Wednesday, July 4, 2012


 If you are an Aaron Sorkin devotee like I am, you have been watching the first two episodes of a new series on HBO called "The Newsroom."
In its first episode, Jeff Daniels, who plays a veteran newscaster named Will McEvoy, is on the speaking circuit, this time as part of the usual college debate, with McEvoy flanked by the usual talking heads, one ultra right wing, and one ultra liberal. 
During a Q & A session, one of the college students in the audience asks ‘What makes America the greatest country in the world?’
McEvoy pauses for a few seconds, then goes on an almighty (factually accurate, statistically) rant about why America is NOT the world’s greatest country, a concept that would be horrifyingly alien to 99.99 per cent of Americans I know:
"There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that America is the greatest country on earth.....we’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, fourth in labor force and fourth 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, 25 of which are our allies… So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about....Yosemite?
As the students look on, stunned, he adds, ‘We sure used to be… We stood up for what was right, we fought 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 cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and acted like men…we aspired to intelligence and didn't belittle it, it didn't make us feel inferior, we didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.... and we didn't scare so easy."  
We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed, by great men… The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one – America is not the greatest country in the world any more.’
Sobering dialogue to be sure, but factually accurate...we are no longer the greatest country in the world.......but what McEvoy didn't say...and desperately needed to say was, "but we can be again."
Now I'm not going to go off on a rant of my own (which would pale in comparison to Sorkin's incredible writing flair), except to say that we lost something generations ago. We lost something and we never even knew it...I guess we were so busy beating our chests in a sense of false pride we didn't even notice it was slipping away from us.
During World War II this country came together as in no other time in our history...ration books became necessary for staples like coffee, sugar and petroleum, goods normally made of rubber and scrap metal were scarce as they were used to produce ammunition, gas masks and explosives. 
A call came down from our leaders to save scrap metal in order to bolster our sorely lacking production of airplanes. While recent historical studies indicate that the scrap drives were more important as morale boosters than in providing essential products for the war effort. But, the general public did get caught up in the patriotic enthusiasm — some saved tin foil from gum wrappers, making a tin foil ball until it reached a size large enough to be accepted by the collection site. Scrap paper was more easily collected and was used to package armaments. Grease was saved and recycled to make ammunition. 
They came together and along with the adoption of assembly line production techniques from Henry Ford, this great nation far exceeded its goals and produced enough planes...enough planes to form an armada that blanketed the skies....and victory was ours...and democracy continued to live on in Europe as a result.
We came together. I don't know what it would take for this once great nation to come together again. Many would say we never will again....we are too fragmented, too engaged in class warfare to ever come together as a people. It is the haves and have nots. It's me and it's's never "us" anymore.
And that is a shame...because when this nation comes together, there is nothing we can't do. During his term, President Kennedy set the goal of going to the moon, an absurd notion. We were in the middle of racial tensions, riots in our streets not to mention the technology simply did not exsist....there was no reason to possibly think this goal was achievable....but he / we made it happen. Many of you will remember JFK's great speech he gave that historic day in Houston....
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
But you may not remember this speech...the speech he gave to Congress upon his return to Washington after making such a bold statement and after challenging the nation to "go where no man had gone before...."
"I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment."
That's leadership....he challenged the nation, he harnessed out energies, he challenged this nation like other great leaders had in WWII and before....because leaders give us vision, they challenge us to achieve and most of all they lead.  And as long as Washington fails to come together themselves and actually lead.....we may never come together for one sole purpose again. 
"America is not the greatest nation on earth any more."
But we can be...if only our leaders could lead....and bring us together towards common goals...and stop identifying us (and dividing us) by social and political labels...because the day after an election, we used to stop being Democrats and Republicans, and went back to being what we took so much pride in being...Americans. One great nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
I envy the youth of America today...because they are too young to remember what it felt like to be an American generations ago. They don't know the shame in what we have become....and what we may never be again.
And that is the world..."The World According to Kimba." 
God bless you......and God bless the United States of America.

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