THE dramatic turning point in the career of Will McAvoy, the once inoffensive network anchor in the new hit drama The Newsroom, comes when he’s asked to explain why America is the best country in the world.
McAvoy tries to dodge the question. But when pushed he sheds his milquetoast persona to deliver a tirade.
“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world”, he yells at a stunned audience. “We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality [and] third in median household income ... When you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what you’re talking about —Yosemite?”
In melancholic tones McAvoy then opines: “We sure used to be”, before going on to mourn the loss of the nation’s moral purpose, innovative prowess and consensual possibilities.
The reverence for a lost, idyllic American past merely mixes mythology with amnesia. America has had many great achievements in its short lifetime. But while it may be returning to a gilded age it cannot claim a golden one.
“The essential characteristic of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common”, wrote the French philosopher Ernest Renan. “And must have forgotten many things as well.” In just the postwar period, you’d have to forget McCarthy, segregation, Nixon, several assassinations, Vietnam and Iraq — to name but a few.
Nonetheless, the notion that America is in decline has gained a firm foothold in the national psyche over the last decade or so. A plurality (45 per cent) believes the country’s best days are in the past; almost as many (42 per cent) think China will overtake the US as a world power. Bookshelves and newsstands are filled with explanations. In 2001, 60 per cent said economic globalisation was a positive development; two years later it was 42 per cent; last year it was down to 36 per cent.
This angst is found on both sides of the aisle. In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wrote the preface to a collection of Langston Hughes poems entitled: “Let America be America Again”. Republican candidate Mitt Romney insists he’ll return the nation to a day when “each of us could walk a little taller and stand a little straighter”.
But while liberals are more likely to see the roots of this crisis as domestic — growing economic inequalities, religious zealotry, corporatisation of media and politics —conservatives are increasingly keen to perceive the primary threat as external: immigrants, Islam, foreigners and foreign trade.
The most marked slump in support for economic globalisation over the last decade has been among Republicans, as has the sharpest increase in anti-immigrant sentiment and fear of the threat of “radical Islam.” — The Guardian, London