At the opening of of HBO’s series Newsroom, a wide-eyed sorority girl asks a panel of speakers (click to watch; NSFW) to explain why America is the greatest country in the world.  “Diversity”, one replies.  “Freedom”, says another.  Then Jeff Daniels’ character erupts into what was called by one “the most honest three and a half minutes of television”.

He, to notable surprise, says “it isn’t”.

The concept of “exceptionalism” is an interesting thing.  German philosophers wrote of the concept of “uniqueness” in the 18th century.  Over time, it has evolved into a perception that one’s actions and intentions are so much more pure that they are held, in essence, above the fray.  It’s been claimed by nations from Spain, Britain, and France to Imperial Japan, North Korea, and the USSR.  And, most recently, the United States.  Both conservative and liberal commentators and politicians proclaim with a straight face that no other country is as wonderful or as benevolent as America, all while freedoms and opportunity are less and less prevalent.

And when you’ve put the word out so much about being, as the sorority girl puts it, the “greatest country in the world”, you’ve got to deliver.

I don’t hate America.  There are plenty of good and bad things about any country.  However, the United States has run one of the most effective pre-social media viral campaigns to convince its own citizens, and perhaps by osmosis, some other country’s citizens, that it is indeed the greatest.  Chalk it up perhaps to biggest player advantage; it’s not like Mongolia could get up enough momentum from its three million people to get everyone buzzing about it.  For those small countries like Singapore that have succeeded in garnering a favorable reputation for opportunity, realize that perhaps there’s something you should know about them.

I recently interviewed Neil Strauss, author of “The Game”, who said his assistant, a gay Czech national, came to the U.S. to “feel more accepted”, save for the fact that the Czech Republic has one of the most liberal LGBT policies in central Europe, and plenty of countries friendlier than the U.S. were so much closer to him.  The U.S. should offer itself up as an ad agency for inferior brands.

If you live in the U.S., you’ve no doubt heard all about “American exceptionalism”.  If you’re one of the 212 million Americans who doesn’t have a passport, I suppose this could be easier to believe.  Heck, in 1989, less than three percent of Americans held passports.  It’s easy to believe you’re the best when you can rely on stereotypes about other places without having to actually go there.  Just believe that every Muslim country has terrorists lurking around every corner or that every country without a capital gains tax lets its poor unwed mothers rot in back alleys.  Oh, and they have less freedom.

Just consider that plenty of the countries yours is allegedly superior to (including the “axis of evil” members listed above) also think they’re pretty superior to.

Historically, countries that exhibit a false sense of superiority get lazy, and lazy countries die off.  I call it the “Paris Hilton Effect”.  Somewhere in America, some number of years ago, someone did something pretty great.  And generations later, we’re still living off the spoils, patting ourselves on the back for being so free.  Meanwhile, we’ve been so rich and so superior that we haven’t taken the time to see if we really are free.

If you live in a country that doesn’t like to self-reflect, chances are you’ve been suffering small losses of personal and economic liberty. Wealth in a society breeds apathy, and people don’t mind ceding control for “civilized” sounding reforms or to keep themselves “safe”.

In the United States, the continued advent of a police state along with higher taxes and a public outcry to eat the rich are signs that maybe it’s just not so “exceptional” after all.  Land of opportunity?  So ask yourself: do you want to diversify yourself, your money, and your enterprise before everyone else realizes that fact, or would you rather frantically seek your place in a dwindling number of lifeboats?

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Aug 18, 2021 at 6:47AM