The greatest country in the world

| February 6, 2013 | 5 Replies

This impressive speech suggests that the United States is not the “greatest country in the world.” But what would Jeff Daniels know? He’s only relying on facts.

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Category: American Culture, ignorance, Propaganda, Quality of Life, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Mike M. says:

    Tough little video. Lots of it I liked very much (my favorite bit was when he barked out– ‘Yosemite?!’). Too funny. Also enjoyed the audience transfixed in stunned silence, as if they were collectively thinking, ‘Is he really allowed to say that? Aren’t we all supposed to robotically parrot the same patriotic mantra?’

    For me it went off the boil slightly around the 2/3 mark (cue the music) when he stated,’We used to be, but…America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.’ Believing America was ever “the greatest country in the world” is just Bad Nostalgia (ooo, that would be a cool name for a tribute band!). Besides being completely meaningless without first operationally defining what is meant by “greatest”, it’s objectively just not a valid statement. The same arguments he made regarding other countries would still hold true at any period of the American empire since its birth in 1776. When the United States of America was supposedly “the greatest country”, what century or decade was he referring to I wonder? When was this Glory Era of golden American benevolence and righteousness? Didn’t exist–ever. The history of the United States is filled end to end with disgraceful horrors, inequality, genocide, and human rights abuses of such dark gravity that they are almost ineffable. Cheering for the Home Team or carying around delusions of a paradise that never existing may feel good and warmly poignant, but dealing with the hard facts of reality are ultimately a much more honest and authentic platform to rest upon.

    • markwt says:

      Mike,

      It’s a game of comparative anatomy. You make a claim like that by looking at your competitors, and until the post WWII period certain of those metrics held true because what we’ve come to know as “liberal democracy” had very little purchase anywhere else in the world prior to that and nearly choked to death during the Great Depression. Standard of living was higher for a long time than almost anywhere else even on a bad day. And for a good part of the 20th century we had possibly the highest rate of technological and scientific innovation on the planet. Much of this was the fortune of history, but a lot of it had to do with the simple fact that a space was provided here for people coming from other places to do what they could not do there. Again, it’s a comparative thing, but it was never a myth that a huge portion of the planet wanted to come here because where they were was much, much worse—and that the majority of those people who came here willingly found even the destitution more tolerable.

      We’ve lost that since the Cold War because we have become so damned afraid of tomorrow.

      But “being the greatest country” is, as you say, an almost useless statement, only because it is so all-encompassing. I remember late-night bull sessions where the least little flaw was sufficient to claim that nothing America did was worth while, and that kind of exaggeration is just as meaningless but infinitely more destructive.

      It is true that in order to do better, you need confidence, and that’s hard to do when half the country is steeped in guilt and the need to apologize for not being perfect and the other half sees any attempt to improve as an indictment for crimes they don’t feel were ever committed. Everyone is defensive and the longer than persists the worse we’ll do, because it’s an erosive condition. Erosive in the worst way—morally.

      There’s a scene in the Robin Williams film “Moscow On The Hudson” where he enters his first American supermarket to find coffee and nearly has a meltdown at the very fact of what we take for granted. The system upon which that store is built has only recent presence in 90% of the rest of the world. We find it funny. Immigrants from the Third World do not.

      We’ve been dismantling what made this country so worthwhile and it began in the Cold War when we began to distrust intellectuals who were not willing to make blanket condemnations of other ideologies and has continued apace because certain people learned that it was a good way to win elections. That erosion has damaged something that was real, not a myth, and I for one would very much like to see it back. There really was a time when “America” as an idea meant something to the rest of the world. It was a standard. But the standard of good was something we collectively assumed we could never lose and made fun of people who could only find bad things to talk about. As they made their case more effectively, we collectively questioned whether anything here was good. We set the stage thereby for a horribly destructive battle that it bringing us down.

