But the mid-1990s saw struggles for both. Bill Clinton's administration grappled with a radical Republican Congress at home, struggling to maintain the containment of Iraq and deal with the wars of the former Yugoslavia abroad. Duke's 1994 season collapsed when Coach K stepped down for emergency back surgery. Over the next few years, the world watched incredulously as Clinton was impeached over Monica Lewinsky and Duke somehow lost to Eastern Michigan. But none of these struggles affected now well-entrenched attitudes.
By early 2001, both were back with a vengeance: The United States sat comfortably atop an increasingly institutionalized liberal order and Duke had defeated Arizona for its third championship. But by the middle of the decade, like America bogged down in its Iraqi quagmire, Duke proved mortal indeed. In 2006, a good Duke team led by Redick lost a brutal matchup with LSU. In the following years, no surge could save Duke: It lost in 2007 to 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth, in 2008 to 7th-seeded West Virginia*, and in 2009 to Villanova. Like the United States under its new president, Duke surged back to win the national championship in 2010, but this return to the top -- like America's global approval ratings under Obama -- proved fleeting: Two years later, it somehow lost to Lehigh (Lehigh!) in the first round.
But anti-Dukism, like anti-Americanism, did not seem to rise and fall smoothly with actual policies. These shocking Duke losses generated gleeful celebration rather than any perceptible sympathy. Negative views of the United States have proven similarly resilient over the last decade, particularly in the Middle East, where a brief uptick following Obama's election quickly disappearing. This could be because the underlying structural realities never really changed: Duke may have struggled in the tournament, but continued to dominate the Atlantic Coast Conference, take top seeds in the NCAA tourney almost every year, and recruit a steady stream of top talent. The United States may have elected a new president, withdrawn from Iraq, changed its tone toward Islam, and supported transitions in Egypt, but it maintained its support for many repressive regimes, escalated drone strikes, didn't close Guantánamo, and maintained its close alliance with Israel.
But this explanation remains unsatisfying. A lot remained constant in Durham and Washington, but a lot changed too, with little evident impact on attitudes. Why did the United States get no credit from the Muslims of the world for intervening in Bosnia? Why does Duke get no credit for universally acknowledged good guys like Grant Hill and Elton Brand, while Laettner's legend lives forever? Political scientists Peter Katzenstein and Robert Keohane, in an influential book (to which, full disclosure, I contributed a chapter) had an answer: anti-Dukism, like anti-Americanism, is best understood as a form of cognitive bias.
When such a bias takes root, new information tends to be processed in such a way as to confirm existing beliefs. Rather than fluidly updating opinions based on new evidence, people who have internalized such a bias will tend to fit the new information to their narrative. Thus, when the United States withdraws support from Egypt's Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years it is not because it wants democracy but rather because it wants to preserve the military's power; when Washington then pushes the military to transfer power to an elected civilian government, it can't be because it supports democracy but rather must mean that it views the Muslim Brotherhood as the functional equivalent of Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Something similar operates with anti-Dukism: Sure, many Duke players have a certain attitude that rubs people the wrong way, but Katzenstein and Keohane would suggest that it is the jersey rather than the player that sparks the outrage. When Seth Curry's older brother starred at Davidson, everyone raved about his courage and skill, but with a blue and white jersey on the younger brother becomes unbearably smug and manifestly overrated. Bobby Hurley at Indiana would be the epitome of hard-nosed hustle, but at Duke he was, well, Bobby Hurley.
The media likely plays a role in all this, of course. There's just the sheer ubiquity: American sports fans can no more avoid seeing Duke on television than Arabs could avoid seeing American troops in Iraq on Al-Jazeera. But it goes beyond that. Every year, ESPN audiences have to endure odes to the Cameron Crazies, Dick Vitale's ravings about the character of an (often white) Duke star, and endless paeans to the virtues of man-to-man defense and motion offense as some sort of uniquely Dukian innovation. Similarly, across the globe, foreign audiences have to endure lectures about American exceptionalism, global problems defined by how they affect American interests, and a public sphere saturated with American values. As Coach K once put it, "[W]e arouse passion [because] we're in a different world. I'm not sure we're in a world many people have been on, we just have to learn how to manage it.'' This is not the sort of self-reflection others find endearing. The casting of Duke and America as exceptional, and insistence that all recognize their universal appeal likely explains some portion of the backlash against both.
A careful study of anti-Dukism does not offer any clearly actionable guidance for American public diplomacy, alas. Sinking into mediocrity might reduce the venom, but hardly seems a price worth paying. Actively seeking to engage critics across multiple platforms is more likely to generate antagonism than win over hearts and minds. Replacing Bush with Obama had no more lasting impact than did replacing J.J. Redick with Jon Scheyer. Obama may try to de-Dukify by making the United States a bit less brash, a bit more respectful, and well, a bit less white, but like Coach K he will still want America to win. The best Washington can do, then, is to simply ignore the haters and do the right thing -- which, in this case, means bringing the national championship back to Durham on April 8!
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Duke lost in 2008 to 10th-seeded Providence. In fact, the Blue Devils fell to 7th-seeded West Virginia. Foreign Policy regrets the error.