I went to the weirdest birthday party a few years ago. It was the same as regular birthdays – a BBQ, cake, some beers. But when it came to the presents, everything was a bit…off. The birthday girl got nothing but #1 items – beer cozies with “#1 Hottie” on them, aprons with “#1 Student”, all that. Thing was, she was a great girl, but not the best student. Or the best anything, really. But her guests seemed so enthused, we just went along with it, oohing and aahing over every brightly wrapped present that proclaimed her #1. One of the other guests must have been a bit confused as well, because just before we cut the cake, he joked that while the birthday girl was great, she wasn’t God’s gift as her presents exclaimed. The other guests, horrified, berated the poor man till he mumbled excuses and left the party early. It was bizzare; as if for that one day, we were expected to have a completely blind eye to the birthday girl’s faults, or reality for that matter.
Every 4th of the July is like that for me. Today is the birth of my home nation, but I fear for her. The blind loyalty I see in the smallest things – facebook posts proclaiming “Happy birthday to the greatest nation in the world!” belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of national hubris. Yes, the US is very good at many things. We’re great at manufacturing, and entertainment. We have a decent set of codified laws that allow for free-ish speech, and a small set of fundamental rights that some countries don’t have. Our Olympics basketball team will probably sweep the bracket this summer. But we’re not #1. Not by a long shot. We’re behind in overall education, health, and social equality. We outspend the rest of the world on military, and we lock up more citizens per capita than every 1st world nation (and most of the 2nd world nations as well). So, no, we’re not the best. But that’s okay, because no country is the ‘best’ overall. However…
If you attempt to say that today, or any other day in the US, prepared to be branded not a ‘real’ American. (Editor’s note, what is a ‘real’ American? If you ever find an actual First Nations person, you can ask them). The thing that I love about my adopted land of England is the pride that they take both in their land, and the pride that they take in making fun of their land. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News may have a set of folk who blindly follow the ‘real Ammmurican’ trope, but even Rupert’s papers here can’t quite make it stick. His paper The Sun recently attempted to start a twitter trend of “RealBritish”, and I’d wager 75% of the tweets were people saying ‘Real British don’t read hacking rags like yours’. It was glorious. The Brits are well known for being ready, willing, and able to look for their own failures, and mock them. And I love that. If you don’t know what is wrong (or feel afraid to say what is wrong), how can you grow? You can’t. You stagnate intellectually, and ethically. You get soft. Your inability to improve leads to weakness that other countries will exploit.
You want to be great, America? QUESTION YOURSELF. Ask why things are done that way, and if it can be done better. Question why you think the way you do. Question everything. What’s the worst that could happen? I assure you, the sky will not fall. You might actually learn something new about yourself. You might (*gasp*!) grow.
This lack of self-awareness might be down to America’s age. Historically, she’s only a teenager, compared to the middle aged UK, or positively geriatric Egypt or China. And what are teenagers like? Overall, they’re focused entirely inward, thinking themselves the center of the universe. You can’t tell them that growing pains are necessary to live; you can’t tell them to keep their temper under control; you can’t even tell them that mistakes will be made, and they need to own up to it and get on with life. You can’t tell them much of anything. And doubly unfortunate for the rest of the world, the US isn’t just any teenager, she’s the hulking bully of the school, always a moment away from melting down and shoving someone in a locker. She just won’t listen. And while the average teenager can look back on her high school years with a cringe and a wry smile, a country can’t do that. The decisions they make go past the doors of their homeroom, and drastically affects every other nation in the world, with sometimes devastating effects.
So, happy birthday, United States of America. I hope you have a great day. Eat some cake, enjoy the fireworks. Don’t get stupid. And tomorrow, when you finish sleeping off the hangover from the booze cruise, give just a brief second to ask to yourself: “Am I really getting ridiculous? Can I stop it? Can I turn this around?”. Because many of us believe you can, America. But we can’t help you till you recognize you need help. Quit it with the ridiculous patriotic memes. Kill the rhetoric. Acknowledge that even the people who don’t think the way you do are still ‘real’ Americans. Get your damn head out of your ass, or you’re not going to see the end of adolescence. In short -
Grow up, America.