Fighting Free

OK, last soccer story for a while, I promise.

When our good-but-not-yet-great U.S. soccer team got knocked out of the World Cup, coach Jurgen Klinsmann wasn’t surprised. He’d been expecting it. Even predicting it. And not because his team lacked ability or talent.

What they lacked, he said, were consequences.

“If you have a bad performance, then people should approach you and tell you that,” Klinsmann told the Associated Press. Get criticized, scolded, told off – and get stronger rather than go through it all again.

We’re familiar with that in Bronco country. When the orange and blue falter in the national spotlight, the phones light up at every talk radio station in the area. People write to the paper, post online, erupt across every social media outlet around and a few that haven’t been invented yet. If Joe Biden were found to have sold military secrets to the Purple People-Eaters of Mars, it would get bumped to page 3 to make room for Denver football outrage.

Get outshot four-to-one at the World Cup? Meh. Most folks shrug, walk away and go back to not caring about the “other football.”

So why bother improving?

It’s why I’ve got only lukewarm optimism for our future soccer prospects. But a lot of hope for this country.

Because if there’s one thing we do really, really, really well, it’s argue about freedom.

It only takes 10 minutes with the news, or five minutes with Facebook, to find a constitutional crisis. The Colorado attorney general facing off with the county clerk over gay marriage. Outrage and excitement over the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, and what it means for the religious rights of employer and employed. Quips, wisecracks and sometimes knock-down drag-out arguments over guns, wiretaps, property rights and a dozen other issues.

Some of the results frighten me. Some make me proud. All of them prove to me we still have people who care. Sometimes without a lot of information, true. But it’s a lot easier to educate the ignorant than ignite the apathetic.

So long as we care, we’re still in the game.

More than that. So long as we care, we can decide what the game will be.

We’ve been an argumentative people for a long time. One historian pointed out that if you go through colonial records, one thing you will quickly find is a lot of petty lawsuits. A lot of times, all that energy goes in no particular direction, sparks and cinders, quickly lit, quickly out.

But when it’s focused – then you get a bonfire.

We forget, you see. We forget that while government can lead, while government can set the boundary lines, we can change the entire conversation. That the decision about what freedom means doesn’t sit with a court or a Congress or a president – it rests with us.

The rules said blacks and whites weren’t equal. People fought that and people won.

The rules said women had no voice in the nation’s business. People fought that and people won.

The rules once said our future wasn’t up to us at all, that the most important decisions would be made over an ocean, on an island, by people who had mostly never seen our shores. We told them that if we didn’t like our government, we had the right – indeed, the obligation – to change it.

We hold the power. But only so long as we refuse to be satisfied until we get things right.

(A)ll experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” a certain red-haired Virginian wrote in 1776. But test that point too far, he warned, and people will demand change.

True of a soccer team. True of a nation.

I’m not saying complaining is all we need to do – absent any drive or action, it can get a bit tiresome, I agree. But it’s the vital first step. To everyone who says “Oh, it’s easy to complain,” stop and consider those words. There’s plenty of places where it’s not easy at all. There’s quite a few where it’s outright deadly.

Long may we brawl in the best of causes.

Maybe we’ll even get a decent World Cup out of it.