Bitter Reality: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”


A scene from American network HBO’s “The Newsroom” has been in circulation for a few months now.  During a fictional debate, a woman in the audience asks if the panellists could say why America was the best country in the world.

Like most viewers probably, I yawned at the first moments of this film clip, then sat up and listened when one of the speakers is cornered into admitting that, actually, America was not the greatest country in the world.  He explains in vivid detail why not.  I like the way reality shatters the inane glitz of flag-waving self-delusion.  And then, at 3:27, he blows it.

After a moment of awkward silence, he states: “It sure used to be.”  And he goes on wistfully to describe a Norman-Rockwell-life that never was.  His speech then recalls the classic Jimmy Stewart character—his manner even resembles him.  Then his speech becomes a sly bit of . . . well, flag-waving self-delusion.

Indeed, things might have been swell once upon a time for the middle class white anglo-saxon protestant community.  But that does not mean that America ever was “the greatest country in the world.”  Had it qualified for that honour, it would have respected the many Tom Joads and Willy Lomans it produced in reality.  It would have respected the land.  It would have respected the peoples—the Native American Indians, the African Americans, the Hispanics and the Asians.  It did not.  And it was not “for moral reasons” that Americans battled their way through history, but for power and expansionism.

A review of this HBO film clip in the Huffington Post suggests hopefully: “True, perhaps that America [evoked in the opening speech] never did exist in all its actuality, but those ideals did.”  Did they?  When?  During the massacres against the native inhabitants?  During the ungodly atrocities carried out against the slaves they literally bought to plough their fields?  During the lynchings of the 20th century?  During the habitual manipulation, exploitation and bombardment of other countries?

No, in listening to our jaded, yet wistful HBO network anchor reminiscing here of the days when America “stood up for what was right,“ I can only repeat the bitter sweet words of another American character, Hemingway’s Jake Barnes: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”  Like our network anchor, he refers to a fantasy, just a fantasy.  The anchor states that “the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”  But the problem isn’t, as he suggests, that “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”  No, it never used to be.  It could have been, but it wasn’t.  The problem is the delusion that it ever was.


Written by Brenda Heard

4 February 2013


1 Response » to “Bitter Reality: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?””

  1. Anonymous says:

    The majority of Americans need to gain some perspective and realise that there are other countries in the world which have had their own successes. There is no such thing as a ‘greatest country’ and this is a completely subjective opinion.

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