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Is America really the greatest country in the world?

The clip you’re about to watch is described as ‘the most honest three and a half minutes of television, ever’. It’s the opening scene of the new HBO series The Newsroom. And it’s brilliantly written. Facts, facts, facts…

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  1. A good clip, but history shows that America was *never* the greatest country in the world. Take just one example: we constitutionalized human slavery 1500 years after it had ceased to exist in Europe. By claiming we are not the greatest country but once were, the clip embeds a lie within a seeming confession.

    • I think it has become obvious over time that you would rather be European, Mr. Osborne.

      I have no idea if there is a “best” country anywhere, probably not. I think many countries have great qualities, however, including America.

      Unlike some Americans today who are making careers on attacking their own country, I think balance is important. There are positive and negatives in everything.

    • That example is the best you can do? Slavery wasn’t “constitutionalized,” it only addressed the existing practice for representative apportionment purposes. And while slavery had ended in Europe, after 1800 and even up to 1900 it was still alive and well in numerous other colonies (France, England, Portugal and France controlling them). Slavery in the US ended over a century ago, but this disqualifies them from EVER seeking “greatest nation” status? What hooey.

  2. Thank goodness someone with an American accent said that.
    As a non-American, I would be very happy if America could again be the greatest nation, based on the values that made it great once. But I am saddened to see that it’s current trajectory is not leading there.
    And for too long America has been in denial of this.

    Not the sort of thing you expect to see on a Music Blog. But welcome all the same.

  3. Candace Allen says:

    I can’t watch Newsroom because it is on Sky Atlantic and I won’t subscribe to Sky because of News International’s contribution to the current state of America in the Devil’s Representative that is Fox News, but not seeing this is a loss. I lived in the America that Jeff Daniels describes: far, far from perfect–as his constant reference to “men” suggests and yes the ubiquitous challenge of race. The “best”? what the hell is a “best” country? — but even as a black child then woman, always politically involved on some level or another, I shared the optimism, curiosity and energy he mourns as I now share current morass he decries. At least it’s now sometimes being said, if not often intelligently discussed.

  4. Bob Burns says:

    A little overblown on the melodrama but his points are well taken. We’re going through a dark period right now, where ignorance is king and no politician has any courage to do the right thing. But…we’ve been here before and emerged intact.

  5. What is the point of putting this up on a news-oriented music blog? While I might agree with a great deal of the soliloquy, there are things that could be taken exception to. Do you really want to start a political debate on a music blog? I certainly don’t.

    • I think the general view is that art is one of the most political of human endeavors. It is thus appropriate to occasionally look at its larger political context. And of course, the clip above is a work of art.

      • This is exactly why this kind of thing is best left OFF the blog. Who says that “the general view is that art is one of the most political of human endeavors?” Yes, art often has political aspects, but it often does not. And my beef with this kind of thing is that people put up clips like this–which are really just a kind of propagandizing–and then, what, expect you to cheer or nod agreement?

        My view, being Canadian, is that Canada is obviously the greatest country in the world. Any questions?

  6. Is “Yosemite” teleplay writer Sorkin’s new “Anti-Semiti” catchphrase? This scene is hockey, cliché, “old”, not very well-written, and really BADLY delivered/acted/musically underscored.. You know how music sounds when one has one’s head stuck up one’s ass? MUFFLED.

    And asking why it is posted here, Norman, is a legitimate question.

    Warm regards from Hot Boston, cradle of something-or-other

  7. *yawn* America was never and will never be the greatest country in the world.

  8. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I think this clip belongs on this blog for several reasons but mostly because it starts with shot at the NEA as a symbol of why America is no longer great with a simultaneous put-down of academia (the professor). The National Endowment for the Arts began as a visionary program during the Kennedy-Johnson era (aka the mid-60s), Were they great men? Was America great then? Probably not because they were Liberals (losers), to the left, almost Communists like the current President (according to many). I’m sorry but I find this rant rather ugly and aimed ultimately at the folks who watch Fox News (I agree with Candace Allen’s comment above).

    Yes, the USA is flawed, yes it is not the greatest country in the world (was it ever? and by what standard?). As long as democracy is the rule of the land, this moral chaos will continue; but, would we have it any other way? (Churchill had a comment on democracy, I believe, which was both damning and celebratory). To me the dangerous question is not whether Amercia is still great, the danger is the rise of demagogues with the answers that people want to hear to questions they haven’t asked. I found this video disturbing, not enlightening, and yes, maybe dangerous to democracy. Most disturbing is that the young audience chose to record and photograph this sermon on their smart phone rather than speak up; but, maybe that was the message afterall.

