AMERICAN CRAPCEPTIONALISM

Posted in Rants on June 22nd, 2014 by Ed

The key to maintaining the illusion that America and everything in it are WOOO #1 THE BEST IN THE WORLD is never leaving the United States.

I don't present myself as a Great World Traveler, but having been in two "Second World" countries recently (or at present, in the case of Mexico) I can't shake that "Why is everything here much nicer than where I live" feeling. Now, contrary to popular opinion I am not an idiot. Obviously both Mexico and Brazil have areas serious social problems along the lines of inequality, crime, and poverty. Obviously these are not paradises. But they also have things like functional, cheap public transportation and highways that do not look like they were bombed by the Luftwaffe five decades ago and the damage was never fixed. Short of going the full chauvinist Asshole Tourist route ("I hate this place because everything is foreign! Everyone talks funny! Why aren't there more Burger Kings?") it would be extraordinarily difficult for an honest person to look at an unexceptional city in Brazil and argue that St. Louis or some random mid-major city in the U.S. is superior.

Cities with huge areas that are off limits due to violent crime? Throw a dartboard at the U.S. and you'll hit one. Crushing, third world-style poverty? Stroll through housing projects, half-abandoned rural towns, or an Indian reservation and see it stateside. Staggering wealth and embarrassing poverty coexisting side by side? We practically invented it.

The inevitable endgame of thirty years of neoliberal right-wing economics has been to convert the U.S. into a pseudo-third world nation. The only thing we're good at anymore is Cheap. Our workforce will take wages they can't live on and are encouraged to be happy that they have a job at all. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Hundreds of our cities are ugly, polluted, half-empty museums of a time when blue collar work could support a family. To think that Americans living in Terre Haute or Montgomery or the Florida panhandle have the greatest and bestest standard of living on Earth is pretty laughable if you visit…well, essentially any country in Asia, Europe, or South America.

This is a bit unfair because admittedly I live in one of the worst, most troubled cities in the country, but other than having cheaper gas, lower national income taxes, and more Wal-Marts I honestly can't figure out how living in Peoria, Illinois is "better" than living in a supposedly poor country. Maybe this is somewhat naive – I've never lived in a different country and perhaps the downsides to other places would become more apparent if I did. Regardless, the physical isolation of the United States combined with the "Why go anywhere else when everything here is THE BEST!!" attitude ensures that we don't travel internationally nearly as much as our foreign counterparts…and that really helps to fuel the mindset that cities and our society have to be broken because nothing can be done to provide effective basic public services, nor is there any reason for wanting to do so.