Matt Miller at the WaPo asks…
Does anyone else think there’s something a little insecure about a country that requires its politicians to constantly declare how exceptional it is? A populace in need of this much reassurance may be the surest sign of looming national decline…
Real men – real Americans – know America is the greatest country ever invented. And they shout it from the rooftops. Don’t they?
Even at a young age, I never really got or bought into American exceptionalism, as I had to hear about it all the time from a certain ex-Marine family member. When I asked “why?”, I always heard the same ol’ freedomfreedomfreedom garbage, which never made much sense, considering how many other countries had plenty of freedom, and better food, to boot. That textbook patriotism (more accurately, nationalism) was summed up real well by Al Franken a few years ago, when speaking about the difference of how libs and cons love their country:
We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America like a 4-year-old loves his mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world. That’s why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well.
I don’t necessarily buy into the “hope of the world” bit, nor is it necessarily a “liberal” thing – more so a “critical thinker” thing, regardless of political persuasion, but overall I think you get the gist. I’ve never really had what I’d call “love” of country, as I don’t think it’s necessary, and the people that seem to profess this “love” the loudest have some pretty authoritarian(and one might say,” un-American ideal”) viewpoints on some things. More accurately, I think America’s a decent place to live (for me) but I don’t doubt there’s other places that’d be more decent, if I had the resources to go and find out. I have “like” of country. That’ll have to be good enough.
The Constitution looks good on paper, but the realities of how America actually operates seem to be often pretty far removed from it.
Then there’s the whole problem of the quantification… what is the “best” country in the world and, pertaining to what Miller’s arguments is, why is it so important to say it over and over? So we can believe it? Cognitive dissonance? It’s almost like some guy bragging about how big his dick is, but the guys on the football team who’ve seen it know it’s the opposite, so he has to brag even more.
If we want to talk about numbers and rankings, let’s just have a quick look at this recent CBS News article, Which Country Has the Best Quality of Life?, about a recent U.N. report, the Human Development Report, which looks not only at income, but health and education:
Among the 169 nations whose development was surveyed, Norway came in first on the annual Human Development Index and Zimbabwe was listed last. The United States was fourth.
Now, of course, I’m not basing my thoughts on one survey, but there’s plenty of similar data out there that correlates in the same way. Lowest infant mortality? Slovenia, Singapore and 45 other countries do better, Access to health care? In one survey of six industrialized nations, we’re number six. Internet access? Number 28. And so on. So this mythical “number one” I always hear about must be based on some intangible, synaptically-based criteria. Close again with Miller:
The conservative use of American exceptionalism as a political sword today is perversely revealing. There’s something off when the first generation of Americans that is less educated than its parents feels a deep need to be told how unique it is. Or that a generation that’s handing off epic debts and a chronically dysfunctional political process (among other woes) demands that its leaders keep toasting its fabulousness. Especially when other nations now offer more upward mobility, and a better blend of growth with equity, than we do – arguably the best measures of America’s once-exceptional national performance.
Wouldn’t it bolster Americans more to be told that we can meet the challenges of this moment? Wouldn’t we be better off striving to be exceptional at solving our common problems?
No, because that would leave politicians nothing to exploit and leave Sarah Palin without a career.