  9. What is this doing here? This is a blog about classical music, not about politics. I agree with some of what is said here(though The West Wing,another Sorkin show, says it better, and less melodramatically, than this show) but this is not where I would expect to find politically oriented videos which have nothing to do with classical music.

  10. I doubt if there is such a thing as the greatest country in the world. It’s far too subjective to be meaningful in any case.

    I’d say that some countries excel in certain very specific areas but even that wouldn’t remove all subjectivity.

    A pointless exercise, in my opinion.

  11. Greg Hlatky says:

    This clip is even more evidence for the saying that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people and Hollywood is Washington for stupid people.

  12. Michael Hurshell says:

    Interesting responses. As an American living in Europe, I have occasionally had discussions on this topic, and my only relevant comment is: the USA certainly seem to be the only nation among western industrialized nations that even broaches this subject. “We are the greatest” is a catch phrase, and it seems to pop up regularly in all sorts of likely and unlikely arenas; but I have never heard it used by citizens of Britain, Scandinavia, France, Germany, Italy etc. Such a simplistic view of the world – and one’s place in it – does not really help things, in my view. There are achievements to be proud of, and mistakes to be acknowledged – such is life. But insisting on being “the greatest country” is merely another aspect of that other American pastime, wanting to be loved by everyone (and not understanding why that isn’t working out lately). The frequency with which this “feel good” world view is suggested to Americans by persons speaking publically – whether politicians or supposed representatives of the vox populi – seems to indicate that there is a staggering insecurity being addressed, on some level. And the areas in which we indisputably lead – like arms production – don’t exactly promote the general idea, unless we believe that is the appropriate yard stick… Bottom line: there is no official “greatest nation” competition – thank God. Imagine if there were… and who would be chsen as judges and referees?

  13. Wanderer says:

    The clip is full of the dreaded American sense of supremacism that it pretends to criticize. The proponent complains about the loss of America’s supremacy, not about that collective hallucination itself.

    America had basically a few special things that made it a great country – if you had the right skin color – in the past: Space and individual freedom. The model of the American dream is an essentially expansive model and depended on virtually unlimited resources to function, on unchartered resources and territory behind the horizon.

    Once the country hit it’s limits, geographically and culturally, it turned ugly relatively quickly.

    The economic and cultural boom in the 20th century is not to be mistaken for an achievement or permanent development. It was mostly based on a temporary wave of influx of money, talent and brain power from refugees of the major European Wars. Today the US is very deep into a rotten state of a plutocracy, without much hope of recovery. It depends of fiat money and it’s military, forcing brown and yellow people in the world to accept that paper currency at virtually gunpoint.

    • Having read the various comments, I do have to agree with Wanderer and others, so I take back what I said above. The clip gets its theatrical effect by denying what is widely believed in the US to be a no-brainier – supremacy and greatness. And in so doing it also endorses the notion that US is was, and should be, the greatest but it’s greatness is eclipsed by current problems.
      But other than being big and rich and technologically advanced, wherein is this greatness ?
      Largely in the minds of the current generations of ordinary people who are in-fighting over the legacy of their hard-working forebears, and leaving debt and bankruptcy for their children.

      But I do still wish that, somehow, US could rediscover the good bits of its past (which comprises both the great and the terrible) and become what it deludes itself that it is – a moral leader to the world.

    • R. Hamilton says:

      Space is a finite resource; but no shortage of resources should justify open-ended expansion of constraints on individual liberty. The individual MUST be supreme, because the “greatest good of the greatest number” is ALWAYS a lie used by those that desire to have power by being the arbiters of who should get what.

      Having said that, it’s essential to have upward mobility based primarily (humans not being perfect) on skill and hard work. An unhealthy relationship leading to plutocracy results when government can either rescue or burdensomely regulate any corporate entity. Only when there is little in the way of favor to be sought can the relationship function properly.

  14. Hal Crawford says:

    Funny how no one attempts to answer the question, “If not the United States, who?” China? Russia?

    This fictional character takes potshots at the US, plucking every score that isn’t number 1. Infant mortality, #49? Of course, that doesn’t take into account that our doctors make heroic efforts to save babies that would be written off as stillborn in most other countries.

    Let’s look at a few other stats that our newsman ignores:
    How about expenditure ranking on healthcare (PPP)? The United States is #1.
    Gross National Product (GNP)? The US is #1. No one else comes close.
    Personal Income per capita? The US – #1. Again, no one comes close.

