It seemed hopeless. With just seconds to go before the end of the thirty minute overtime period, Brazil had a 2-1 lead. The US World Cup women’s soccer team had battled valiantly for almost an hour a player short since defender, Rachel Buehler, had been red carded and sent off twenty minutes into the second half.
With tired legs but their indomitable spirit intact, the Americans mounted a final attack when Carli Lloyd pushed the ball aggressively forward in the middle and, with three Brazilians moving to challenge her, made a soft pass to Megan Rapinoe on the left wing. Rapinoe advanced the ball a few yards and then lofted a beautiful floating cross to the far side of the opposing goal where it made contact, not with the desperately diving Brazilian goalkeeper’s hands, but with the head of the leaping American striker, Abby Wambach, who redirected its trajectory like a rocket into the back of Brazil’s net. It was a glorious equalizer that provided the opportunity to win the game in a penalty shoot-out – which the Americans did.
In a memorable World Cup final today, that same indomitable spirit was on display by both teams as the Americans, alas, came up short in a penalty-kick shoot-out against a fine Japanese team.
Yet at a time when we seem to be diminishing as a country on a daily basis, when the worst of what we are is on display every time we switch on the TV or read a newspaper, watching these American women was, for me, a welcome reminder that the best of us are still bloody wonderful.
We now have one of our two major national political parties for whom devastating cuts to government programs that preserve some semblance of a social safety net for our most vulnerable citizens, not all of whom are poor but many of whom are seniors and children, are not only preferable but essential in order to maintain low tax rates for America’s most affluent class. The GOP are willing to drastically slash everything from health programs for seniors and the poor, to research and development funding for our universities and other institutions of science and technology, to training programs for displaced workers and money for helping poor women and infants with nutritional assistance, all in the cause of our under-taxed wealthy.
Every time I listen to the Fox News pundocracy (which I confess I avoid most of the time for the sake of my mental health) or hear the likes of GOP Congressman Eric Cantor, our shrinking stature as a nation is driven home all too painfully.
There was a time we dreamt Big Dreams of manned space exploration. Now NASA’s Shuttle program is ended and there’s no chance we can find funding for the next step because, well, we need to keep those taxes low.
Every major industrialized country in the world has managed to create a system of universal health care coverage – except the United States. And if we listen to the Republicans, we never will because it’s simply beyond our capability. If they have their way Medicare will be privatized, Medicaid eligibility will shrink and the Affordable Care Act, which for the first time tries to tie our patchwork healthcare system into a cohesive whole, will be repealed. In short, the GOP seeks to preserve the right of Americans to go bankrupt paying off their health care bills (and will introduce seniors to the privilege) – something that is alien to the average German, or Brit or Canadian, or anybody else who lives in an advanced nation. All this so millionaire hedge fund managers can continue to pay taxes at a lower rate than their clerical staff.
Yes we can cut the cost of government. The Pentagon budget is bloated, we pay subsidies to rich agro-businesses and there are plenty of efficiencies to be wrung from Medicare and Medicaid if we work together on it and stop branding any attempts to do so as “rationing”.
But there is a wing of the GOP that is incapable of compromise or of stepping back and looking at the Big Picture of what is or is not good for our country. To the Eric Cantors and Michele Bachmanns and their cheering base of loonies, you may have to destroy the country to save it – and they certainly seem willing to do the destroying part.
It’s all very depressing.
Yet we mustn’t forget the best of us either. Our servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan have performed magnificently for a decade now, showing both the advantage of a volunteer force (training, skill, dedication and utter professionalism) and the pitfall (if our own sons and daughters were at risk through a draft, would we have allowed the likes of George W Bush to slide us so easily into war?).
And then there are those incredible women of the US national soccer team who refused to admit that they were beaten.
So next time I happen to be watching Fox News and my blood pressure’s rising, I’m going to my new Happy Place where I’m a spectator at that World Cup quarterfinal game, and the ball is soaring from Megan Rapinoe’s boot as if on invisible wings, born of hope and determination and a never-say-die American spirit that shouts to the world that we will never give up and we will never surrender, for its momentous collision with Abby Wambach’s head.
And instead of another futile rant at the TV, I’ll just smile.