America’s global problem: We’re like Duke basketball
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…
But anti-Dukism, like anti-Americanism, did not seem to rise and fall smoothly with actual policies. These shocking Duke losses generated gleeful celebration rather than any perceptible sympathy. Negative views of the United States have proven similarly resilient over the last decade, particularly in the Middle East, where a brief uptick following Obama’s election quickly disappearing. This could be because the underlying structural realities never really changed: Duke may have struggled in the tournament, but continued to dominate the Atlantic Coast Conference, take top seeds in the NCAA tourney almost every year, and recruit a steady stream of top talent. The United States may have elected a new president, withdrawn from Iraq, changed its tone toward Islam, and supported transitions in Egypt, but it maintained its support for many repressive regimes, escalated drone strikes, didn’t close Guantánamo, and maintained its close alliance with Israel.