Is America the greatest country in the world?
If I say yes, does that make me ethnocentric?
If I say no, does that make me un-patriotic?
When I was a candidate for United States Congress, one of the things that frustrated me most about political discourse was that it was geared toward the lowest common denominator. There really wasn’t serious discussion of any topic.
It’s easier to say, “America is the greatest country the world has ever seen!” than it is to have a serious discussion about the topic.
For me, the question of America’s greatness comes with a backstory. I was the kid who grew up draped in the America flag. My formative years weren’t Vietnam and Janis Joplin but instead were Desert Storm and Lee Greenwood. I embraced the words of Abraham Lincoln and later expanded by Ronald Reagan that America was “the last best hope of man on Earth.”
Lately, I’ve been finding there’s an awful lot I hate about America.
This isn’t about George W. Bush or Barack Obama or whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. This transcends political affiliation. I’m talking about who we are as a nation. We live in a country where parents who opt for a second opinion for their baby’s medical care can have their baby taken away from them. We live in a country where people who grow tomatoes in their home can have their home invaded by SWAT teams and pinned to the ground for hours. We live in a country where a 16-year-old can be charged with a felony for making a mistake on her science project.
America is a country where a cop can threaten a mom and her three-year-old son with a ticket for and “points” toward sex-offender status because the kid went pee next to the family car in a parking lot. In America, kids can have their lemonade stands shut down for not getting proper permits.
In America, big business is in constant collusion with government. Tax codes are established to get people to do what the government wants and people spend thousands of dollars out of fear that they could mess something up and get in trouble.
I hate that stuff.
And that’s just the politics.
A few years ago I was in a public park for an event. There was a tricky little spot next to the pathway where it’d be easy to trip if you were not paying attention. Someone in our group noted, “That’s a liability.”
A few weeks later, I was in Nicaragua with my family. A little footbridge at the hotel where we were staying became extremely slippery whenever it was wet. My wife, just making conversation, mentioned this to a staff member at the hotel. He said, “I know, you have to be careful.”
I hate the litigious thinking of America in the first story.
I love the common-sense of Nicaragua in the second story.
Whenever I fly into a Central America, one of my favorite moments is just after we leave the airport. It never takes long before you see a pickup truck drive by with people sitting in the back. And the police aren’t chasing them down to start handing out tickets like they are in the United States. For me, those people in the back of that pickup truck are symbolic of freedom.
I love that when you’re driving in Ireland, if you stop in the middle of the road, instead of the people behind you honking their horn and giving you the finger…. the person just goes around you. (See how easy that was?)
Yet other countries have their problems too.
And there’s also stuff I love about America.
During our recent travels in Central America, I thought about how much I love that the “leave no trace” principle is so engrained in our culture when adventuring in the great outdoors. In Central America, it was difficult to go anywhere without there being trash. We’d go to remote islands and on remote mountain hikes and there’d be trash everywhere. It was sad. And in those moments I appreciated the thinking of my home country.
I hate that America is the land of red-tape, yet enjoy the sense of security (perhaps false) that I have in going to the top of the St. Louis Arch, believing that a small army of engineers have ensured that the safety is up to code.
I hate that America is increasingly a police state. In Central America, when I see cops on the street, I feel like they’re there for my protection. In the United States, when I see a cop, I feel like they’re there to catch me doing something wrong and to harass me. Yet to what extent does the police state mentality contribute to my overall enjoyment of the United States?
As I consider my country, I have to deal with the fact that my country is not perfect. My country, though, also has triumphant moments. My country has a history of sacrifice and goodwill. My country has a history, even if not perfect, of malice toward none and charity for all.
There are lots of things I hate about America and lots of things I love, just like there are lots of things I love about the countries I visit and lots of things I hate.
America is a great country.
I’m not sure I’m wiling to give that title to anyone.
We’re taught from a young age not to think of ourselves personally as better than anyone else, yet at the same time we’re taught we ought to think of ourselves as a nation as better than everyone else. We’d frown upon a child that said, “I’m better than everyone else!” but we embrace the idea that as a nation we would say, “We’re better than everyone else!”
We’d admire the child who was given to self-reflection and improving herself. This is why there’s nothing wrong with criticizing your home country. Theoretically, we have the ability to change and improve our own country. There are things I want to change about myself just like there are things I want to change about my country. It does me no good, though, to worry about the things I think about person ought to do with their own life. That’s why I don’t worry about the things I hate about other countries. That’s their deal. That’s who they are. Not going to try to change them.
Then there’s the problem with the child who things too little of himself. We’d think it was a bad thing if a child can only see the faults in herself while only seeing the good in those around her. This is often the thinking myself and many of my American friends fall into when looking at our own country.
When I travel to other countries, I am open. I don’t expect that country to look and feel like America. I embrace its’ uniqueness. I take the good with the bad, the things I love with the things I hate. Perhaps this is more the attitude I need to have with my home country.
Is America the greatest country in the world?
We’re a great country.
I’ll leave it at that.
Hi, I’m Clark. If we’ve not met before, let me introduce myself. One minute I was hot. I had a great career, was a rising “political star” and even a candidate for United States Congress and then ended up moving into my in-laws garage. That’s when my wife and I began the exciting process of reinventing our lives. As J.K. Rolwing said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation from which I re-built my life.” We’re now living a life of our own design, which includes our quest to work less, live more, and travel the world with our family. We have 3 kids and when we’re not traveling we call Tahoe home, where I ski 50+ days a year. You can check us out on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.