A month or two ago, in Norway, I was watching Larry King on CNN. It was a free-for-all debate among some know-it-alls about Barack Obama’s relationship with his pastor. One obnoxious woman concluded her convoluted rant with “. . . and that’s why the U.S. is the greatest country in the world.” Similarly, I wish I had a dollar for every right wing talk radio host that ends his/her program by declaring the U.S. is “. . . the greatest country on God’s green earth.”
That self-declaration is ludicrous on so many levels, why do we let CNN guests, radio hosts, and others get away with saying it? Of course the “greatest country on the earth” choir can belt out their chorus whenever they want, but whenever they do, instead of us passively/mindlessly accepting their parochial kneejerk claim, we should pepper them with the following questions: How many countries have you lived in? What did you do in those countries to understand how ordinary people live? How many languages do you speak? How many regions/cultures/countries histories are you intimately familiar with? What’s your methodology for ranking countries? Is arrogance factored in?
Absent those types of questions you and I have to take some responsibility for the “greatest country” idiocy.
Often it seems “greatest country on the earth” thinking is equal parts conservative politics, nationalism, and tortured biblical interpretation. I sometimes envision these folks flashing their US passports at the pearly gates like some self-important bozo cutting in the front of an airport security line, “‘Scuse me, American coming through, ‘scuse me, ‘scuse me!”
I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why so many conservative, literal interpretation-bible believing, “greatest country on the earth” proclaiming Christians refuse to evaluate our nation’s historical actions in the context of the attributes highlighted in the Sermon on the Mount. Go figure, instead they highlight our relative military might.
Don’t insult my intelligence by suggesting I have to either proclaim, “America is the greatest country on the earth” or succumb to anti-Americanism.
I propose a reframing of the question to, “Is America an admirable country?” Foreigners are best positioned to answer that and they will not be swayed by style over substance. Our best hope is to boldly challenge the arrogance of the “greatest country on the earth” contingent while redoubling our efforts to realize our extremely inspiring, yet still unfulfilled ideals spelled out in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.