Cope: The greatest country in the world? (column)
Every political season, we are told that the United States is the greatest country in the world, and my students in the U.S. history courses that I teach at Battle Mountain High School often ask me if I agree with that statement.
The answer depends on how we analyze it. We read the “city upon a hill” quote by John Winthrop and talk about how the eyes of the world are still focused on the U.S., and we debate whether we have lived up to our original potential and promise.
Of course slavery was the original sin of this country, and recent films by Ava Duvarney about Selma, the 13th Amendment and the shameful prosecution depicted in her film, recently released on Netflix, “When They See Us,” demonstrate that the long-term ramifications of that history are still with us.
On the other hand, American exceptionalists argue that the United States has been a unique force for good in the world and point to the U.S. role in liberating concentration camps in Europe, the Marshall Plan and American-led philanthropic projects around the world to bolster their theory of U.S. greatness.
In a contemporary sense, is the U.S. the best? Many measures would suggest that not, gun violence is far and away the worst of any developed nation. Poverty, inequality and homelessness are at unacceptable levels. We pay more for health care and achieve worse outcomes than most developed nations, and the life expectancy for certain of our demographic groups has been actually declining in recent years. We have even become a unique outlier in the world in our refusal to mitigate the impacts of climate change. There are challenges ahead of us which I am confident we will rise to in the coming years, given our history of overcoming setbacks, righting previous wrongs and leading the world through example.
One area, which happens to be on display this summer, where we are indisputably the world leader is women’s rights in sports, academia and business generally, and women’s soccer specifically.
This weekend, the FIFA Women’s World Cup enters its knockout stage. The United States emerges from the group phase of this competition as favorites but by no means is guaranteed victory against the strongest field yet assembled in the women’s game. Title IX, enacted in the 1970s to ensure equal opportunities in federally funded institutions has had a dramatic, if unintended, impact on women in sport and in this country’s classrooms, research labs and corporate boardrooms, giving us a head start in women’s sport and also providing an example for the rest of the world to follow.
Other countries are beginning to make investments in the women’s game and are seeing the results this summer. Host nation France enjoys the same wonderful demographic mix, as its men’s team, with players from many sectors of modern French society, including the diverse “banlieues,” or suburbs, of Paris. France has struggled to come to grips with its increasingly complex ethnic makeup, this women’s team shows the strength that arises from embracing all aspects of modern culture, including immigration and religious diversity. Indeed, France is striving to become the first nation to hold both the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups simultaneously.
Best in the world? The question remains to be answered, but let’s stick with the Americans. The squad is incredibly blessed with attacking talent all over the pitch. Outside backs Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara, for example, were prolific goal scorers in college at North Carolina and Stanford, respectively, yet play as defenders on this team. Colorado’s Mallory Pugh and Lindsay Horan skipped college, virtually unprecedented for American women, to turn pro as teenagers. Horan’s displays in the midfield thus far have been majestic, scoring goals and providing incisive passes from a variety of locations on the field. Pugh has been utilized as a sub mostly but has also made her mark, scoring her first goal in the famous 13-0 win versus Thailand. If both the U.S. and France emerge from their first knockout matches, they will meet up in an epic quarterfinal on June 28 in Paris. That match would be seen by many as an early final, with the winner of the competition bound to emerge from it.
About that 13-0 win versus Thailand and the ensuing celebrations, let’s look at in the context of the buildup to this competition. The U.S. women’s national team entered this competition in a lawsuit against its employer, US Soccer. Rather than go on strike, they decided to play this competition while pursuing that litigation. One can only imagine the stress that must have placed on the leaders of this group, chief among them forward Alex Morgan.
A sports federation that possesses a surplus between $100 million and $150 million (according to reports that emerged from the race for US Soccer president in 2018) has a great opportunity to be an example to the world, “a shining city upon a hill,” shall we say? US Soccer should do the right thing by paying women equally, regardless of revenues from the men’s World Cup relative to the women’s. The men earn their primary incomes from their clubs, and the women are employed by US Soccer. US Soccer should, at the very least, ensure equity in training facilities, field conditions, staff allocations, hotel accommodations, per diems and bonus pay for results. In this country at least, the women are the stars and the defending world champions. While Morgan, Pugh, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and their teammates are household names, go ahead and try to name five of the starters on the current U.S. Men’s National team.
The celebrations against Thailand might have been over the top, but in the context of the substitution rules only allowing for three players to be replaced during the game (unlike high school and college with unlimited substitutions), young players getting their first goals on this stage, prominent players returning from major injuries, a lawsuit against their employers, a country that is seemingly turning the clock back when it comes to women’s reproductive rights and a president hell-bent on offending our allies and isolating our country, perhaps these were cathartic moments of bonding and unity writ large for the world to see. I forgive them and look forward to seeing the team prove that, at least in one measurable outcome, the USA is indeed the greatest country in the world!
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