The US as JP McEnroe

As other tennis fans discuss whether Rafa Nadal can catch and surpass Roger Federer, Pacific Standard offered a look at a player now long past his prime:  John McEnroe and the Sadness of Greatness. I both loved and loathed McEnroe. I wished I could play his attacking style – and tried to for years – but I found his on-court antics embarrassing. He supposedly earned his famous nickname for being precocious, but it quickly became clear that he was as much a brat as a super player.

… thus marked a year during which McEnroe would gradually sense what perhaps only exceptional athletes can sense: the moment of his own demise. …

Blood was spilled all over in 1984. … McEnroe won 78 of his 80 matches that year. It was an astounding accomplishment. For all intents and purposes, a player couldn’t imagine having a better year. Yet, for all his success, the tour was sustained by forces horrible and dark. McEnroe, winning match after match, spent the year getting angrier and angrier, cursing judges, mocking fans, and pacing the court as if it were the common room of an asylum. This anxiety culminated at the Swedish Open … and it came in the form of an upper-shelf outburst that would mark his inevitable decline in tennis greatness at the professionally precarious age of 25.

While McEnroe was great, no one would actually stand up to him. Once he started slipping, though, officials began to find a little backbone.

When I read Simon Johnson’s article, The Loss of U.S. Pre-eminence, in the NY Times Economix blog, I couldn’t help but compare our nation-state, pushed to a shutdown by a petulant, whining Tea Party, with the SuperBrat:

The United States became a superpower in the 1940s and, 70 years later, stands on the brink of losing that status. It rose to global pre-eminence at short notice, and its decline can occur just as abruptly. This week’s partial government shutdown both reminds us that the United States has reached such a precarious position and shows us exactly how things can now unravel as it approaches the really big confrontation over the debt ceiling.

… The United States won its global predominance in a short period, but based on a long haul of industrial development, productivity gain and fiscal prudence. Now the groundwork has been laid for its decline with political polarization, a longstanding tax revolt and a well-orchestrated campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the federal government.

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