Boy, we sure need the Olympics this year. After seven months of campaign detumescence and unrelenting economic gloom, nothing feels more reviving than the official Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius—Faster, Higher, Stronger.
After all, the Olympics are one of a diminishing number of global battlefields on which America remains an unequivocal superpower. Which is why we need Michael Phelps to remain King of the Pool in 2012—or at least cede his chlorine-soaked crown to the self-effacing Ryan Lochte. Why we hunger to see LeBron James and the turbo-charged Dream Team pulverize China, Russia, and, especially, pesky Spain. And why we’ll root for sprinter Lolo Jones to remain a virgin in the sweaty Sodom that is the Olympic Village.
Newsweek’s cover subject, Hope Solo, the U.S. women’s soccer team’s demon goalkeeper, knows a thing or two about the louche ways of Olympians. As she recently revealed, after the U.S. women won gold in Beijing four years ago, Solo and her teammates spent a spirited night celebrating with, among others, actor Vince Vaughn. Solo is a tough, contrary survivor whose parents divorced when she was 6. Her dad was arrested for kidnapping her and her brother and wound up living in the woods outside Seattle, a homeless man suspected (and later cleared) of murder. Soccer was Hope’s outlet and her salvation. She tells Andrew Romano that at school, at the age of 12, she wrote, “When I grow up, I want to be a professional soccer player.” She adds: “I didn’t care that there was no such thing as professional soccer at the time.”
Hope Solo escaped stagnation (or worse) by sheer dint of will and a bagful of genetic advantages. Other individuals can, maybe, emulate the willpower if not the gene mix, but where’s the antidote to the stagnation so many feel in America? If you look for it in our political confrontations, good luck. Niall Ferguson comes up with “entrepreneurial optimism,” and he doesn’t mean debating whether this or that tax system will prime the engine. He’s excited by the technological audacity he observed in Elon Musk. He’s one of those immigrants who enrich America, an engineer-entrepreneur, born in South Africa and now an American. He made the first modern viable electric car, his Tesla Roadster, and, escaping gravity, on May 25 this year successfully docked his SpaceX Dragon spaceship with the International Space Station—another Musk first. He wants us to “declare war” on stasis, and Ferguson suggests it’s a way out for America’s prevailing “mood disorder.” (Musk’s practical answer—which may be considered long term and pessimistic—is to escape Planet Earth altogether.)
But there’s no doubt of the color of the national mood on the planet Musk calls “green and blue,” and it’s very gray (and there’s just one shade, not 50). Particularly disheartened is that cohort that Joel Kotkin describes as “Generation Screwed,” those Americans under 35 years of age who are paying a price for the profligacy, and solipsism, of their parents, those loosely known as the boomers.
With an array of statistics, Kotkin paints a portrait that should provoke indignation among readers under 35. America, he says, has gone from a fairy-tale state where its citizens never had it so good to a ratcheting bad dream in which the younger generation has never had it so awful. College degrees no longer guarantee work, and if there is work after college, it’s often at a job for which a degree is redundant. The money is poor, the benefits worse, and amid all this, America’s lawmakers have kicked millennials to the curb. Being taken for granted by politicians, “as African-Americans have been, does not always produce the best results for any demographic grouping.” Be organized, not paralyzed, is Kotkin’s message. Or sign up for a Musk spaceship in 2012.