The Greatest Country In The World

As a preface to today’s piece, let me explain that I write many articles weeks before submission. I try to stay ahead in case I go on vacation, sub a lot in a week, or if occasional “blocks” hit, so I’m usually ahead of schedule with my writings.

The following was penned two days before Labor Day.

True story: Ten hours later that day, 438 miles away in Chester, Va., my son Jon posted some thoughts on Facebook which included comments on the same question in the title above, referencing the same TV program, episode, and scene discussed below. We never talked about it, it just happened that way. Coincidence? Spooky? My ego prefers to think great minds think alike.

All my life, I’ve tried to believe, and maintain that belief, that we live in the greatest country in the world. My father raised us to believe it, he served this country (Navy) because he believed it, and he rose every time flags passed, out of respect that it was the greatest country in the world.

I’ve often used this medium expressing my belief that what my father taught us is true, though it hasn’t always been easy. I see the way some (many) people live their lives interpreting living free as living for free. I see the way some people treat others, how some (many) live with a “me first” philosophy.

I see how this country has, often, lowered the bar in many areas leading to less excellence and more mediocrity.

Violence, rudeness, scamming, insulting, stealing, breaking laws (as simple as some might be), disrespecting others, all seem to be rising at alarming rates. In many cases, maybe the assumptions of what the freedoms this country guarantees pushes the boundaries of what those freedoms really guarantee.

About a year ago, HBO premiered a new series titled “The Newsroom,” starring Jeff Daniels, about the production of a news program and its controversial news anchor.

Though not an HBO subscriber, we occasionally receive free previews whereby I got to see this premier. The opening five minutes were jaw-dropping, and recently the YouTube airing of that opening scene has resurfaced.

It’s something that might make one think about where our country’s been, where it’s come, and maybe where it’s going.

I realize the following referenced words are part of television, but many shows of this nature research what they try to present, so while I’m sure some of the words are there for ratings, I believe many of them to be fairly accurate.

I’d like to share some of the words in that opening with you today.

Please understand I’m paraphrasing, eliminating some words which would be bleeped out (maybe) on regular television, but I hope you get the gist of what fictional news anchor, Will McAvoy, was trying to convey.

The scene depicted a panel presentation by newspersons speaking to collegians in an open Q & A session. One young lady in the audience posed the question, “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” The first two panelists offered their thoughts before Mr. McAvoy spoke. His comments began, “It’s not the greatest country in the world … that’s my answer.”

He later added to fellow panelists, “And with a straight face you are going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom.

“Two hundred and seven sovereign countries in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.”

While pointing at the student who asked the question, he said, “And yeah, you, sorority girl, just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know.

“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four 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. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the Worst. Generation. Ever. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the (expletive) you’re talking about! Yosemite?”

After pausing, he continued with, “We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons.

“We waged wars on poverty, not 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. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.

“America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

After allowing my jaw to close, I thought much about what Daniels’ character said. Just saying or wanting to believe America’s the greatest isn’t enough. That just doesn’t make it true. I want to believe my favorite sports teams are the greatest, but just wanting/believing it won’t make it true, but they’re my favorite and I’ll continue to support them. I feel that much more for this country I call home. Maybe we aren’t the greatest, the best, or the one above the rest. We’ve fallen behind and there are many problems. I recognize that and the solution can only begin with the person we each see in the mirror each day. If we all “police” ourselves, get back to the attitudes that made us what we used to be, then maybe what my Dad taught us will once again be true.