I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this post lately. According to Evernote, I first bookmarked this for myself almost 2 years ago, but if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve almost assuredly seen it come across your social media feeds from time to time.
It’s worth a read; take a few minutes and do so. It’s certainly a better expenditure of your time than continuing on here. I’ll wait.
So as I said, I’ve been thinking about that post a lot. I have probably reread it a dozen or so times in the last 2 years, and I sit and ponder it frequently. It is frustrating and demoralizing to be an American, these days. From my view of the Internet, it certainly seems like most everybody that is paying attention feels similarly—often manifesting itself as fear and anger and various forms of lashing out. I think about that a lot.
As Mark mentioned in his post, I—like most people of my generation—were brought up knowing with absolute certainty that we were the members of the best nation on Earth. We were the richest, the best educated, the most free, the happiest, the healthiest—the best. It was simple fact. As I grew up, imagine my disappointment to learn that none of that is true. Maturity stole Santa, the Easter bunny, and American exceptionalism each in the same way; slowly and then all at once.
We are, it seems, simply not the best.
We are subverting our precious wealth, working relentlessly in creating the steepest divide between our rich and our poor that history (at least our history) has ever seen. Even more disheartening, we have allowed ourselves to be sold on the proposition that we are all future rich people—so we should defend those with the most money and power so that we can enjoy ours when it comes in. We blame the poor for being poor, and pretend that the more than half of us that are living paycheck to paycheck without a safety net aren’t one misfortune from poverty ourselves. Somehow, the pittance that our tax dollars provide for support services for the poor is to blame for our economic woes, and not our bailouts, subsidies, and tremendous outflows to the defense industry. How dare you make me spend my tax money on poor people, you’d better make me spend it on businesses that are only making the rich richer!
Rather than being the best educated, we know the least about the world around us and actively aggrandize ignorance. Regularly, academics and scientists are disdained for expressing the results of their years of study—instead, we trust a few minutes of idle Googling. There is no better display of ignorance-as-coin than in the narrative that anti-vaxxers have manufactured where discrediting demonstrably false information is “censorship” and suggesting that parents listen to professionals that have studied diseases and biology is “egotism.” What ego, demanding that we primarily listen to facts from the most educated among us! Do you think you’re better than us?
Not only are we not the most free nation in the world, but it’s plausible that we never have been at all. American exceptionalism, at its very base, is predicated on a foolish lie that attempts to compare apples to a drawing of an orange done by someone who has never before seen fruit. We are not even among the top ten most free countries in the world by any sane measure (other than “freedom to accidentally shoot my child in the middle of the night because she sounded like an intruder”…I suspect we are still winning that one). To increase our freedom, we need only drive north a little ways into Canada. We could also go back to the nation from which our freedom-loving selves separated to improve our personal freedom. To really taste freedom, a tour through the Netherlands would be in order. It turns out, we continually sell ourselves on the idea that personal independence is the same thing as personal freedom—but what all of these other countries that are more free than us have learned is that when we work together as a group, we are all infinitely more personally and financially free. I know, I know, that’s basically socialism, right?
As far as happiness goes, look around you. Do we really seem happy? We spend, as a nation, most of our time yelling at one another about how different groupings of are destroying our country, hate America, are us ruining things for the rest of us, or are just plain stupid and evil. We aren’t allowed to simply disagree anymore. We aren’t allowed to be wrong. Our current political discussion isn’t a set of happy, engaged citizens discussing the best course forward—no, it is currently the televised equivalent of YouTube comment threads. We are so unhappy that we are legitimately, as a fucking nation, listening to some hate-fueled tycoon as he rants that all of our first-world problems are caused by immigrants, Muslims, and anybody else that isn’t straight, white, Christians. Does that sound like the behavior of happy, well adjusted people? Of course not. Not surprisingly, when you look at a list of the happiest countries, they tend to look an awful lot like the list of the most free countries. Israel spends a tremendous amount of time being the center of a multi-national tug-of-war that often leaves it…if not directly at war, at the very least in the middle of a war; the people of Israel are considered to be happier than we.
As far as health goes, you shouldn’t be surprised that we’re nowhere near the top there. If you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever, you might have noticed that for over a decade we’ve been arguing about doing the one thing that other industrialized countries have done to improve their national health. Unfortunately, a significant and largely under-educated percentage was convinced that a) they understood what socialism was; b) that socialism is inherently evil; c) that paying for another person’s health care is socialism; d) that somehow insurance is NOT the same as paying for another person’s health care; and finally that e) if your plans for health care for the nation don’t make companies rich, you’re a terrorist. Somehow, even with that amazing bit of logical maneuvering, we still managed to pass the first stages of a national health care plan that could pull us out of the basement level health rating we currently enjoy (seriously, you can go to Cuba, Chile, and South Korea and enjoy a higher health rating that in the US). Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to adequately capitalize on our new health care system because we’ve then spent the last 6 years having to defend it from being destroyed entirely by those that benefit most directly from enrichening the rich. Because, remember, we’re super fucking smart.
So I spend a lot of time frustrated, because we have motherfuckers in this country that have the temerity to grocery shop at the food bank and spend most of their lives living off the government teat that want to shut that teat the fuck down the minute they disengage their thirsty little maws from it. We have people who make the claim that Obama is cutting this country right in two with his divisive rhetoric, then—without an ounce of irony—claim that he is doing it because he’s a Muslim, or a terrorist, or a Kenyan, or he hates America, or he’s a socialist (remember, we don’t know what the fuck that means, though). We are so completely (and justifiably) ashamed of our own obvious institutional racism that we IMMEDIATELY lash out whenever it is even casually mentioned—as can be seen anytime anyone points out the subtle differences in treatment between white folks with guns and black folks without them.
Not only are we no longer ashamed of our ignorance, we relish in it. God looked down from his imaginary kingdom expecting to see us covering our naughty bits with fig leaves, and we are waggling our collective dicks at him instead. We can’t fathom why we should be ashamed of saying that Trump “might not always be right, but at least he says what he thinks.” When the fuck did expressing the most idiotic, hateful things that pop into your head become laudable? We used to revere people who could calmly, rationally reason their way through a difficult situation and come out with a plan of action. Now we mock them for being indecisive. We used to consider it a mark of greatness to be able to hear additional facts about something and change your position on it. Now that’s being weak.
We are, as a nation, weak. We are weak, and scared, and lashing out like the mewling kittens that we’ve become. We all must carry guns at all times because we’re terrified of a physical confrontation that is profoundly unlikely to happen. We sacrifice basic personal freedoms like privacy in favor of pretending to further limit our already cartoonishly small chance of being a victim of a terror attack. We choose not to vote so as to not vote poorly. We lash out at people who disagree with us because we fear being wrong. We other-ify people out of fear of change. We hide in our houses with our things because we are living in constant fear and we can’t admit it. Our fear and our shame is strong, and it’s ugly, and—make no mistake—it will be our undoing.
This is the real American Horror story—we’ve sold our country to the rich few because we’re too afraid to be the Americans we wish we were.