America is not the greatest country in the world anymore — but we could be . . .

At some small risk of sacrificing the G rating of this blog, I offer this little scene from HBO’s “Newsroom,” a program I can’t see because our cable company is not customer-oriented (but we take it for the bundled internet package).  From this small snippet, I would say HBO is again showing how a cable program aimed at adult minds can achieve high quality, if not greatness.  Aaron Sorkin created and writes the thing, and Jeff Daniels stars as the television news guy.  This scene will give every patriotic American something to think about.

Something to think about, sure.

It’s not a question, or should not be a question, of whether one “believes in” American exceptionalism.  It is a question of whether we understand that what makes America exceptional is the people who work to make things better, the people who work to make change — and that exceptionalism slips from our mantle, and from our grasp, if we don’t work to keep it.

I’m also reminded of the two posters somebody put out that showed up in every speech department in every college in America when I was a speech graduate student.  They were based loosely on Plutarch‘s Lives, the book comparing biographies of great Romans and great Greeks, and the section that compared the two great orators, the later Roman, Cicero and the earlier Greek, Demosthenes.

One poster said, “When Cicero spoke, the people said how well he spoke.”

The second said, “When Demosthenes spoke, the people said ‘Let us march!‘”

Are you ready to march?  November’s election day comes sooner than we anticipate.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jim Stanley.

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11 Responses to America is not the greatest country in the world anymore — but we could be . . .

  1. […] America is not the greatest country in the world anymore – but we could be . . . ( […]


  2. To Mark and I hope I’m quoting right:
    You might also want to compare adjusted/real GDP then to now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    Okay…you should go compare the GOP of then to the GOP of now. Go compare the conservatives of then to the conservatives of now. Hell..just go read Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative.”

    And then answer this question: Is the GOP of the conservative of now anything remotely like the GOP and conservative of then?

    Go ahead…we’ll wait.

    We can’t afford medicare and social security but we can afford massive new tax cuts to the rich and an ever enlarging military? really? We can’t afford health care for everyone but we can afford the rich earning hundreds of times more then the average person? That’s notwithstanding the fact that if everyone had adequate health care it actually would be an economic boon as it would alleviate the costs from businesses and well..healthy people are more economically productive.

    We can’t afford Pell Grants and Stafford Loans but we can afford Mitt and all the other rich getting a tax break for their vacation homes? We can’t afford ending the tax cuts companies get for shipping jobs overseas but we can afford the largesse of corporate welfare that the oil companies get?

    When do we start investing in this country again? When do we start investing in…well….we? When did the first few words of the DOI go from “We the People” to “I the individual”? When did the national motto go from “E Plurbius Unum…out of many one” to “In this world only the strong survive. If you’re strong you live, if you’re weak you die”?

    Or perhaps more simply..when did “we are the best country in the world” start meaning “We are absolutely perfect and we can sit on our fat arses”?


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Boonton and Mark engage in some discussion on this post, over at Mark’s site. I encourage you to look there and comment.

    My latest response to Mark, there:

    [Mark said:] And yes, as I noted, there is no reason to be complacent. That however, is not a good excuse for fabricating nonsense to make things seem worse than they are.

    Sometimes we even get beaten at aphorisms, like the Chinese aphorism, “I cannot hear what you are saying — your actions speak so loudly!”

    No reason to be complacent, but cut taxes for the wealthy? No reason to be complacent, but stop spending the $3 million it would have taken to eradicate measles from the U.S.? (Actual policy decision made in 1981. $3 million . . . the cost of three hospitalizations for complications of measles.) No reason to be complacent, but complaining when I mention that we can’t even beat the commies in Cuba at literacy and infant mortality — you get all complacent on us and claim we can’t beat Cuba? CUBA?

    Surrender monkeys of the right are so irritating both because they don’t understand they are monkeys, and because they do the old Doublespeak Dance: “It’s not really surrendering to evil and the Dark Side if we call it a tax cut!”

