Maureen Dowd is getting weirder as she ages, and she’s not exactly filled with optimism about the direction of the country.

WASHINGTON — AMERICA’S infatuation with the World Cup came at the perfect moment, illuminating the principle that you can lose and still advance.

Once our nation saw itself as the undefeatable cowboy John Wayne. Now we bask in the prowess of the unstoppable goalie Tim Howard, a biracial kid from New Jersey with Tourette’s syndrome.

With our swaggering and sanguine image deflated by epic unforced errors, Americans are playing defense, struggling to come to grips with a world where we can no longer dictate all the terms, win all the wars and lead all the charges.

Umm, a couple of things. It’s quite possible for teams to advance to the playoffs despite losing their last regular season game, because they’ve done enough throughout the rest of the season to qualify. That’s basically what the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team did by beating Ghana and tying Portugal, and that’s why they advanced despite losing to Germany. This didn’t illuminate any principle other than the concept of goal differential as a tie-breaker.

Also, that thing about the country thinking it was John Wayne-undefeatable? We were disabused of that notion in Indochina before I was even born. We ought to have learned it in Korea. And why was John Wayne in Hollywood making 13 movies during World War Two instead of island hopping Back to (the real) Bataan? A real tough guy, that John Wayne.

As you can tell, I didn’t like the beginning of Maureen Dowd’s opinion piece. I particularly disliked her comparing Tim Howard unfavorably to the Duke by snidely writing that Howard is a “biracial kid from New Jersey with Tourette’s syndrome.” Maybe next week she will pick on kids with asthma. “Why does the country bask in the prowess of that vaguely Asian-looking kid with the inhaler?”

Next she quotes a real pessimist.

“The Fourth of July was always a celebration of American exceptionalism,” said G.O.P. pollster Frank Luntz. “Now it’s a commiseration of American disappointment.”

Maureen Down might have mentioned Frank Luntz’s recent mental breakdown. I commented on that back in January.

It’s Frank Luntz who deserves blame here. He’s the one who helped the Republican Party incubate a culture where facts don’t matter and message is everything. If Luntz is having a crisis of conscience, he has earned it. Like Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, he thought he could do the devil’s work and get away with it because he’s so intelligent. Except Raskolnikov was able to solve his problem by confessing his crime and taking his punishment in Siberia.

Luntz is holed up in one of his mansions, all alone, drinking Coke Zero as he watches The Newsroom. There is no salvation for Luntz. His torment will be without end because redemption is impossible. He didn’t make conservative values ascendant. He helped turn a political party into a psychiatric wreck and now he blames the president for the result.

Frank Luntz earned his hell. He can fry in it.

Or, he can be quoted sympathetically by Maureen Dowd who seems so downcast that I wonder if she, too, is having a breakdown.

From Katrina to Fallujah, we’re less the Shining City Upon a Hill than the House of Broken Toys.

For the first time perhaps, hope is not as much a characteristic of American feelings.

Are we winners who have been through a rough patch? Or losers who have soured our sturdy and spiritual DNA with too much food, too much greed, too much narcissism, too many lies, too many spies, too many fat-cat bonuses, too many cat videos on the evening news, too many Buzzfeed listicles like “33 Photos Of Corgi Butts,” and too much mindless and malevolent online chatter?

Ms. Dowd, born in 1952, grew up in a country struggling under Jim Crow, which then intervened and failed in Vietnam, saw its most inspiring leaders assassinated, discovered that their vice-president and president were vindictive crooks who both then resigned, learned that the FBI, CIA, and NSA had been reading our mail, blackmailing our leaders, and making assassination attempts of foreign leaders. Back then, the environmental movement was in its crib, women were trying and failing to get an Equal Rights Amendment, and no one was even considering gay rights. But we were still John Wayne-undefeatable until the energy crises and the Ayatollah messed with our psyches, right?

Everyone got along great. Never mind that for the last three years on record the national murder rate has been less than half of what it was in 1980 and lower than any years since 1963.

