The Plague-Ground – I didn’t say I hate America

I didn’t say I hate Americans. I didn’t even say I hate America’s institutions.

All I said in yesterday’s blog was that it’s time Americans stopped viewing themselves as the best nation on earth, and that we Canadians could help them do that. Period.

I got a lot of agreement and some dissent, most very measured and reasonable, though I also got this, which wasn’t helpful, really……

“That’s very helpful: Everything I hate about Canadians packed into an efficient article. Snarky, self-righteous, hyperbolic and yet with just a soupçon of timorousness, as befits our perpetual coffee-shop grumbling.”

What was helpful were those readers who said that Canada should not be casting stones anywhere. Our governments didn’t exactly leap out of the blocks in spotting and stopping the coronavirus – and when the fog lifts there must be an accounting.  Our long-term care facilities have been called concentration camps – and when the virus ends, there’d better be an accounting, not just for the thousands of Canadians who live out their final days in these homes, but the 7 million of us who are over 65. Our appalling treatment of  Indigenous Canadians is centuries older than Canada itself — and when the pandemic ends, if we can’t at least guarantee our least advantaged citizens clean water, then all those “Most Liveable Nations” awards will become The National Lie.

Some readers said my deification of our healthcare system was idol worship. Canada actually scores pretty badly compared to other nations that have universal healthcare. They thought we should really be comparing ourselves not to America, but to our rivals for the most liveable countries on earth, like Norway and New Zealand. They’re right. Let’s compare apples to apples.

But that shouldn’t stop us from calling on the U.S. to have free public healthcare, as a right of citizenship, as it is here.

Still other readers decried the gnawing sense of inferiority in us Canadian mice taking on the American elephant. Its contributions are so great and Canada’s so tiny in comparison that…..

To this I say, Yes, America has brought enormous good to the world. But those days seem in the past now. What great global or even national initiative is America leading now? Certainly not the war against COVID-19.

What’s more, the U.S. is so large and teeming with contradiction that you can find enough evidence to argue just about anything. After all, 77% of Americans believe in angels, 55% believe Jesus was born of a virgin, and one in four believes the sun revolves around the earth. What are we to make of such a place? And remember, Canadians know the U.S. better than anyone else on earth. We’re not their distant cousins; we’re in the condo next door.

What scares me is not just the number of contradictions living cheek by jowl to the States, but the extremes they represent.  At the same podium, we see Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s most respected infectious disease specialists, and a President (his boss) who muses that drinking bleach might be a cure for COVID-19.

To downplay the inherent insanity of this situation by focusing on the President’s policy initiatives is also a form of denial because such rational discussions give him a cloak of sanity his behaviour contradicts every day.

To me, the person who’s best summed up  America’s ongoing decline and fall is not a policy wonk or a public intellectual, but an actor, Jeff Daniels.

Remember his role as the anchor in the HBO series, The Newsroom?

He was asked by a shy sophomore why he thinks America is the greatest country in the world.

Here, sent to me by five readers, is his response – not in 2020, but in 2012.

It’s worth our attention, especially now.

21 replies
  1. Avatar
    Robin Lecky says:

    I’ve lived and worked in the US on two separate occasions – and two of my kids and their families are Americans and/or green card holders. We have a stack of wonderful American friends scattered across the country and we love them all … politics, religion and exceptionalism aside.

    I suspect the writer who accused either you, Bob, or all Canadians of being, “… snarky, self-righteous, hyperbolic …” etc, probably just suffers these traits him or herself. My problem with the US, these days especially, is that every discussion, debate and review ends up being politically sliced and diced. The middle ground has disappeared from politics and the news. US media have turned all of it into a reality show. Every newscast, regardless of network, seems to start with a “Breaking News” flash bar and a breathless commentator telling us something we’ve typically heard hours before. And, surely, no one fits the “snarky, self-righteous, hyperbolic” definition better than the current President.

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    Alan Kay says:

    The US has been waiting for this for a long time. Their first settlers escaped from tyranny in Europe, and so they enshrined the right to bear arms, the militia mindset, etc.
    They never got away from being ready for an attack.
    So, as long as the US was fighting foreign wars, they didn’t pay much notice to internal divisions.
    Now that the far right’s cockroaches have come to life, they are basking in technology that enables them.
    The US left’s issue is that it is infinitely divided and has no unifying voice.
    As for Canadians…we first came to serve our mother country, albeit a king. You can figure out from there as to why comparing the two countries is less than satisfying.

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    Gail Tabbitt says:

    Jeff Daniels has my vote, as well as you Bob. Finally someone is shooting holes at their news conferences. How can others stand and listen to that egotistical man, there doesn’t seem to be any moral compass at all.

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      Gerlinde says:

      Agree with that comment. Nothing is free. And we should always raise both eyebrows when anything is espoused as being free lol We just pay for it differently, as do other countries with universal healthcare. And, we believe, as do those countries, that all citizens, deserve healthcare. It shouldn’t be a decision between whether to have ones family vaccinated or paying rent.

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    Clinton Wark says:

    Make America Great Again is the slogan! Not “Keep America Great”. Perhaps Republicans and Democrats can unite around MAGA after all?

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    Louise says:

    No one comes out a winner. Not the best places to live on earth, not the biggest or strongest or oldest or newest. No one country has the best government or health care or or or: a school is as good as its currant principal, a country as good as its currant leader. Maybe what we see here is (and I am not saying this before others have) the opportunity to clean house, to try to change things believed to be entrenched. Start somewhere. Start with clean water, better senior care management (and the comparison to concentration not quite on) – the list is endless and maybe daunting, but start somewhere to use the Energy to make a positive change not to just point a finger.