    Mark, you missed the whole point of the fictional newsman’s rant. What makes us “no longer” the greatest nation on Earth isn’t that we have things pretty good, but that we fail to work to preserve the pretty good we’ve got, and we appear unable to muster the necessary collective guts to face up to our problems and work to do better.

    It’s the denial that we have a problem, and worse, the denial that we can and should do better, that kills us.

    I see the nation in the world that you see to challenge US dominance is …. a mirage.

    See? Your first defense is denial.

    Your first example, “the US 38 years ago” (during race riots and massive meltdowns of the US military) and large confusions over whether Communism (killing 100s of millions) was a bad thing or not.

    No race riots in 1964. One year to go to the Watts riots of 1965. But the year following Kennedy’s assassination and the astonishing damage that did to our national hopeful psyche. Still, in 1964 while debating whether the Cold War was worth the heavy costs, while dealing with the metaphysical arguments, we were building our military (no meltdown at all), and we were ready to create great new opportunities for higher education, ready to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, working hard to overcome 100 years of invidious racial segregation in the South, nationally calling for people to vote instead of shoot, and to allow minorities to vote instead of lynching them. We stood at a vexing precipice of scientific achievement — was space to be conquered only so we could put bombs up there to “beat the Russkies,” or were there other purposes, for science, for exploration? Though we “couldn’t afford it,” we appropriated the money to explore space because we couldn’t afford not to charge boldly into the future even without knowing exactly what was at stake, let alone how much it would cost. Would we fulfill the Truman Doctrine, and live up to the words of Kennedy’s inaugural address to “go anywhere and pay any price” to defend freedom, in — where? — Vietnam (“Where in the hell is that?”) or would we pull in our horns and save the money.

    I argue that our taking up the challenge helped make us great, even though we didn’t achieve what we hoped to achieve in Vietnam.

    We honor our soldiers better today, but I fear it’s out of a conservative knee-jerk, thoughtless reaction to avoid looking like hippies, and not due to our gratitude to the soldiers. Your denial of the problems helps convince me the honorings are shallow, and for the wrong reasons.

    There was no confusion over massive killings by communists. There was great concern about whether any attempts to interfere, by overt or covert military methods, might result in nuclear war. We at least had a robust discussion of the issues, with several sides represented in wide-open-to-the-public debate — it was the year of the movie “Fail Safe” as well as the movie “Dr. Strangelove,” either one of which delved deeper into the serious issues of nuclear armament than the Republican Party can possibly muster today to discuss nuclear proliferation in Iran. When Stanley Kubrick’s comedy masterpiece is deeper than the military/foreign policy position of the Republican Party, we have a serious problem.

    In 1964, we had widespread agreement that something must be done, on many fronts — education, health care, poverty, containing communism, building education, even building roads, bridges and dams. In 1964, for the sixth time since Eisenhower left office, the debt ceiling was raised to accommodate the functioning of the U.S. government — and this was done with bi-partisan support, despite the fact we had recently had our last balanced budget, because even people who called themselves conservatives understood that Alexander Hamilton’s gift was not a perpetual endowment without need of maintenance. Regardless how Goldwater voted on the debt ceiling — and I don’t know which way he went — he didn’t try to take America’s future hostage for cheap political points on Fox News. Goldwater understood that, to keep America great, the government must function. Today’s conservatives are easily as destructive to our government as Fidel Castro ever hoped to be in 1964.

    You might also want to compare adjusted/real GDP then to now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    Real wages for Americans were rising, not falling. The great captains of industry made, perhaps, 40 or 50 times what the factory-floor worker made — not 500 times. Wealth was distributed fairly, with working people understanding that they had a great shot to work hard and get paid fairly for their work. Unions had clout, and workers needed it — and conservatives complained, but understood that the strength of America was in the working people, and not in the millionaires. Mitt Romney scoffs at that social contract today with the support of millions of dupes.

    GDP is higher today. Poverty is increasing, too. You take pride in the GDP, but you should be ashamed that we can’t eliminate poverty with our greater national earning power. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for about the same thing, according to the prophet Ezekiel. I should think Christians would be in the forefront of the protests, and they would be spreading that jeremiad from Aaron Sorkin all over the internet, as far and as fast as their fingers would type.