    The newsman says we spend more money on defense than the next 20 or so countries combined – including China and Russia. That’s true. It’s also true that we have taken on the defense of Europe and many other parts of the world. If we stopped spending money on defense tomorrow, a lot of other countries would have to step up to create their own adequate defense forces. Any fan of liberty should be thankful that the US has this title and not, say, Iran, or any other country with goals of world domination.

    The “greatest” country is going to be subjective. I think anyone who is proud of their country, for whatever reason, is going to say theirs is the greatest. Who really has a problem when a Frenchman cries out, “Vive La France!”? I lived in Switzerland, and there are a lot of great things about that country, too. It all depends on your perspective, and what’s important to you.

    • Thank you. There is a strain of elitist, bitter anti-Americanism in these comments that is unbecoming. Of course, the US is far from perfect, but while some of the comments are constructive, others are far from it.

    • Wanderer says:

      It would be a good excercise for you to come out of that ‘middle of the 20th century’ mindset and face the reality of today. You cite a lot of the usual talking points of the US supremacists, which doesn’t make them true. The other allied countries you mention HAVE adequate defense forces. They don’t need to step up anything, because they have no ambition of world domination like the US does.
      Iran has the goal of wold domination? That comment is without any base in reality. You should study the history of Iran at least a tiny bit and see how very funny your comment is.

      “How about expenditure ranking on healthcare (PPP)? The United States is #1.”
      That’s unfortunately a shot in your own foot. That statistic shows how extremely expensive your system is, prices for equivalent services in other developed western countries are HALF of what they are in the US. Because other countries regulate the health sector.

      “Gross National Product (GNP)? The US is #1. No one else comes close.”
      Well you have that, but looking closer, where is the actual value creation in there and how much of it is hot air creation of virtual assets as in investment banking etc.? Or the service industry, virtual prices, virtual values… Look at your trade deficit and understand that your strength here is in printing money, not in producing much of real value…

      “Personal Income per capita? The US – #1. Again, no one comes close.”
      Which statistics are you using? You are #16.,_Atlas_method)_per_capita

      • Hal Crawford says:

        Wanderer, you’re implying that I’m some sort of American Supremacist, and any reading of my last paragraph would say that’s not true. What “20th century mindset”? That’s precisely my point. If you pick a year then, say 1955, absolutely NO ONE would argue that the US was on top, by far, in almost any measure. We liberated Europe, defeated the Nazis, and our workforce was at that point better educated than anywhere else in the world. But that was then, and the world is a more complex place. We’re not going to win Gold in every category, all of the time.

        The term “world domination” is just to indicate any group that would like a much bigger chunk of the world than they already have (a la Nazi Germany). But sorry, I know too my Iranians and actually speak a bit of Farsi, and my statement about Iran is definitely based in reality, You can watch the documentary “Iranium” which pretty much illustrates their extranationalist goals. And whether the allied countries you mention have “adequate” defense forces is a matter of opinion and analysis. But they all know that if any of those countries are invaded, the US has an obligation to step in. Hence our required expenditures in that category.

        You imply that the US has an intent on world domination. That’s crap.

        As far as PPP goes, I expected someone to take me to task on that one. But I’ve used medical services in Geneva and Japan, both with nationalized healthcare. I had to pay my own way both times (as an expat), and the price wasn’t cheap like you imply, especially in Japan. Definitely not half the cost. But PPP is a complex measure, and in the US it can illustrate that we can and do use the finest medical resources available.

        GNP – noted, but the value creation is indeed there. Only China comes close in manufactured production, and just surpassed the US a couple of years ago. The #3 position, Japan, produces half as much as either the US or China. There are analysts who say that the US GNP position ican’t stay at #1 forever. No arguing with that.

        Personal Income (PI) source is here:

        My point was always this, anybody can take potshots at the US in the areas they may or may not hold important. And you, like everyone else, don’t bother to answer my original question: If the US isn’t the greatest country in the world, what is?


      • Wanderer says:

        Hal, you raise a lot of interesting questions so I will try to debate it in good spirit.
        Let’s start with your last point. Why do you see the need for defining one country as ‘the greatest’ in the first place? It’s a moot excercise IMO.

        Then the US intent on world domination. That’s the reality, not crap. Just look at your military bases and presence on the globe. Then read Brzezinski’s ‘Grand chessboard’ and you will understand what this is all about.

