an easy label. The idea is hardly new, however. Most Americans know there's something supremely special about this country, its history, and its citizens. Probably, though, American "specialness" wouldn't qualify as something the network news organizations would even dignify as a concept worth covering. Although Obama addressed it directly in his presidential campaign:

The term that can be discussed and parsed and criticized and ridiculed by the Post-Modern cognoscenti is 'American Exceptionalism.' Mrs. CP conceded the point on that basis (after blowing her top when I asked her if she agreed with Obama... Phew. Talk about your ill-advised ripostes...) Supposedly, this is one more of an endless list of imperialistic American delusions we need to get over like some pernicious brain virus.

Which brings me, inevitably, to World Cup soccer. (I'm a master of smooth transitions. Have you noticed?) The World Cup is more important in the scheme of things than the United Nations. The U.N. is all about deadly dull diplomacy where every word means something like its opposite, unless it doesn't mean anything at all. The World Cup is about the passion and character of the competing nations. The ESPN advertisements for the tournament say exactly this if you've bothered to look at them. Big problems can't be fixed and don't really matter. The World Cup, on the other hand, does matter.

In a sense I'm inclined to agree. Because it's a chance to see who we're really dealing with and how we differ when something we care about is at stake. The United States is, of course, a latecomer to this worldwide soap opera, but we're there because, uh, we're the United States and someone's having a tournament and what the hell, why not enter it? We've got guys who can kick the ball too.

Now permit me to draw a few unfair inferences about what we've seen so far. Then you tell me if they're far-fetched or might actually matter in some small way.

Team England is being vilified for lacklustre performances, as if they somehow lack the necessary heart. Team France has imploded entirely, so much so that their own citizens were observed rooting against them on Jumbotrons at the Eiffel Tower. Team Italy -- the defending World Cup Champion -- was so busy flopping and faking against lowly New Zealand that they, well, lost a tiedraw with the "All Whites."

Meanwhile, all the African nations have been losing, losing, losing, the way they seem to do in every international situation.

Throughout, soccer remains the same boring, boring game it has always been, even though there are ways it could be turned into the "beautiful game" it asserts itself to be.

With one notable exception. Team USA. Which may not be the best soccer team in the tournament but has so far proven against all odds that when Americans are involved, "boring" isn't the only possible outcome.

That's my tribute to our underdog team. They've somehow contrived to make this sad-sack sport dramatic. Who'd a thunk it?

They duel the sanctimonious Brits to a tiedraw. No big deal. But it sure upset the Brits. Then they play a game the way Americans generally fight wars, not showing up for the first half then storming back from a 2-0 deficit for the first time in World Cup history to score a winning goal in the final minutes against Slovenia. Except that the referee refuses to allow them the victory. Those damn Americans, don't you know. Which, as we've seen, would send the fragile European teams into a fatal funk.

Only that's not what happened. Team USA proceeded next to do the impossible. Make the end of a soccer game incredibly exciting. By scoring a winning goal after official time had expired, just as if they were a baseball team playing extra innings or a football team playing in sudden-death overtime. Positively thrilling.

Jeez. Is America kewl? Or what?

That's all I have to say.

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