Trump’s Isolationism finds a parallel in the USA Men’s Team failure to qualify for the World Cup this summer

The Trump presidency has been extraordinarily effective at alienating almost everyone else from the United States. The administration’s’ America First’ rhetoric, its decision to disengage from the Paris Agreement and Trump’s promise to build a wall separating it from its southern neighbour, all suggest that America is reverting to its favourite pastime of trying to forget the rest of the world. Or at least, that it is trying to, despite the President’s militarist inclinations and alarming propensity to provoke diplomatic incidents on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the United States Men’s football team, apparently extending White House policy, have failed to qualify for the World Cup. While for many football fans — and I use this to refer to football as per the world’s understanding, rather than that of Americans —America’s failure to qualify might be viewed with some amusement, on reflection, it is altogether less funny. While many people dislike sport because it encourages chauvinism or jingoism, ‘war by other means’, international sport is also a leveller, where representatives of different nations can compete according to a fixed set of rules and conventions, without the fear of death. In a football match, both sides are on an equal moral plane, the context of international politics is in part superseded or suspended, and the winner is judged by their capacity to play football, not to bear arms.

In this way, sport can be a uniquely powerful way of fostering mutual international good feeling. We need only think of the North Korean side of 2010 to remember how, for a moment, media presentations of that nation gave way to a more nuanced and sympathetic human reality.  In this context, America’s absence from the World Cup might be a missed opportunity. Cultural and sporting isolationism are mutually reinforcing, and although the United States’ footballing isolation is hardly voluntary, their presence at the World Cup might just have rekindled some sympathy with America, which for the foreseeable future, looks set to be aloof from football and increasingly alienated from the world.

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