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  6. Avatar
    Barb Savoie says:

    Really enjoying your daily posts, especially this one. You are definitely opening up the conversation & that’s a good thing. Love the Jeff Daniels clip – first time I’ve seen it. Keep doing what you’re doing!

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      Susanne says:

      Just a comment about the Jeff Daniels’ clip. I don’t quite get why it is so revered. Maybe I could adore it if he had stopped after his lambasting but then it went on in the too-familiar Hollywood way, all golden sunshine and misty eyed remembrances…. of a time when the US was a world leader yes but also (more) mired in rampant racism and segregation, to when men were men and women knew their place, to the Klan and the Mafia, to corrupt presidents and vast poverty in rural regions. That is what I see being mythologized in that clip. Meh.

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        Jane M says:

        Right, that clip loses me when the music starts, and he tries to reminisce about past greatness. He fails to mention a country built on slavery, the legacy of which is alive and well today as we read the grim statistics of who is dying from coronavirus — black people in low-paying jobs (now renamed “essential workers”) with no medical or social safety net, poor education, and families ripped apart by high levels of incarceration. Too many Americans are still racist to the core. That’s not to say Canada is perfect. Far from it. Perhaps this is like my sibling thinking far too much of himself. It’s not that I’m perfect and it’s not that I don’t love him. It’s just that it’s my job to make sure he knows how deluded he is.

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    Andris Pone says:

    Thank you Bob, for having the courage to raise these issues, which I imagine many of us were ruminating about. I am with you on the overall argument.

    Also, I agree with phillypam that we do not have free health care in Canada. In fact, free and universal health care is our greatest national myth. Consider that the present catastrophe in our long term care homes can hardly be categorized as care at all. More accurately, it is death.

    Add to that: long wait times that make universality a lie, hospital wings and services we would not have without billionaire donations and prescription drug costs that necessitate GoFundMe campaigns.

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    Beth Horowitz says:

    Bob, Thanks for two great columns in a row. As a dual citizen, I couldn’t agree more with you. Canada, though not perfect, has a great deal to teach the US. Although the ruling political party in the US doesn’t want to acknowledge that anything worthwhile exists beyond its borders, fortunately many business leaders are open to knowledge and expertise wherever it comes from. That gives me some hope. So does November, even though it won’t be a free and fair election. And thanks for sharing the excerpt from The Newsroom. Jeff Daniels states what many, many Americans feel. Let’s hope they all vote.

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    John R says:

    Jeff Daniels is one the most underrated actors of all time. Anyone who can pull off this scene from “The Newsroom” and co-star in the “Dumb and Dumber” franchise is a genius.

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  10. Avatar
    Sharon Taylor says:

    I’m afraid I missed the preceding article so I will have to play catch up.
    Without assessing all the statements, claims, facts and factoids, just will share the observation that we are perennially drawn like moths to the flames when it comes to comparing our Canadiana to our USA neighbour. We are different in enoigh ways to be distinct. As comments suggest, we are not better or perfect. We have our host of home grown BS and poor judgements, management, social and government issues. So let (s)he who is without flaw cast the first stones.
    We all ought to aspire to improving our own lot, our own communities, our own provinces, and country and be agents for role modeling this to others while being self aware enough and humble enough to also see others for their strengths and things we too can learn from. USA or otherwise.
    Bob, BTW, seems you stirred a hornets nest. My old boss once said, you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs. You must be on a good path to engender such passionate replies.
    Cheers to our master provocateur!

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  11. Avatar
    Lorraine M says:

    Bob, thank you for unabashedly expressing what a lot of, not just Canadians, but citizens from all over the world, presently feel about the good old US of A. I gotta say the truth often hurts! We all are aware that there is a lot of navel gazing by Americans and it’s time they gave themselves a shake and call it for what it is. Plain old making a fool of themselves, and delusional enough to think, that the rest of the world, is foolish enough, to buy the fact, that they are the greatest country in the world. It’s so gone to their headS. They seem to have lost their moral compass, and a lot of other things along the way.
    Keep up the good work Bob.

    Reply
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    Adam Plackett says:

    A final reflection: If this article had been posted on a USA blog, I doubt that the conversation would have been civil for very long and would likely have gone down a much darker path. The vast majority of comments were submitted in a thoughtful and respectful manner even though we disagreed on some issues, and we did not resort to the sort of invective and vitriol that we now sadly take for granted down south. I think that is extremely commendable and something that we Canadians can take pride in.

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    Angela Johnson says:

    Bob, you made a valiant choice, taking a courageous stand writing this article. In spite of many disagreeing with you. And this is good.

    Your article helps initiate the dialogue, and after some time it ultimately dawns on others your reason. Particularly, once they begin to focus on their own responsibilities for the situation being brought to their attention.

    Reply
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    Stan Repar says:

    The question really is “was it ever the greatest country? ” and if so ” when and for how long? ” What criteria would be necessary to answer that question? Objective political and social historians may come close to the correct answer.Ultimately they as well as the readers will bring their subjectivity to bear on the subject.Certainly their constitution,subject to interpretation,is a major document of international human significance and a standard of liberal philosophy when viewed from the context of humanity.The product of a multicultural society even in the 18th century.There’s much to praise and there’s much to criticize,and few are able to do both at the same time.I agree with others who see the last part of the actors statements to be a continuation of the typical American myth which is really self serving propaganda that is pounded into them from kindergarden up and which Americans rarely question.Why ask awkward questions that you’ll be attacked for verbally and your loyalty questioned.I’ve been of the opinion for some time that Americans learn their geography from the wars that they engage in, and their history and myths from Hollywood.The clip from “Newsroom” seems to confirm that.

    Reply

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