27. Greatest Again

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

Well, that’s that.

My thirty-eight day campaign swing across the United States and Canada is done. Over breakfast I considered the previous evening’s Festival of Vision, the first debate between the numerous and vociferous Republican presidential candidates. My original reason for joining the Republican race was to enable me to say, without evidence or reason, all manner of things about anything — including the USA itself — with impunity. It was gratifying to hear last night’s landslide of support for this approach from my rivals.

Now what?

I won’t keep you in suspense. In consequence of the incomparable performances of my rivals, I have suspended my candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.

[It is traditional for you to groan in disappointment here. Alternatively, a cry of “No!” reflecting shock and disbelief is appreciated.]

I have nothing to offer the American people that can compete with the ingeniously simple solutions to non-existent problems offered by the statespersons of the day. Nevertheless, you may have noticed through my previous twenty-six tantrums that I have a lot to say about the United States. That is probably because I understand it so well — and so little.

IMG_9678To be sure, I am understanding it less and less. It would be easy to blame that on the current political environment, but the truth is that it has as much to do with my age as anything else. My delusion of global understanding peaked at thirty-seven, not coincidentally the same year I became a permanent resident of Australia. Since, I have enjoyed the slow, warm embrace of realising the breadth and pervasiveness of my fallibility.

I have come to accept my inability to contribute to “the greatest country on Earth”. Indeed, I have grown comfortable with the Un-American idea that it is preposterous to call the United States of America the greatest country on Earth. One might as well claim, say, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia has the best coffee in the world. Certainly America is a wonderful country, and Melbourne has tremendous coffee. But greatness is measured subject to individual needs, tastes and preferences.

I spend a lot of time in Melbourne explaining to baristas how to brew what they call “bad American coffee”. They find my potion appalling (some refuse to brew it), but to me, it is the greatest. By the same token, America is far from the “greatest country” to someone who likes to watch cricket or rugby, for example. An American would say “Different strokes for different folks”. An Aussie would say “Horses for courses.”

If you were to sit down at any bar in America and say to the stranger next to you “The United States of America is not the greatest country on Earth”, there’s at least a fifty percent chance of getting into one hell of an argument, quite possibly resulting in fisticuffs.

IMG_9865Once, stuck overnight at the LAX Sheraton, I found myself at the bar discussing politics with a reasonably pleasant gent from California’s notoriously conservative Orange County. At one point I mentioned that I considered then-President George W. Bush to be “a blithering idiot”. Our conversation came to an abrupt halt. The Orange County guy went to the other side of the bar, had a word with the bartender, paid his bill and left. The bartender came back over to me and said “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I was flummoxed. “Why? What did I do? I’m a guest here, what do you mean ‘leave’?”

“Sir, if you don’t leave, I will call the police.”

“Just tell me why…what…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bartender turned away and picked up the phone. I started gathering my things to leave. Before I could get three steps a Los Angeles police officer, who had been on duty at reception, had me by the arm, leading me out.

“Can you please tell me what I did?” I pleaded. “I’m a guest here…”

“It doesn’t matter.” he responded. “Once they tell you to leave, you are trespassing. You can go to your room, or I can take you to jail.” At least I got to bed early that night.

There are plenty of countries that make it illegal to call their leader a blithering idiot. Heck, somebody got jailed in Thailand recently for mocking the King’s dog. But I had been under the impression that the USA was not one of these countries.

In Australia, if you told a stranger in a bar that Australia was not the greatest country on Earth, you’d probably get a chuckle, perhaps a guffaw, followed by the question “Bad day?” If you called the Prime Minister a blithering idiot, it is likely that someone would buy you a beer. If you called George W. Bush a blithering idiot, it is virtually a certainty.

That’s not unusual, it is the usual. The world is brimming with wonderful places whose citizens wouldn’t dream of calling it the greatest.

Such “American Exceptionalism” is a two-edged sword, although America is aware only of the edge cutting somebody else. From birth, Americans have it drilled into our heads that America is the greatest country on Earth, to the point that most believe it as a matter of faith. This is peculiar, which is to say it is unusual but not unique — North Korea comes to mind. Yet, according to any survey or research one can find on the internet in thirty seconds, at least half and perhaps as many as two-thirds of Americans have never left the USA. So what might be the basis for their conclusion of greatest-ness?

I live in Melbourne, which at this writing has been named “World’s Most Liveable City” five years running. For the moment, let’s put aside the obvious truth that this is rubbish. Let’s also ignore the fact that if the researchers are going to invent the word “liveable” they might as well invent the word “liveablest”, too.

Instead, consider the underlying basis for their conclusion, which is a score based on the assessment of several categories deemed to support liveabilityness. The categories include such things as stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.  As Greatness is a broader concept than Liveabilityness, presumably categories such as justice, social cohesion, technological capability and military prowess might be added.

Interestingly, the Republican candidates spend a lot of time bemoaning how America has deteriorated in military prowess, technological capability, and stability. The Democrats decry the descent of justice, social cohesion, culture and the environment. All the candidates complain about the decline of education, infrastructure, and health care. More than one campaign promises to “Make America Great Again!” which leaves us to consider how America, now not great by their own scoring, remains the greatest.

Of all those categories, the only one that the USA wins on a global basis— and wins by a long shot — is military prowess. It is worrisome that the US depends so heavily on the military for its self-defined sense of greatest-ness. This would seem the folly of every great power in history — just prior to collapse.

As for the other categories, while there are countless ways America could do things better, you’d have a hard time convincing me that the USA is any better or worse than it was a hundred years ago. Yet Americans seem to have convinced themselves everything has changed for the worse. The irony is, that is all that has changed for the worse.

IMG_9654Which is tremendously sad. There’s an awful lot of good stuff about America that Americans don’t seem to value anymore. This, too, shall pass – I hope. In the meantime, I have had enough of the place for a while, and it has had enough of me. I will fly home to Australia, which ranks in the top 75% of most categories. It, too, wins only one on a global basis – self-deprecation – which it wins by a long shot.

In closing, I will note that I am often criticized for ending my tantrums abruptly.