Dr. Lamont Colucci is an associate professor of politics at Ripon College, recent Fulbright Scholar to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and author of The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future, among other books. You can find out more at lamontcolucci.com.
The time in between Christmas and New Year's is always a bit strange. The second greatest Christian holiday is over and the most over indulgent secular holiday is about to commence. New Year celebrations have become excuses for excess and are in many ways the polar opposite of the story of Christmas. It is in this vein that this column will slightly deviate from foreign affairs and address a trend that clearly affects national security, namely, the glee that some feel in the denigration of America, especially religious America. A symptom of this trend appears (and due to the internet has gone viral) in HBO's attempt to resurrect respect for the mainstream media with its show Newsroom. In the first episode the struggling news anchor, Will McAvoy rants about America no longer being number one in the world:
We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third 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, twenty-five of whom are allies … We sure used to be the greatest nation. We used to stand up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn't belittle it, it didn't make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in our last election. And we didn't ... we didn't scare so easy. We were able to be all these things, and to do all these things, because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.
America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
This television tirade would be of no matter had it stayed in the dystopic universe that is Hollywood, but alas, the internet has pushed the statement across borders and time. The temptation to go line by line and deconstruct this outburst will be resisted, and would do little but add credence to the inanity. It is, naturally, what is not said that is more important, more enlightening, and more reasonable. In many ways it is reminiscent of the constant and continuous calls for America's demise as a superpower, and those that took joy in those obituaries are the same who propagate rants like this one.
These are the analyses that told Americans they were finished after Vietnam, finished after OPEC, finished after the Cold War, and now finished because of the fiscal cliff. American education may be in crises, but it is a crisis that still produces the greatest innovation, the most dynamic entrepreneurs, and unparalleled leaders. We may lack in the ability to take standardized tests that often measure insect-like technicalities, but our best students are without competition. The engine of the world economy still has a "Made in America" label on it, and the sane economic elite of the world hope that there is no change in the pit crew.
Our defense spending is unparalleled because our enemies are numerous and our allies lack American leadership directing them. How clever HBO was when it chose to say that we lead the world in defense spending, rather than the important fact, which we lead with the world's greatest military: an American military that is the only force for good on the planet; an American military that is all that stands between us and the darkness. McAvoy's veiled attack on religion belittles himself and his creators more than the religion they seek to denigrate. America is not the country where people believe in God because they believe in angels; they believe in angels because they believe in God. Man brought himself out of the mire only by his obedience to God, and if the only variable that differentiated America was this (as opposed to thousands of other elements that do), then America would be the greatest nation.
There is only one force for good in the world that has any will or strength to stand against the dark forces of the earth, and that is the United States. If there is hope for the family facing human rights atrocities by brutal dictators, that hope will only come from the United States, but only if that United States has the leadership that it deserves to stop it. The speech that McAvoy might have given, one that would have had some merit, would have been one where American greatness, though not lost, has diminished. This has not happened due to statistics about literacy and household income. This has happened, in what degree that it has, due to leaving traditional American beliefs. This fundamentally comes down to the American adherence to natural law, as immutable, unchangeable, forever, and God given. The late great scholar Russell Kirk, in The Roots of American Order, explained this best with his description of five cities: Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia. The roots of Western Man exemplified by these cities were the well spring of monotheism, Christianity, philosophy, individual morality under God, law, civilization, art, science, and liberty. This all combined to create American civilization. This legacy is the true nature of American Exceptionalism; America is the great inheritor of all the good that came before it. Its greatness will not be judged on manipulated statistics governed by popular culture, whether this is symbolized by a fake reporter on HBO, or worse, by fake newscasters on Comedy Central. It will be judged only on its zeal to fulfill its inheritance.