Imagine a glee club with 196 diverse, well-groomed teenagers preparing to sing rock band Asia’s classic “Heat of the Moment.” There’s a lot of pressure to do well because a great performance could earn them a trip to regionals.
A problem arises though: Three kids won’t sing Asia’s 1982 masterpiece, inexplicably insisting on performing Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City.” Everyone tries to convince the holdouts to switch their song for the group’s sake. “We’ve come so far,” they plead. “Don’t hold us back when we’re this close to regionals!” Nonetheless, the 193 are met with refusal, and the future of this once-promising singing collective remains in question.
If you were one of the 193-strong majority, wouldn’t you be frustrated at the asinine stubbornness? Now switch the legendary sounds of Asia for the metric system and the three contrarians with Liberia, Myanmar and the United States, and the situation seems even more ridiculous.
The rest of the world uses a system based on universally accepted measurements. We cling to a system based on the size of a king’s foot. Any pinko commie foreigners be damned if they try to point out the absurdity of doing so.
Welcome to the 21st century U.S., where logic is fine and dandy as long as it doesn’t threaten the infallible notion of American exceptionalism. In the past, this meant belief in the potential of a fledgling nation to thrive above the rest because of our work ethic and independent spirit. Now it’s a cover-all justification to resist “change,” which, as everyone knows, is just a liberal code word for socialism.
Never mind that American education lags behind the rest of the first world, our bloated prison system has nearly 10 times the number of prisoners as any other developed country, and a significant amount of adults believe radio hosts with no college degrees are better informed about science than actual scientists.
We are Americans, dammit. We are always right, without question, and if you disagree you might as well chow down on a bald eagle and use the flag as toilet paper afterward.
Look, I’m pretty darn proud of my country. Americans were easily the MVP of the 20th century and did a lot of the heavy lifting in ushering the world into the Internet era.
I love our senselessly violent football culture, jaw-dropping array of cable television options and regulated capitalist system, which, despite some spectacular inequality, generally offers the opportunity for advancement. Occasionally, I even dabble in country music. Give me some repressed homosexual urges, and I could pass for a Republican senator.
Pride becomes dangerous, however, when we assume that simply being born in a place entitles us to excellence. In a civilized society, each generation is expected to build upon the progress of their forefathers to ensure the survival of the state.
What exactly has ours accomplished to warrant feelings of exceptionalism? Successfully reboot “21 Jump Street?” Prove this country is over racism by electing a black president, only to become more racist as a result?
Americans are so caught up assuming our nation is God’s gift to the planet that we forget just how many parts of it are broken.
What many politicians call “the best health care in the world” is a costly, inefficient mess. Our college system has become a farce; even this fine institution of learned doctors is filled with people who deserve a college degree like Kirk Cameron deserves a GLAAD award. Worse, it’s nearly impossible to fix these problems because our two-party political system is an abject failure that forces moderates to pick their poison most elections.
Rather than look at other countries to see what they’ve done right, we brand their ways as un-American and trudge ahead boorishly. God forbid we tarnish the founding fathers’ memories by incorporating any European policies.
Ease up, America. We don’t always have to be the badass know-it-alls. Sometimes it’s OK to admit we’re the new kids to the team — strong, almost freakishly athletic, but still learning the game a little bit. No one else has our potential except for maybe that home-schooled guy, but he doesn’t exactly seem like the stable type.
At this point we’ve proven ourselves to the “haters” so ubiquitous in our homegrown pseudo-gangster culture. Other countries may gripe about our immaturity and general bull in a China shop approach to foreign policy, but everyone knows who the top dog is. Gross domestic product doesn’t lie, homeboy.
So why can’t faith in the American way coexist with an appreciation of what has made other cultures successful? As much as many citizens would love to freeze our nation in a pastoral Rockwellian fantasy where Ronald Reagan is president forever, time unfortunately presses on.
The logical path forward is clear. We need to adapt to the realities of the 21st century, incorporating the world’s best ideas into our already-successful foundation.
Or, you know, we can just sit back and bask in nostalgia, expecting to stay the best because of what our grandparents did nearly a century ago. It’s not like a nation as strong as America could ever fail.
Just ask the Romans.