It has always profoundly annoyed me whenever I hear politicians claiming that we live in “the greatest country in the world.” Sarah Palin and her fellow Tea Party are the biggest culprits at the moment, but Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore have been equally culpable in the past. To American politicians, the United States is never just “great” but always “the greatest.” Apparently, it’s not enough for them to applaud their own country – they have to do so at the expense of others.
It seems that I have finally found a fellow American who also finds this tendency distasteful and graceless. On today’s Washington Post op-ed page, Matt Miller – a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress – wrote,
“Does anyone else think there's something a little insecure about a country that requires its politicians to constantly declare how exceptional it is? ... In Switzerland, do candidates have to proclaim that ‘Switzerland is the greatest nation ever created in human history’? In Brazil, do ambitious pols insist that ‘Brazil is the most special country ever to grace the world’? Isn't ‘great’ or ‘really, really great’ enough? Not in America, dammit.”
Apparently it is only by using the comparative – being first, being top, being the best – can we Americans feel good about ourselves – but only by putting down everyone else.
Imagine how this goes down overseas - in countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK, which have all scored consistently higher than the US on the index of the world’s most stable and prosperous countries compiled by Jane=s Information Group. Or Norway, Australia, and New Zealand, all of whom rank higher than the US on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, which takes into account countries’ life expectancy, health status, educational attainment, and income.
When politicians use pugnacious, boastful language in praise of this country, they are fuelling both the overt and the latent anti-Americanism that exists around the world. Talk about giving yourself a harder row to hoe. Language is powerful, people. Let’s try to use it wisely.