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“The trouble with America has nothing to do with a lack of elbow grease,” said Derek Leebaert, a historian, former Marine and foreign-policy professor at Georgetown University. “We’re in troubled times, but the majority of our population is working its butt off, trying to provide health care and education for their families in a difficult environment. That takes a lot of courage, perseverance and all-around grittiness.

“Americans also volunteer more than any other people, working for the Boy Scouts, their churches, the Red Cross. Combine that with our jobs, and we are the busiest people on the planet.”

Are we fat? Guilty as charged. But we’re also home to Joey Chestnut, the greatest competitive eater in the world, a man who once ate 241 wings in a single sitting and 68 hot dogs - plus buns - in 10 minutes.

Likewise, we are really, really good at “Call of Duty.” Is it just coincidence that our young soldiers excel as drone pilots?

Brief history of softness

In his 2004 book “Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future,” political writer Michael Barone argued that the seemingly tough United States of the 1950s and 1960s was in many ways a cushier place, thanks to a Big Government, Big Labor and Big Business coalition that insulated society from the harshness of unrestrained market forces.

Right or wrong, his analysis reflects a fundamental aspect of our character: We’re forever stressing about our self-diagnosed softness - questioning whether we still have our former juice, or are busy slouching toward Charminville. Political scientists even have a term for it: declinism.

18th century: Our European ancestors widely thought that all living things in the Americas were in a state of permanent decline, largely because of excessive atmospheric humidity. No, really.

1860s: Following the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman fears that America will slip into anarchy.

1930s: The Great Depression. Need we say more?

1946: A year after winning World War II, American policymakers squabble and point fingers over “losing the peace” in Eastern Europe, while Gen. George C. Marshall refers to the triumphant U.S. military as a “hollow shell.”

1950: “Who lost Eastern Europe?” becomes “Who lost China?” The Cold War dawns, with Americans fearing they are too soft and hedonistic to contain communism for the long haul, and the CIA predicts that the Soviet economy will be three times larger than America’s by 2000. It’s a slam-dunk!

1960: Ur-conservative Barry Goldwater asserts that “we are losing the Cold War.” Pointing to a “missile gap,” Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy agrees.

1970s: Late 1960s turmoil gives way to a loss in Vietnam and to Watergate; oil shocks and stagflation; polyester and Disco Demolition Night. In response, Henry Kissinger concludes that America has “passed its high point, like so many other civilizations.”

1980: Ayatollah in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan, a Billy Joel song to follow.

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