I feel the need to start this off by saying I love my country. I think that America, for all its problems, is a great nation. We've been very lucky in the past 238 years to excel so much, and to be in the state that we're in right now. But our country's problems are what I want to address. I want to talk about the many forms of racism many Americans still experience every day. I want to talk about the struggles, such as nonsense double standards and income inequality, that women are still facing today. I want to talk about why mass shootings keep happening. I want to talk about why we're seriously considering electing someone as unabashedly hateful as Donald Trump to lead and represent our nation. These are very important things to discuss.
But it's very hard to have a serious discussion about our problems when we won't admit they exist.
I know a lot of people who are willing to look past our country's reputation as the "greatest country in the world" and can see there are still many things that we need to improve on. And yet, there are many around me who would call me "anti-American" or "unpatriotic" if I were to mention any of these problems to them. They're not hard to look for, because we see them on the news everyday. But it's almost an unwritten rule in our Constitution that loving your country means never wanting to change it. No matter what ugliness might be rearing its head in our nation, we must still be the greatest country in the world, because we are free.
Here is what I think: America is not the greatest country in the world.
In the very first minutes of Aaron Sorkin's (excellent) HBO series The Newsroom, Jeff Daniels gives an impassioned monologue about how we feel from our greatness. He rattles off America's rankings in different categories compared to other countries, most of which are rather low. We are only number one in three of them: "Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies."
That clip was from 2012, but these numbers still hold up fairly well. Our defense spending is still astronomically high, but it's only more than the next seven countries combined. We still have about 25% of the world's prisoners in our country, while only have five percent of the world population. And although we are slowly becoming a less religious country as a whole, most of the people we choose to represent us are guided heavily by their faith, which seems to cause many different problems for our citizens.
"The first step to solving any problem is recognizing there is one," Daniels says at the end of the clip, and he's right. So maybe we still have these obviously recognizable problems because we won't admit they exist. We know there's a pay gap that affects women, but we keep insisting there isn't. There are endless statistics that show that institutional racism is a growing problem, and yet we still let our newspapers and anchormen tell us it's made up. We see that Black Lives Matter is trying to raise awareness of the injustices black men and women face every day in a peaceful way, and yet we allow Sean Hannity and Tomi Lahren tell us that they're the new KKK.
Why do we allow these false narratives to permeate through the nation? Because we as a a culture have taken patriotism to great new heights in the way that Icarus soared; too close to the sun. Our patriotism is blinding us in such a way that we see it as an attack when our flaws are pointed out; by other countries and by our own citizens. We have the power to change our narrative and make our nation a better place; and yet, we find ways to blame one another for our shortcomings without figuring out ways to fix it.
I am not saying it's not a good thing to love your country. I consider myself very lucky to have been born here, to live here, to have so many opportunities here. But I, being on a pillar of privilege that was built on the backs of the people we enslaved for hundreds of years and refined by the patriarchal system we've had in place for centuries, think it's my duty as an American, and a patriot, to call out any faults in our system, of which there seem to be many. I do this because I see the kind of country we can be. We can be revered like we were before, as Jeff Daniels remembers it. We can be a global superpower and a leader by example at the same time. There is no sacrifice in admitting you need to change, except a sacrifice of pride. Maybe it's time we humbled ourselves and looked for real, positive change.
We cannot afford to fly so close to our blinding love for God and country, that we lose our wings and fall altogether. Demand solutions, but first demand we see our problems lying in the shade.