      Maybe this comes as surprise to some, that I’d be saying this, but there has been and still is much about this country that I love and the continual denigration of it does no good. We do not have to ignore the crap or pretend we have no problems in order to embrace the better parts of our heritage and acknowledge that all that freedom (however you wish to define it) and economic prosperity upon which it rests is relatively recent in the world and that at one time we were THE model for both. Hard to imagine, I know, but true nonetheless. There’s more to our history than Howard Zinn would have you think.

  2. Mike M. says:

    Mark: Points well taken and granted. It is important to consider the wonderful achievements of the United States, but also not to deny it’s murky past (and present).
    What makes a country (or anything really) “great” is relative, ultimately subjective, and a matter of perspective when distilled down to it’s essence–a complex and inseperable relationship between observer and observed.

    My post point, or position, was to be a small voice of opposition to the strident majority of “knee-jerk patriots”. The ‘America is the greatest, and has always been’ crowd. They are legion, quite vocal and I suspect ignorant of, or unwilling to confront, our country’s harsh truths and ugly histories. Why? Let’s face it, we all like to be on the winning team, part of a collective good, blessed at birth by a fortune of geography. It’s the sad old “Us vs. Them” game. Primitive territorial pissings– myopic and Ego-stained (my town is better than your town; my country is greater than your country; my God is stronger than your God). Here, in my opinion, lies your real “meaningless and infinitely more destructive” mentality.

    Also, comparatively “high” standard of living, massive GNP, economic prosperity, and tech advances cannot whitewash or trump the virtual extermination of the Native Americans, atomic bombing of civilian cities, chemical warfare, racial discriminations and lynchings, covert wars and black ops, funding of mass murdering dictators and regimes, slaughter of innocents, etc. These events simply must enter into the discussion when throwing around proclamations of America being “the greatest country in the world.” By not addressing, or admitting to, the reality of America’s dark side, the “USA! USA!” cheerleaders are, perhaps unwittingly, giving our leaders license to continue with business as usual and allowing the forward thrust of America’s dark side to stab ever deeper into our collective futures.

    • markwt says:

      Mike,

      “knee jerk patriots”—I call them lapel-pin patriots—don’t know why America is great, either. They work day and night to choke what has in the past been our strengths to death.

      We don’t have to white-wash anything. The problem is either-or thinking on both sides. It’s natural to “take sides” but it’s also one of the biggest problems humanity has, because we tend to take a side in every damn thing when in most instances taking a side just destroys possibilities.

      The flag-waving, sycophatic cheerleaders of America have no clue what made this country what it is, good or bad. They think just being able to brag about it is enough, all the while they defund, denigrate, and deny everything that might once more inform genuine greatness. They think things like the Civil Rights movement, women’s liberation, and gay rights were and are somehow detrimental to this country, when in fact those things are demonstrative of our greatness. But to have those things demands that we acknowledge the wrongs they redressed and we do that, too.

      My response to you was that acknowledging the wrongs can overwhelm the possibility of a better tomorrow because it reaches a point where we deny that anything was ever right about us, and that’s just as big a mischaracterization.

      That’s all.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Markwt;

    I think the salient point is that simply proclaiming sonething does not make it true. Ignoring the problems won’t make them go away, but acknowledging the existence of problems is the first step in finding solutions.

    There was a time when the US lead the way in Innovations in healthcare and in communications. There was a time when the US progressivel promotedequality for all, equal access to the judicial system and oportunity for everyone. The future was wide open.

    That has been turned around by small minded greedy failed businessmen-turned-politician who are devout followers of a corrupt ideology.

    I have a college degree, My younger son, who is an exceptional student will probably not attend college. First, because I can not afford it. Second, because the financial sector has perverted our post secondary educational system into nothing more than a new revenue stram for the richest of the rich, and third, many of the universities are becoming little more than very expensive diploma mills. This is not even considering the numerous “career” colleges promising degrees in medical coding and billing (in other words, filign insurance claims)

    Why the decay?
    Well, for all the bluster and BS about “Free market” and competition, we have neither in the US.

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