        Iran: ask your Iranian friends about Iran’s history. Iran has no extranational goals in their history. You must really look very hard to find anything in their history that stands for expansionist tendencies. You have like most of your American countrymen enjoyed the brainwashing about that region and their actual background. The dreadful Mullahs are a special chapter, but Iran is much more than that.

        “say 1955, absolutely NO ONE would argue that the US was on top, by far, in almost any measure.”

        I don’t think so. The US was the biggest economy, the biggest war industry with a lot of war related funding for the sciences as well. It was he cold war. But “in almost any measure”? I don’t think so.

        “We liberated Europe, defeated the Nazis,…”
        I know that’s what they told you guys in school. Far from the truth. What about he Soviets? They fought Hitler and had lost millions of their soldiers in the fight, when not a single US soldier had yet set foot onto the European mainland. In Summer 1944 the Soviets had gained back against the Nazi troops all the territory originally lost during the German attack. They had liberated their homeland and reached Poland. They paid with many millions of casualties and were the decisive force on the ground in the defeat of Hitler’s troops. Yet you have the guts to say “We defeated the Nazis” as if the US did it alone. What a supremacist hyperbole and ignorance… but it’s ok, that’s what they have fed you nonstop, you don’t know it better.

        “and our workforce was at that point better educated than anywhere else in the world.”
        that’s simply not true.

        • Hal Crawford says:

          Part of our “debate” is degenerating into a “Is NOT!” “Is SO!” back and forth, so I’ll hopefully wrap this up with a final post on the matter.

          I work in an environment with a lot of Internationals, and just for fun this morning, I asked them “What’s the greatest country?” None of them picked their home country – they all said “America.”

          It’s a straw poll, and I didn’t bother to ask this question when I was overseas. But the original video that we’re debating over is a strawman argument. No one indoctrinated me with the idea that the US is the greatest country in the world, it’s just something that we can look up and see for ourselves. Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of people trying to leave, and there are literally millions of people, from around the world, trying to get in. I don’t know another country with that sort of situation.

          As you say, the question is pretty much moot, but I didn’t start the argument. I have been informed that the United States ISN’T, which begs the question, “Okay, which one is?” I mean we all agree that at the end of the day it’s subjective, and I’ve already put forth the argument that any citizen of a country that they’re happy in is going to say it’s the greatest.

          Don’t want to delve into 1955 and American history, but I’ll certainly acknowledge the credit of the allied powers in WW II, and the Soviets certainly did their part on the Eastern front. Remember that we were fighting the Japanese, too. I could go on for pages about that part of history, but that’s not the point of this discussion, other than to say what I said before is not “far from the truth.”

          If we had wanted world domination, we wouldn’t have needed the Marshall Plan. And most of our bases are established through NATO. But it’s okay, I get it. You see a gun, and it’s only used to kill people, not to defend yourself. On that aspect we’re polar opposites.

          One final point – Brzezinski has an interesting viewpoint of the US and the world, but not every American shares his perspective.

          Next point: I’m quite aware of Iran’s history, but that’s yesterday. This is another subject that would take more time than I have to explain, because it’s a complex nation with great people. But the problem is with the people in power. Why does an oil-rich nation need a nuclear bomb? We don’t have to be “brainwashed” to know they are a potential threat. I would rather see their nuclear program shut down today than have to address nuclear blackmail tomorrow.

          To your final point – in 1955, the American GI Bill provided millions of soldiers who had returned from the war the ability to go to college and get degrees, which led to the largest percentage of college graduates at that point in history, anywhere.

          To reiterate – you didn’t indicate where you’re from – I’m assuming England, which had it’s own period of being the “Greatest Nation in the World.” The sun never said on the English Empire, right? (As the old wag said, “it’s because God didn’t trust them in the dark.”) The US has its moment, and maybe it’s slipping away. Its not hard to see that the world is in a pretty big mess now, with the EU looking shakier every day and the US needed to get its financial house back in order. I do hope some order is restored soon, otherwise we’re just debating which boat in the storm is going to sink – last.

          • Wanderer says:

            “America” is not even a country. That’s the end of the debate, before it even began.
            In my field and social environment, I don’t know anyone who says the US is “the greatest” country. A lot of people I know choose a Scandinavian country or Switzerland though if they absolutely have to name one. The US has lost all the attraction it still had two to three decades ago, mostly due to it’s post-cold-war unilateral belligerent policies.
            I personally find nations and countries nothing to get too excited about. They are useful tools to organize social life. Beyond that, “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

          • Wanderer says:

            Oh and why Iran needs the bomb? Because they have read Brzezinski and witnessed to their left and right Afghanistan and Iraq. There is only one lesson to learn for them. If I were in power in Iran, I would want the bomb too, for sheer self defense of my sovereignty.

