For the second week in a row now, what I originally intended to write about was superseded by a new realization, and that realization is this: with all I’ve said about the U.S.A. by this point, it probably sounds like I hate it and everyone who lives in it and everything about it.
That isn’t the case.
I’m an American, I see problems, I try to draw attention to them. Sure, the US does have big problems, and being a big influence on the rest of the world magnifies the scope, scale, and significance of those problems, making them more urgent to address than they might be otherwise. But the US deserves not only to exist and to thrive, but to take pride in its own culture and history, just as any other sovereign nation does.
…Just as long as the pride isn’t overwhelming and unwarranted.
So at the risk of sounding like a flag-waving sap, here’s a bulleted list of my favorite things about the USA.
1. Despite a wealth of negative stereotypes, Americans are diverse, generous, and hard-working.
As a whole country subjected to basic averages against other countries, the US is not the most diverse in the world, but it’s pretty diverse: ethnically, religiously, racially. Statistics vary as populations adjust, but on a global ranking the US is generally placed exactly in the middle on the diversity scale in every axis. Large portions of the country are homogenous, and statistics averaging those with diverse, dense population centers elsewhere in the country leads to a foreseeable standard of mediocrity. I say, in a characteristically Amurican fashion, fuck those statistics. And you know what else? The US doesn’t make a lot of “friendliest country” lists, but if you want numbers, how about this: Americans give more of their time and money than anyone else in the world. Consider also that America remains one of the best countries in the world to immigrate to. That might also have to do with why they work so hard: although a slipping opportunity, the American dream still exists. Look at how things like smartphone apps and youtube have socially mobilized individuals and entire companies to economic success, from relatively humble roots. That’s not something that can happen in just any country, and the spirit of it is quintessentially American.
2. The United States is the most innovative country in the world
Yeah, this stat comes from Bloomberg, but… still. Considering everything going against it right now, the U.S. is impressively still at the head of the technology envelope that it’s been pushing for over fifty years. That’s due in no small part to the U.S.’s open-arms immigration, which has fostered the likes of such obscure expat innovators as Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, and Nikola Tesla.
3. The United States is home to stunning beauty and geographic marvels.
In natural landmarks alone, America has unquantifiable (sometimes mankind-adjusted) wealth: the Grand Canyon, the Great Lakes, the Giant Forest. America is home to vast open plains, expansive mountain ranges, abuts three coastlines against both oceans, and is home to just about every kind of terrain you can imagine, both familiar and alien. So much focus is on Amercia’s tiniest, densest population centers and small towns that it’s easy to forget just how vast it is. The US comes in at just under the total land area of China, but measures at less than a quarter of China in total population. Much of the US’s open land is actually farmland, which maintains America’s position as the breadbasket of the world. This rich mix of natural features has enriched the United States, since its inception, with an incredible level of resource independence.
4. The United States has an incredibly dynamic, if brief, history
The United States is a microcosm of every significant social, political, and cultural development in the modern era. Putting your finger on the pulse of the United States at any time in its history will tell you tremendously about developments around the world, many of which were set in motion by the US itself. The rise of democracy, threats to democracy, the progression of ethnic, racial, and sexual equality, both World Wars, the Depression, the Cold War, globalization. The United States started out as a loose collection of tiny colonies hugging the massive flank of an enormous, unspoiled country that dwarfed and overwhelmed them. Those colonies rose among brutal and unforgiving conditions. The fledgeling nation had some help, but it struggled, it stumbled, it fell, it got up. At the end of the 19th century the United States trailed behind the rest of the “civilized,” developed world. By the end of the 20th century, it led the Western World, running far ahead of its peers. The history of the United States is the history of a nation-as-underdog, the little country that could, and it’s truly awe-inspiring.
5. The United States has created or fostered some of the greatest heroes of the modern age
A lot of people have called America home, and a lot of those people have been truly great patriots. I would define a patriot here not as someone who glorifies the United States for its own sake, but who glorifies the United States in how they choose to represent it. Some patriots grabbed America’s reigns and drove it forward; some patriots rose on America’s back; still others stripped away the gilding of its vast underbelly. Many have inspired, amazed, stirred change, pushed envelopes, caused controversy, and made us question how we view the world. America has produced revolutionaries, military commanders, politicians, inventors, scientists, writers, artists, poets, actors, journalists, reform leaders, social leaders, labor leaders, whistle-blowers. I couldn’t begin to make an exhaustive list of every American who could be described as heroic. Suffice to say that there are a lot.
I stopped myself at five, but there’s one more thing to add, and although it is last, it is by far the most defining element of American culture: a profound love affair with independence.
“Freedom” is not simply a word. It is a philosophy, a determination that every individual is in fact an individual; no one is just a worker, nor just a citizen or a soldier, or any statistical number in the countless demographic labels one could cast from the population group.
Like no other country, America prides the rebel, the revolutionary, the loner, the savant, the one man or woman who stands up from a sea of convention and expresses themselves in a unique way. An American believes that everyone is a person who can make up their own mind and live their own life; anyone who infringes on that, be they a parent, a teacher, an arm of the law, or a president, is not empowered by any ultimate authority that overrides their essential right to be free. An American recognizes that what authority says is right may still be wrong, and America’s greatest literature, music, architecture, and films have challenged the status quo, eviscerated convention, and stuck a big middle finger up to powerful forces that dictated the way things “had to be.”
I hope you savored that mush, because I can only spare so much at any given time. It’s back to doom and gloom next week.
Wait, you know what? I forgot something.
Since the industrial revolution, Americans have binged on lunch-break-quick, deep-fried, fatty foods. You really did need those calories in order to work fourteen-hour days seven days a week (see #1 and #4). That’s not so much the case anymore (well, not for everyone), but this frankly indulgent food has become a staple of American culture.
Sure, these things may be unhealthy, fattening ‘fast-food,’ nearly the opposite of the ‘gourmet’ dishes so many countries are proud of.
Fuck your gourmet. Shit’s delicious.