Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sorry America: In the NCAA Tourney of Global Politics, We're Duke

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 12:37 PM

At least, that's according to the folks at Foreign Policy, who wrote this piece to establish the idea that the hatred of college basketball superpower Duke University is akin to hating America itself.

No, seriously:

Americans like to think they are Butler, the scrappy unheralded Midwestern underdogs one shot away from a miracle. But let's be real. The United States is a global superpower, since 1990 the unipolar hegemon atop the global order. In the Middle East it is the imperial hub, a status quo power with deep security and military alliances with almost every regime and global sanctions against the few remaining "rogues." When the world looks at the United States, it doesn't see Butler. It sees Duke.

Despite their country's overwhelming global dominance, Americans have struggled to comprehend the depth and resilience of hostile attitudes and negative perceptions. In a 2008 survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Americans rated restoring their country's global standing above any other national priority — including combating terrorism and protecting jobs. The whole tenor of the "why do they hate us" punditry meme suggests just how much this global distaste upsets Americans. But if Americans want to understand the resilience of anti-Americanism, they could do worse than to examine their feelings about Duke.

Conventional explanations of anti-Dukism mirror those of anti-Americanism. Some see it as a natural outgrowth of dominance, attracting the incomprehension and resentment of the less fortunate. Everyone hates Mr. Big. But this is not satisfying. Sure, the Blue Devils have been dominant, with their four national championships, 15 Final Four appearances, 11 national players of the year, and the best winning percentage in tournament history. But other teams have been as dominant over as extended a period without inspiring such hatred: who loses sleep over Kentucky, Connecticut, North Carolina, or even UCLA?

Duke's dominance has also not been nearly as comprehensive as this account would suggest. Nor, one might argue, has America's. Both only rose to this position in 1990. During the Cold War, the United States was always checked by its superpower peer competitor, and Duke had memories of Mike Gminski. For the United States, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany within NATO, and the United Nations' blessing for the liberation of Kuwait established it as the sole global superpower. Duke emerged in the mid-1980s (morning in America!), but only reached the top by beating the mighty UNLV "Running Rebels" and the Kansas Jayhawks in the 1991 Final Four for its first championship, and then repeating the next year, along the way defeating Kentucky in perhaps the greatest college basketball game ever. This was peak Laettner, the foundational moment for anti-Dukism.

This...is actually a fairly solid argument. I hate to say it, but this seems about right. We're the superpower that no one likes. People cheer for our failures and gripe about our successes. We have hyper-competitive leadership that no one seems to like until they do something great that we can piggyback upon as a nation (the Olympics ringing a bell, anyone?). And all the people who are thrust into the spotlight are generally unlikable Caucasian dudes.

Check out the whole piece over at Foreign Policy. And try to refrain from getting sick while you think about it.

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