For others, nothing beats the food and traditions shared over Thanksgiving. Still some enjoy. For kids, it’s usually Christmas, especially for those who are still too young to be skeptical and not yet old enough to understand physics. The promise and optimism of a New Year, or perhaps the renewal and hope associated with Easter might qualify as someone’s favorite. There are a few other, less glitzy holidays, celebrating presidents, American workers, civil rights leaders, and fallen soldiers. But even The 4th had long been one of my favorite holidays. Which leaves us with the star-spangled displays of unabashed patriotism surrounding Independence Day. The 4th had long been one of my favorite holidays. Had been, being key.
This year, I found it hard to celebrate freedom after 170 million people just had their rights taken away by the Supreme Court. Sure, a minority of Americans were thrilled with overturning Roe, though celebrating an attack on a woman’s right to healthcare and privacy isn ‘t exactly the flex they think it is.
I tried to get into the spirit, watching the parade with friends, many of whom agreed this year it was a bit harder to don anything red, white, or blue. In our conversations about the dichotomy — what we were doing vs. how we felt — one friend tried to cheer us up by saying, “At least we don’t live in Afghanistan.”
While geographically accurate, we’re not exactly aiming for the polar opposite. In both countries, women and minorities don’t enjoy equal rights, a disparity that is largely rooted in religious doctrine. Another similarity: every time you go to the grocery store , there’s a substantial risk you could be shot.
Aside from this, I’ve always found the “it could be worse” argument to be uninspiring at best. Why is that the bar for success? Shouldn’t we all be aiming for, “it could be better?” We chant “ We’re # 1 ”so often, many of us actually believe that’s true.
About 10 years ago there was a short-lived, but critically acclaimed political drama on HBO called The NewsroomThe series chronicled life behind the curtain at a fictional cable news channel and starred Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, the main news anchor.
In one episode, McAvoy is part of a panel discussion taking place on a college campus. A young student asks the question, “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”
Two of the panelists give unimaginative answers about freedom and diversity. When it’s McAvoy’s turn, he tries to avoid the question. But when pressed by the moderator, he finally says “It’s not the greatest country in the world.” Then he goes on to Explain why. First noting that out of 207 sovereign states, over 180 have freedom. The US is hardly alone in that claim. Then his character states:
“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending – where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. ”
The show was fictional, but the numbers, at the time were true. Given it premiered over a decade ago, some of these stats are now even worse.
The newsman goes on to reminisce about a time when he believed America was the greatest country in the world. In part, he says:
“We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest… We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t be little it. It. didn’t make us feel in ferior… The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one—America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. ”
I’m hopeful one day we can confidently reclaim a # 1 standing. But we won’t even crack a top 10 list so long as half of the population is denied the right to bodily autonomy.