Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.
*Update* This post has been regretted by the author. Please read my apology here: I Was Wrong: A Confession
Warning: the following post is brutally honest. If the title has already angered you, I advise that you stop reading now.
American patriotism is a tradition and almost a religion: at least in my state (West Virginia), people tend to view loyalty to America on the same level as loyalty to God—it’s a given, a reason to rage against those who don’t demonstrate the same loyalty, and something to never, ever be questioned. This was especially true in the years immediately following the 9/11 attacks. But now, after the recession, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, currently, the deep political divides that have produced a government shutdown, people are not so quick to display unwavering patriotic attitudes. I think there’s a cultural identity crisis brewing in America, a questioning of the legitimacy of American pride.
What emboldened me to point this out was the first episode of HBO’s The Newsroom, in which the character Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) spouts a shocking tirade in response to being asked “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” My jaw fell open as I listened, and my heart said, “He’s right!” Here is an excerpt from that speech:
Excerpt from transcript of HBO’s The Newsroom, Season 1, Episode 1:
“[America is] not the greatest country in the world, professor. That’s my answer. …There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies…
“…It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed…by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. “
The second paragraph there caused me to wonder, “When did we ever really do all those great things?” I think the answer is that we did those great things in the time between 1776 to roughly the first half of the twentieth century.
Most people have a unique thing they point to as “What’s wrong with society today.” I was pleased to see that Will McAvoy (actually, his writers) apparently blames the same thing I do: America’s decline in quality of education (what did college students in the 1800s and early 1900s learn? A LOT more than today’s college students) and also, in my view, its corresponding increase in materialistic, technology-fueled laziness.
Those are harsh words. It sounds like I’m just ranting with no supporting evidence. I may be ranting, but there are gobs of evidence. For just one piece, look at the lyrics from one of today’s top radio hits. This song is unusual in that it self-consciously flaunts the degraded values of typical American young people today, whereas many top hits just directly promote those values—partying without regard to consequences and determinedly doing whatever you want while shutting your ears to other points of view.
Excerpt of lyrics from “American Girl” by Bonnie McKee
“Oh I’m an American girl
Hot blooded and I’m ready to go
I’m loving taking over the world
Hot blooded, all-American girl (Whoa)
I was raised by a television
Every day is a competition
Put the key in my ignition (Oh-way-oh)
“I wanna see all the stars and everything in between
I wanna buy a new heart out of a vending machine
Cause It’s a free country so baby we can do anything (Whoa)
I just keep moving my body (yeah)
I’m always ready to party (yeah)
No I don’t listen to mommy (yeah)
and I’ll never say that I’m sorry”
Well, I too am an American girl, and I am saying I’m sorry—to the children who have to grow up in this proudly ignorant and stubbornly selfish country. I hope against hope that the tide will somehow turn and our children will grow up, unlike us, to be broadly educated and NOT indoctrinated to believe that America (like God) is unquestionably the best no matter what.