          • Itzakh G'Filltfisch says:


            Those “of [the] people I know [who] choose a Scandinavian country or Switzerland” as the greatest country on earth are even more batty than those who choose the U.S.

            Have you tried living in any of those “great” small countries? They make very interesting studies in screwed-up social environments. at least as interesting as the U.S. is in that area.

  15. He forgot to mention that Americans used to get knowledge from books and not from superficial, sensational info-mercials where you get the listener’s attention by liberally sprinkling F and S words that people didn’t use anyway in polite conversation in the not so distant past. Who is this narcissist, anyway?

  16. Folks,
    America is not an amorphous collective. Propagandist rhetoric non withstanding, many Americans do not buy into the exceptionalism argument. Having said that, the US have much to offer the world and much to learn form it. So do the others.
    Next topic.

  17. ►► Re: The greatest country in the world…

    If you want to know which is the greatest country in the world you don’t ask some two bit, never been, actor like Jeff Daniels… you ask the citizens who live in all those countries he listed. You take a poll of the entire human race and ask one question… where would you prefer to live…

    Without the ongoing expenditure of American blood, treasure, and lives, those countries would not be on any list at all… they know it… and Jeff Daniels knows it.

    The United States is the greatest country in the world… period.

    When the good people of Japan, Germany, Russia, France, England, Iraq and Afghanistan drop to their knees and beseech their God… “…please almighty, deliver us from this evil…” God always sends the United States Marines.

    • Wanderer says:

      And more of the supremacist hyperbole. That was 70 years ago. Now is now.
      Maybe you should visit some countries other than your own.

    • Wanderer says:

      …and in WWII “God” actually sent the Soviet Red Army long before he sent the US Marines…

  18. Friday Bridge says:

    most comments I’ve read so far have been looking backward at history. Problem: Unless you are Doctor Who, there is no “back there” to go to. The recent generations have really had it easy, riding on the history created by those who were here first. Revolution, wars, depressions. Those generations worked and fought for their rights while the current generations feel entitled without doing anything more than is necessary.

    Think about this: We only live in the present just long enough to get to a future.

    This clip is more of a prod to get people to think about what future they want, and what steps they will be taking to get there. That’s the rock we should all be looking under.

  19. thomas mccliesh says:

    The United States of America’s constitution was, and is the greatest idea of human indevor. that it has lasted from its’ first intent from 1776 to now, is testament to its’ truth. BUT, its’ color is fading. And it is fading from within. The left and the right. No middle ground, A country that was founded on the the compromising of ideals, has split so? Your country was at one time at the apex of all peoples desire. Freedom. Your consitution guanrated it. Ellis island will bare witness to this promise of America. And yet you forsake it, you foresake the gift that was given to you in blood in the revolutionary war and those that followed. While, we, Canada, Demark,Sweden,Germany.France,Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Holland ,Austraulia, New Zealand and dozens of other democratic nations that I dare say run fairer elections than your bullshit run ups, are not in your eyes, bastions of democracy. Where is your democracy? Are you buried in your own retoric? The US is the greatest country in the world, based on what?

  20. Stephen Rodgers says:

    I believe that the USA may have lost some of its glory throughout history, but the country still has many great qualities like worlds largest economy, strongest military, and advancements in medicine and technology.

    • Paul Lanfear says:

      Like many commentators, I have a problem with the term “greatness”. It all depends on what values you wish to extol. The US does have the largest economy (given its size, not such an impressive achievement), military might (is that something to be admired?) and scientific advancements. All this is wrapped in a mythological flag of “freedom” for the ordinary citizen; whereas the reality is an aggressive spiral towards state-sanctioned corporate Orwellianism, where social responsibility is left to the individual rather than the financial institutions with real power over people’s lives. Our political establishment here in the UK think all this is great and are busy trying to emulate it.

      It doesn’t matter that the guy in the film gives a rose-tinted view of how America used to be. Whatever the reality, there was at least a certain consensus between the public and those who govern about how things SHOULD be that was not driven exclusively by corporate interests: a consensus (at least in the UK) to regulate for the benefit of society. That consensus is all but gone. Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” must ring very hollow now to many Americans.

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