The World Cup And The American Dream

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Nice Move

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On Monday, when Clint Dempsey scored in the first minute, the bar erupted. When the U.S. scored again in the 87th minute, the place went ballistic.

I was hoarse from screaming and drenched from the heat of too many humans. I hugged strangers and chatted with a homeless man watching from outside the window about the effectiveness of our formation. During the five minutes of stoppage time, I bit my fingers bloody. This was a far cry from my feelings during the pregame as I watched the U.S. team, adorned in Beats headphones, silently emerge from the locker room while Ghana paraded down the hallway playing a plastic tambourine and singing. I wondered aloud then if I was rooting for the wrong team. Where the U.S. looked serene and spoiled, Ghana looked hungry and happy. I remember reminding myself then–almost to protect myself–that we didn’t have a prayer to win the World Cup. “Let’s just enjoy this game,” I thought. Then, for 90 minutes plus stoppage time, we collectively threw away any shades of reality and proceeded to act like we have a chance to win it all. It was beautiful.

A friend of mine has a job where he carts around visiting business partners from Europe to customers in his home city. He told me that the conversations with the Europeans–usually through their opinions of universal health care–always seem to steer toward criticizing Americans’ insistent beliefs that we are self-made. It’s the arrogance of the individual, they believe, that ruins our national efforts. Then, over a meal, the socialists will celebrate the massive beer list, the variety of cuisine, and tell my friend that the best part of America is all the choice. Lost on them is that all this choice is the work of people who believe they can make their lives better through their own efforts. That American arrogance they derided is the seed that grows opportunity. It’s the American dream that we, and we alone, are responsible for our fate. We are all successes waiting to happen. Thus the great beer lists.

And yet, we’re not. It’s no secret that the income gap has widened. Social Mobility in America is actually lower than most European countries and if you’re born to a working class, cargo shorts-wearing family in the United States, your chances of dying with a comfortable income (top 20 percent) are less than 14 percent. That American dream seems to get less and less attainable, doesn’t it? But what’s important isn’t its reality, but its perception. It doesn’t matter so much if you can be a self-made man or women, but that you believe you can be.

So, though it may be illusory, the mirage pushes us ever forward through the desert. We open new businesses, start blogs, and even become standup comedians like no other country in the world because no one ever told us we couldn’t. To the contrary, it’s as American as apple pie to tell someone that “you can achieve anything you put your mind to,” even if the deck is stacked against us, even if all evidence contradicts us. It only means we have to work harder. How stupid. How brave.

On Sunday we play Portugal, the fourth ranked team in the world (both in soccer and body odor). We will probably not win. If, by some miracle, we pull off an upset or a tie, it will only delay the inevitability of elimination. Perhaps those Beats headphones I saw during the pregame are merely an expensive way to dam the rushing waters of reality. In unintentional solidarity, maybe I can’t stop looking at my phone because if I don’t, I’ll realize I’m not accomplishing enough. It’s possible we’ve all been numbed to the idea that our state in life will probably not change. But intrinsic in being American–a country founded on hopeless odds–is that change is always possible, even when it isn’t. We believe in life even when we’re certain of death. I know we won’t win the World Cup. That is the truth. Yet I’ll watch the games because I still hope we can. That yawning disparity forms our national identity. Our illusion, our American dream, keeps our hopes alive for just one more day.
Maybe that’s all the truth we need.

So…let’s go Yanks.

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