There are people in this great nation who love to constantly remind us that we live in not only a great nation but, in fact, the greatest nation in the history of the world.
To bolster their argument of how awesome America is, they sometimes cite some of this country’s greatest achievements, like the Panama Canal, Hoover Dam, and Hot Pockets. The phrase “if they can put a man on the moon” is still the standby yardstick by which other, less awesome things are measured.
These people love to brag about American exceptionalism, a concept driven by generations of people with a can-do attitude, a drive to struggle and fight through adversity — in some cases, years of it — in order to make life better for themselves and their fellow man.
Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. The Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. None of these remarkable, history-altering, American accomplishments would have been realized without a determination to continue driving toward each endeavor in the face of untold failures, setbacks, and naysaying.
We’re America, goddammit! If we set our mind to it, we can do it, right?
Well, funny thing about that…
For some time now, I’ve noticed that many of the same people who relish in boasting about how awesome America is also claim that many seemingly highly beneficial goals are too hard to accomplish, even though these very objectives have already been accomplished by less awesome countries. Or even more pathetic, they claim these aims aren’t even worth the trouble.
These aspirations include things like sustainable clean energy, affordable health care, and reduced gun violence. Call me a liberal, progressive, commie hippie, but these things sound pretty awesome, and achieving them would make America even more awesome than it already is.
Many of the same people who relish in boasting about how awesome America is also claim that many seemingly highly beneficial goals are too hard to accomplish, even though these very objectives have already been accomplished by less awesome countries.
Bring up these otherwise worthwhile goals around most members of the “American exceptionalism” crowd, however, and make way for the tsunami of excuses of why they either haven’t been accomplished, never will be accomplished, or aren’t even worth trying to accomplish here in the United States.
Switching to solar and wind energy? “Too expensive.” “Too inefficient.” “What happens when it’s cloudy or the sun goes down?” “Do you know how many birds are killed by those windmills?”
Making health care affordable for everyone? “You really want the government looking over your doctor’s shoulder?” “Might as well go to Mexico for surgery.” “Bye-bye, jobs.” “I hear Canadians have to wait three years for a bottle of aspirin.” “Death panels.”
Making Americans safer from gun violence? “Second Amendment, bruh.” “Slippery slope.” “More people die in car accidents, so why don’t we outlaw cars?” “If only we had more good guys carrying guns to shoot the bad guys with guns.” “Most of that is black-on-black crime, which means the problem will eventually take care of itself.”
Meanwhile, many nations that aren’t nearly as awesome as America have either already achieved these feats or are years and decades ahead of us in getting there.
For instance, not only did nearly 40% of the electricity produced in Denmark last year come from wind power, but onshore wind was the cheapest form of energy in a country that wishes it could be as kick-ass as America. In Scotland — a country so not awesome it voted to remain part of the United Kingdom — wind turbines in December produced enough power for 164 percent of Scottish households. And in Germany, whose ass we totally kicked twice in the span of 30 years, 26 percent of the nation’s power is generated from clean (i.e., nonpetroleum, noncoal, nonnuclear) sources.
By contrast, about 12 percent of the electricity used in the greatest nation on Earth last year came from clean sources.
Say what you will about Donald Trump. Unlike nearly all of his GOP presidential rivals, at least he’s willing to admit that America is in such a state that it could stand to be made great again.
But don’t worry, I’m sure the American exceptionalism crowd has plenty of “Yeah, buts” to explain all those statistics away. Just like I know they have plenty of valid “reasons” why the infinitely more affordable health care systems in nearly every other developed nation actually provide a level of care barely a step or two above the level of care provided by Dr. Josef Mengele.
Sure, health care in America is by far the most expensive in the world, but that just means it’s the most awesome, right? Never mind those studies, like this one reported in that liberal rag Forbes last year, that claim our system isn’t nearly as good as those seen in inferior countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. So what if they claim the American health care system ranks dead last among a study of eleven First World nations? After all, Forbes is obviously anti-American-exceptionalism, what with its annual list of the richest Americans and the biggest companies.
And then there’s the gun violence issue. Our collective resignation to the fact that mass shootings are simply part of American culture is best encapsulated in an article from The Onion (yes, I’m fully aware it’s a satirical site, but the sentiment and statistics are real) titled “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”
Say what you will about Donald Trump. Unlike nearly all of his GOP presidential rivals — who are obligated to remind us every five minutes that the United States is the greatest nation God’s ever created — at least he’s willing to admit that America is in such a state that it could stand to be made great again. Whether he’s the right person to make that happen is for another column or fifty.
So, to all the folks out there who insist on bragging about living in the greatest country in the world while simultaneously either making excuses for or completely ignoring metrics that prove otherwise, please stop. You’re making us sound like a nation of Dallas Cowboys fans.