I’ve had a year blessedly full of work, but that volume has caused me to let my own blog mostly lie fallow. To make up for this, I’m going to try for a post a day in December. About just about everything. Funny. Serious. Anything goes. Here is Day 4.
One of the reasons I love giving myself challenges like this is because it cleans out my terrifyingly large number of draft files.
Here is one. It’s a long one.
“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.”
You’ve probably seen the monologue from The Newsroom – written by wordy Aaron Sorkin and delivered by Jeff Daniels – where that quote is from. It makes some great points.
But it’s bullshit.
Yes: one of our biggest problems is that we pay more attention to partisan, ad hominem shouting matches, instead of scientific, provable fact.
But the fictional anchorman wistfully describes a time when he says we were great: warring against poverty, exploring space, curing diseases, cultivating the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.
That stuff happened. But let’s be real. When it was happening, America was a great country to live in IF you were a straight white man.
Let’s assume that 50% of the population is female and 90% of the population is heterosexual. And, in 1960, 85% of the population is white.
By my math, “when America was great,” back in those Mad Men days of yore, it was great for exactly 38% of Americans.
And that 38% of straight white men in America in 1960 is shrinking fast. It will only be 21% by 2050.
When things were great for that 38%, for everyone else, they weren’t so “star-spangled awesome.”
- If you were black, you faced segregation and far worse. You were half as likely to get a high school education and, as an adult, earned half as much as a white person.
- If you were brown? Your government had recently launched “Operation Wetback,” which deported 4 million Mexican-Americans, many citizens.
- If you were female, you weren’t allowed to get a credit card or go to many colleges. If you worked, you were paid 60 cents for every dollar a man would be. Not until the 1980s was sexual harassment even legally defined. Spousal rape was legal.
- If you weren’t heterosexual, you were deemed mentally ill, immoral, illegal.
There is no “great” time we need to get back to. This is jingoistic whitewashed bullshit.
This country has accomplished great things. As have many other nations. We have had periods of leadership in many fields. As have many other nations. We have achieved stunningly great things in otherwise deeply flawed times. As have many other nations. We are still accomplishing stunningly great things in otherwise deeply flawed times. As are many other nations.
But right now, our ignorant isolationist blindness is making us the laughingstock of the world.
We’re afraid to admit that we aren’t the best and maybe never were. This isn’t greatness. It’s cowardice.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” (Said Franklin D. Roosevelt.)
In 2012, Dr. Lisa Wade wrote, “Whatever the pace of change, the era of winning U.S. elections by pandering to the worldview of a single group is ending.” That was the week of Obama’s second election.
I think Dr. Wade was right – but I think we all minimized her first five words. Pandering will evolve away, I hope and believe… but it’s going to take a lot longer than we hoped.
We are living through the desperate struggle of those around the world who are afraid of our current global evolution – toward globalization.
Right now, we are not great. We are the most obese wealthy nation. We are 10th out of 10 wealthy countries on health, despite spending far more than any other country. We’re 50th in life expectancy and 173rd in infant mortality. We are one of two countries in the world who do not mandate paid maternity leave. Us and Lesotho. We are one of the five countries who spend the most on education but we’re 38th out of 71 in math and 24th in science. Seventh in basic literacy. Eleventh in advanced literacy. We have the second worst poverty rate among rich countries: Nearly a quarter of our kids live in poverty. Americans are five times more likely to die by assault than the average world citizen.
Obviously that’s a cherry-picked collection of statistics. I don’t mean to say that we’re terrible. I don’t think we are. I say all that to say that as Americans we rarely see perspective in our coverage of our country as part of the world.
(Based on 65 different attributes, U.S. News ranks the U.S. eighth, behind Switzerland, Canada, Germany, the UK, Japan, Sweden and Australia.)
We need to look outward, not inward. Learn, not preach.
I am an extraordinarily grateful American in many ways. But I also believe that without perspective we risk – we are risking – a very great deal of those things for which I am so grateful. And we risk not gaining a great deal of things that we need very badly.