World Cup Fever Really Has Hit America - Sorry, Ann Coulter
With Team USA suddenly in the round of 16, and World Cup fever allegedly sweeping the nation that football forgot, the American right has sprung into action. Determined to preserve American exceptionalism against a rising tide of baguette-munching ball-juggling pinko Europhile hippy surrender-communism, Ann Coulter has come to the rescue: "Any growing interest in soccer," she wrote to widespread amusement, "can only be a sign of the nation's moral decay."
Her reasons for hating football are manifold, and typically hilarious – chiefly, the suspiciously popular game with the round ball seems to show all the key indicators of socialism. The New York Times likes it. It's foreign. Foreigners like it. Obama likes it. It is even, somehow, "like the metric system". For arch conservatives like Coulter, the culture wars never stop, and the sudden spike in interest in the World Cup is just the latest assault on The American Way, accompanying the barrages of promiscuity, multiculturalism, Islam, R'n'B, and trains: "The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO's Girls, light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton."
It's not just that the wrong people like it – Coulter thinks football as a sport is intrinsically socialist. "In soccer," she laments, "there are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised." Unlike the glorious sports of basketball, American football and baseball, she says, all individual talent is subsumed into the back-patting, winning-isn't-everything comradeship of football. (Because obviously, no one minds if you win or lose a game of football – and at the full-time whistle, after meditating for a while, the players pool their wages with the fans, before shyly retiring to their modest homes and ascetic lifestyles.)
In any case, are American sports really a Randian festival of untrammelled capitalist heroics, as she claims? Besides being more arcane, bureaucratic and hyper-managed than anything the Soviet Union ever dreamt up, the draft system used in most American team sports sends the very best young players to the clubs that did most poorly the previous season, in order to establish parity and fairness the following season. Have you ever heard of anything more socialist in your life? As if that wasn't enough, the NFL, MBA and NHL even have salary caps! Negotiated by – wait for it – trade unions! The MLB, meanwhile, has something called a "luxury tax" on its richest teams. What kind of lefty nonsense is this?
Of course, people always project their politics on to sport. Without naming and shaming, during the USA's game against Portugal, I saw one leftwing tweeter ask with plaintive, stony-faced sincerity "how can anyone be supporting the imperialists?" – as if Clint Dempsey had personally signed off on the CIA's covert military operations in Nicaragua (the poor lad has enough to handle with his burgeoning rap career).
What Coulter hasn't noticed is that even in the global game, Team USA is comporting itself with its usual bombastic exceptionalism, strutting around with an eagle tattooed on its chest. "I believe that we will win!" is exactly the kind of ridiculous army recruitment advert of a chant that you would expect from our cousins across the Atlantic.
Admittedly, there has been a bit of sour grapes in the English response to the success of Dempsey et al, and no doubt we will be treading those grapes into wine and drinking ourselves into oblivion if Team USA get much further – they are, as today's typically excitable NY Daily News front page informs us, now just "four wins from glory".
In the unlikely event that they do win the World Cup, I can see Coulter coming round to football. In the second verse of the The Right Brothers' tribute, I'm In Love With Ann Coulter, the ultra-conservative duo inadvertently sum up the appalling partisan burlesque that is modern American politics: "I've been driving liberals crazy / I bet I've quoted half her book at work / To those godless jerks who can't debate me". Like the woman herself, Coulter's armchair fans are completely unwavering in their faith, shout themselves hoarse, and are chauvinistic to the point of comical absurdity in their hatred of their opponents. Sound like anyone you know?