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.