Are we still the biggest and baddest? Or are we forever smaller, stingier, dumber, less ambitious and more cynical? Have we lost control of our not-so-manifest destiny?

Once we had Howard Baker, who went against self-interest for the common good. Now we have Ted Cruz. Once we had Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner whose fortitude in a Japanese P.O.W. camp was chronicled in Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken.” Now we’ve broken Iraq, liberating it to be a draconian state run on Sharia law, full of America-hating jihadists who were too brutal even for Al Qaeda.

Major points for mentioning Manifest Destiny in a rueful way. People can stop protesting the Washington Redskins now and start protesting Maureen Dowd. Yeah, Howard Baker was more honorable than Ted Cruz, but how did Richard Nixon’s character stack up against the current occupant of the White House?

Again, Dowd seems to forget that we broke Vietnam, and why isn’t a mixed-race kid from New Jersey with Tourette’s Syndrome just as inspiring to Dowd as an Olympic Runner who suffered as a POW?

We’re a little bit scared of our own shadow. And, sadly, we see ourselves as a people who can never understand one another. We’ve given up on the notion that we can cohere, even though the founders forged America by holding together people with deep differences.

As Tonto said, “Whatcha mean, ‘we,’ paleface?” I’m not scared of my own shadow. I don’t feel like I can’t understand other people. I haven’t given up on beating back the Conservative Movement and getting a functional government again. If Dowd is so pessimistic, maybe it’s time for her to let someone with some hope and energy do her job. I mean, look at this next bit:

The old verities seem quaint. If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll lose out to those guys who can wire computers to make bets on Wall Street faster than the next guy to become instant multimillionaires. Our quiet traditional virtues bow to our noisy visceral divisions, while churning technology is swiftly remolding the national character in ways that are still a blur. Boldness is often chased away by distraction, confusion, hesitation and fragmentation.

I am reminded of Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

“Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW…and run off into the hills, or wherever…Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: ‘Did little demons get inside and type it?’ I don’t know! My primitive mind can’t grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know – when a man like my client slips and falls on a sidewalk in front of a public library, then he is entitled to no less than two million in compensatory damages, and two million in punitive damages. Thank you.”

The next thing you know Ms. Dowd will be complaining about the Twitter machine. But at least she senses that she’s a cavewomen living in a world she no longer understands.

Young people are more optimistic than their rueful elders, especially those in the technology world. They are the anti-Cheneys, competitive but not triumphalist. They think of themselves as global citizens, not interested in exalting America above all other countries.

“The 23-year-olds I work with are a little over the conversation about how we were the superpower brought low,” said Ben Smith, the editor in chief of Buzzfeed. “They think that’s an ‘older person conversation.’ They’re more interested in this moment of crazy opportunity, with the massive economic and cultural transformation driven by Silicon Valley. And kids feel capable of seizing it. Technology isn’t a section in the newspaper any more. It’s the culture.”

We’re not a superpower brought low. That’s why the kids don’t want to have that discussion. It’s because we’ve been low ever since we found out that that John Wayne b.s. was a myth, which, for most people, happened decades ago now. In many ways, this country has never been stronger or fairer than it is today, and if we could just get back our majorities we could begin making progress on the problems we’re still facing. The kids don’t want to debate the death of a superpower foolishness any more than they want to debate Jim Crow, gay rights, or the reality of climate change.

At the end of her insufferable column, Ms. Dowd quotes, but does not seem to understand, Nathaniel Philbrick. Mr. Philbrick points out that past is not what it appears to be. The Founding Fathers’ flaws were airbrushed out of history. Even George Washington was a flawed man. “What George Washington did right was to realize how much of what he thought was right was wrong.”

This is what Ms. Dowd has not done. She has not learned that America was never John Wayne-undeafeatable. She mourns not the loss of a better America, but an America that was as phony as the idea of John Wayne being a courageous war hero. The truth is, he opted not to serve. The truth is, America is a much better place today than it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

This is true, despite the psychiatric wreck we call “the Republican Party.”

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at