    You, however, deny we have a problem. I smell brimstone.


  4. Pseudo writes:
    Others may be catching up, but in the words of UK educational

    So we should rest on our laurels and let them actually catch up? Just because you want to claim “we’re the greatest country” and on some things we actually are…..

    ….doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

    THe liberal maxim actually is “we should always continue to be the greatest country in the world.” the conservative maxim is “we are the greatest country in the world and now we should sit on our fat arses doing nothing”


  5. Jim writes:
    I would find it amusing (if it wasn’t so shameful) that, generally speaking, those who are most opposed to the teaching of scientific Darwinism in the schools are the most enthusiastic about implementing social Darwinism in society.

    I wonder why the disconnect.

    Oh that’s easy…because they’re followers of Anton LaVey and his brand of Satanism.


  6. Jim says:


    I would find it amusing (if it wasn’t so shameful) that, generally speaking, those who are most opposed to the teaching of scientific Darwinism in the schools are the most enthusiastic about implementing social Darwinism in society.

    I wonder why the disconnect.



  7. Sorry, Jim, I think the motto is “In this world only the strong survive. If you’re strong (rich) you live, if you’re weak (not rich) you die.”

    It’s somehow worse.


  8. Jim says:


    The real story here is not whether someone thinks we are or are not the greatest country in the world. The real story is whether someone things we CAN be again. And then, what are they willing to do, to give up, to work for, to share in order to make that happen.

    We mutually pledge our lives, our fortune, our sacred honor.

    Mutually. Seems that word is missing today. I stand by my assertion that our de facto motto today is “I’ve got mine, Jack. Now root, hog or die.”

    Doesn’t have to be, of course. But it is. Thanks for sharing this.


  9. Ed Darrell says:

    As to Mark’s complaint at Pseudo-Polymath, I responded there:

    If you want to name the US as not “top nation” you need to indicate which nation replaced the US.

    The U.S. in 1964. [For one example.]

    We are not “the greatest nation in the world” that those who invoke the phrase remember. That’s exactly the problem. Refusal to understand that we can make improvements, and especially that we should and must make improvements is a key cause of our national fall. For example, asking “who else is greatest?” assumes that so long as we can claim to be better than Somalia, or Myanmar, or China, or Ecuador, on some measure, we can relax and rest on the laurels of our fathers, grandfathers and forefathers (and, to be clear, mothers, grandmothers and foremothers).

    Cuba has higher literacy and lower infant mortality. Finland’s teachers are happy, better paid, honored, and more successful as a group that we find in the U.S. education system. China backs its solar cell innovators to try to knock Germany’s industry off of the top spot, instead of claiming that government help for industry means President Obama is corrupt. Heart disease rates are lower in almost every other industrialized nation. Poor people get great health care in France, and Germany, and Japan.

    There used to be a dairy near Boston who tweaked Carnation on its slogan, “Our milk comes from contented cows.” The little dairy said, “Our cows are not content; they always try to do better.”

    You appear to have succumbed to the dangerous and deadly idea that we don’t need to do anything to keep America great, that we can elect Romneys all day long and God will bail us out of trouble, rather as everyone knows, God protects drunks, infants and toddlers.

    Sorkin’s rant is spot on. You can refuse to acknowledge it, and that refusal pushes America’s glory a bit farther to the back, a bit deeper into the past, a bit more out of reach of our children.

    Why would anyone do that?

    The problems Sorkin names are problems we can overcome, if we first agree to overcome them. We can count you out of the Keep America Exceptional movement?


  10. […] A liberal/progressive maxim … “the US is no longer the greatest country in the world” which oddly enough never proposes an alternative. The reason is that the statement is false. Others may be catching up, but in the words of UK educational maxims (as expressed in this wonderful book) if the US is not “top nation” who is? China with $4/day labor? India? France? Germany? Sweden? Cuba? Get real. If you want to name the US as not “top nation” you need to indicate which nation replaced the US. […]


  11. Something to think about for sure. Great post.


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