Alex, thank you for your praise! I’ve spent limited time abroad, so I haven’t been able to experience the same sorts of cultural attitudes and perceptions in the depths you have. Someday, I would like to be able to do that. Even after I posted my blog, I was still struggling with the nuances of the position I took. To what extent do we really have a right to be upset with the way our country is run compared to countries with similar economic means? Certainly, the United States is special in many ways. But as the richest nation, I sometimes feel as though settling for “pretty good” is not what America is about, especially for those who assert without question that we are the greatest country on earth (I am not one of those people). I count myself as extremely lucky to have been born in the United States, but I also believe we all have a responsibility to demand the best from our leaders (by being an active part of the political process). Until that requirement is met, I fear we must settle for American “Above-averageism” rather than exceptionalism.
So, I’m putting my comment here because I’m unable to comment on the actual post. This can be changed by going to the post, clicking “Edit,” then going to “More Options” on the left-hand toolbar, then scrolling down and checking the “Allow Comments” box. I tried to do this with my own post (as well as this comment), but I don’t know if it worked. Anyways…
Alex, I had the opportunity to hear El-Sayed speak when I was in Detroit over spring break. He showed us a similar presentation with the convenience stores and talked about the lack of car ownership despite the fact that Detroit was a city designed for car-owners. I stayed in a house in the Boston-Edison (BE) district, a neighborhood of huge, once-great mansions that the likes of Henry Ford and Ty Cobb lived in. With the advent of the automobile, many residents of BE left for the suburbs, and this neighborhood was abandoned in the 20s and 30s, even before the white flight after the ’67 riots. Your post, especially the title, really made me consider how the freedom of Detroiters today, even the freedom to simply go from place to place, can be very limited. There’s a crappy bus system, and that’s about it. With the vast majority of citizens lacking access to a car, they have to rely on what’s close: convenience stores and fast food. I wonder, what do you think of the urban farming movement? Will it revive the food deserts of Detroit?
America sucks. That’s pretty much the feeling you get when Michael Moore schleps across Europe, telling you about phenomenal paid leave in Italy, four-star school lunches in France, Finland’s education system (no homework!), drug policy in Portugal, the prisons in Norway, and women’s empowerment in Iceland. If you’re like Moore, you want to ‘invade’ these countries and claim these cool things for the U.S.
You might call me a natural pessimist. But I think it’s pretty easy to get caught up in this feeling — when you watch those French fourth-graders sitting in their school cafeteria, snacking on scallops in a curry sauce with crème fraîche, and that’s just the appetizer, you sort of have to wonder:
But then, I remember I’m watching a Michael Moore film. For the countless cool things that other countries do, the United States does some things right, too. Overall, we are a generally wealthy, healthy, and secure nation. American citizens enjoy many rights and freedoms (whether we exercise them or not). Absolutely, we could do a lot better. We must do better. We must improve social mobility for marginalized groups in our society and ensure that everyone really does get a fair shot. We must be wary of the diminishing freedom and fairness of the democratic process and fight political apathy tooth-and-nail. We must foster a collective understanding that we are, in fact, one nation, and structure the institutions and culture of our nation around the idea that every person (truly, every person) deserves dignity, respect, and justice.
It’s also just not the case that these Western European and Scandinavian countries are utopias, either. While many of them have incredible social safety nets and progressive policies, the changing global economic landscape will put strain on these smaller economies as they try to diversify. In a lot of ways, Europe is just now starting to encounter problems with racism and discrimination that have been in the United States for several centuries. Particularly in light of the Syrian refugee crisis and general instability in the Middle East, these countries are seeing their homogenous demographics altered. Time will tell if Europe can learn from the mistakes of the United States when it comes to treating minority groups fairly.
The important thing to remember is that these situations are rarely black-and-white. The world is gray, and all nations will lack in some areas and succeed in others. No one is perfect, nor will any ever be. But when Moore goes globetrotting and holds a mirror (albeit a carefully positioned one) up to the rest of us back home, it can be extremely hard not to become passionately disillusioned with this revolutionary, beautiful, screwed-up place we call home.
But we must resist the temptation.