Try as they might, some commentators during the U.S.-Russian hockey game could not muster much credible moral argument for making a comparison between Sochi of 2014 and Lake Placid of 1980.
Of course, we all wanted the US team to win this time, just like in 1980. But as part of a larger world morality play, it pales to near nothingness in comparison. President Obama immediately moved to seize a political advantage, sending out a tweet claiming to “never stop believing in miracles.” The president’s grasp of history is self-evidently weak and self-serving.
Back then, the joy of the American win was palpable. Strangers hugged in the streets, high-fived in the bars, screamed on the sidewalks. Toasts were made all over the 50 states. Everybody in America felt it and felt a part of it.
The galaxy-stunning win by the young American upstarts back in 1980 over the older, more experienced, and more intimidating Russian hockey team was the most compelling upset in the history of the wide world of sports–an American “Miracle on Ice” viewed as a crack in the ice of the Cold War, and in our favor for the first time in years.
This time around, the American victory was practically ho hum: “So one group of corporate-sponsored professional athletes beat another group of corporate-sponsored professional athletes. Huh. Big deal.”
The Nike logo and other corporate logos were prominent on their uniforms–still, the 1980 American team had better outfits than the 2014 American team. Then they wore white, the symbol of purity. This time, their uniforms were a blue, so deep they appeared black from a distance.
Back then, in Lake Placid, at a different time in our history, it was a Really Big Deal. Thirty-four years ago the Soviets had already invaded Afghanistan, were actively undermining NATO, and were winning a Cold War. In 1980, the world witnessed again a great morality play pitting good against evil, which had acted out many times in human history, most recently in the Second World War, which in turn set the stage for East versus West, and with that, freedom versus tyranny.
The struggle between East and West played out with guns and weapons, in South Korea and Southeast Asia, in economics, such as the boycott of Cuba, and in sports. We were the good guys, we played by the rules, and they were the bad guys. They cheated, lied, and stole, as they did with the 1972 Olympic basketball game. And their hand puppet judges from East Germany could always be counted on to score Americans low and the Soviets high. It was that or the gulag.
In short, our “Man of Steel”–“Superman”–was good and their “Man of Steel”–Stalin–was evil.
All sensible people in 1980 knew that Moscow was the world headquarters for the evil oppression of thought and of human freedom. Washington, flaws and all, was still the world headquarters for the expansion of freedom–or at least the wobbly and stumbling pushback against world communism.
It was a settled argument and only a fool or a liberal Ivy League professor believed otherwise.
There was in 1980 no comparison in terms of experience or morality to be made between the two teams. Today, both the American and Russian hockey teams, dominated by professional players from the NHL, are marinated in Corporate America and in vastly bankrolled multi-national corporations. One player who makes millions playing for the Washington Capitals of the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin, chose to play for Mother Russia, not the country that vastly enriched him.
Still, one can understand the sentiment. Ovechkin may feel loyalty to his country but possibly not his government. Many in the United States feel the same. They love their country but they despise their government. Recently, a national poll showed 72 percent of Americans said their government was the “enemy.”
The overlap between the teams and the countries today in attitudes and athleticism is astonishing, and telling. Many fail to see the distinction between the two teams and only a bit more between the two governments, if we’re being honest.
The Soviets once occupied Afghanistan, to what end? Now America occupies Afghanistan, to what end?
At the Lake Placid arena in 1980, some fans hung a large sign that said, “Defectors Welcome.” Yet with the advent of Edward Snowden and all his revelations about an out-of-control and corrupt NSA, it would seem defectors now are more welcome in Russia than they are in the United States.
In 2014, Moscow is corrupt. Washington is also corrupt. Both cities worship at the altar of bigness. Both countries are led by career politicians who pay lip service to the rules of law. Both countries are led by men who strike down the rights of individual citizens, uninhibited by any semblance of respect for due process.
One man in his State of the Union address this year said he will go out of his way to go around Congress to get things done. This is the same man who has changed his compulsive health-less health care plan dozens of times without consulting Congress.
Is it only a coincidence that early in his presidency, Obama created “czars” as a means of growing and extending the bureaucracy?
The Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin, also celebrates himself and like Obama, likes images of himself. He has brought the oligarchy back to Russia. Lamented one dissident writer, Mikhail Shishkin, “Once again, we have an autocracy. Once again the courts serve the authorities instead of the law. Once again, the censors, the spirit of enslavement.”
People in both countries fear to take legal action or speak out because both men have the media, and the power that goes with that media, on their side.
America once had respect for taking legal action and for speaking out. Now, the whims of one man are defined as progress and all who dare to oppose him are swept away. A cult of personality dominates the city state, just as a cult of personality once dominated Moscow. Less equals more. Dependency equals freedom.
As the writer said, you can never go home again. Things change.
Russia was bad, got better, and now is getting worse again. America, more unevenly, has stumbled but nonetheless inexorably moved closer to a police state. In 1976, Jimmy Carter campaigned for president saying we deserved a government as good as the American people. He was right then and that sentiment is right now.
Today, the Russian government is no good. Problem is, neither is ours.