This Reflection was broadcast as part of an ongoing series called "Reflections With John Mill" on the "American Heathen" broadcast, Friday, January 14, on ShocknetRadio.com. John Mill is the radio voice of Ronald Bruce Meyer.
I’ve put aside my prepared comments in light of current events. The near-fatal shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the shooting deaths of six others, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, have got me thinking about what’s right with America.
Yes, you heard me correctly.
I want to talk about what’s right with America. Sure, it makes sexier headlines to say we Americans are failing at a lot of things now, where in the past we were second to none:
• Life Expectancy? Andorra is #1 (we’re #30).
• Democracy? Sweden is #1 (we’re #17).
• Freedom of the press? Iceland is #1 (we’re #41).
• Internet speed? Japan is #1 (we’re #15).
• Effectiveness of Education? Taiwan is #1 (we’re #35).
• Adult literacy? Sweden is #1 (again) (we’re #9).
• Women’s rights? Sweden is #1 (yet again) (we’re #17).
• Renewable energy use? Iceland is #1 (again) (we’re #27).
• Scientific literacy? Iceland is #1 (yet again) (we’re #33).
• Quality of health care? France is #1 (we’re #37).
At least we still have the largest economy – but China will catch up.
So what’s right with America? Let me count the ways—
Our candor. We’re not always telling the truth on ourselves, and often not without prying it out. But we don’t hide the facts in our school textbooks about our genocide of American Indians or the struggle for racial equality or women’s voting rights. We have a core principle of freedom of speech, written for all to see in our Constitution. That makes it OK to blame and criticize our government and elected officials. While many say “America, Right or Wrong,” most of us would add (after Civil War General Carl Schurz), “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
Our religious freedom. Yeah, sometimes the rhetoric from other religions gets a little overheated. And we’re not all of us tolerant all of the time. But the ideal is enshrined in our Constitution that this is a religion-neutral nation. And you know what? That has let bloom a thousand churches, temples and mosques. Congresswoman Giffords is Jewish: No other country is as religiously diverse, and as open to Jews, as the USA.
Our movies. Maybe not because we have the best stories or the best special effects houses or the best actors. If you’re looking for art-house fare, which nobody but a film school student will watch, forget about it. But if you’re looking for films that people will line up to see, there’s only one country that makes them!
Our language. With about 1.8 billion speakers worldwide, English is the (or an) official language in 53 countries, the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee and the European Union. It is the dominant or required language in science, information technology, business, entertainment, radio, diplomacy, medicine and computing – and is the official language for aerial and maritime communications. English is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language around the world. English has a vocabulary of over 1,000,000 words – more than any other language!
Our taxes. Tea partiers, Republicans and Libertarians take note: we have one of the lowest personal tax rates in the civilized world. The only Western countries with lower personal taxes than the US are Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Mexico. And Korea. All the other Western democracies are 10% to 30% higher.
Even with our paltry taxes, we still have the largest, most powerful and most expensive military in history! China and Russia don’t even come close!
Our social bond. America draws people from ever corner of the world to experience our way of life. But they don’t just take; they give. They give their culture and their tradition, their language and custom and cuisine. They take into themselves new ideas and traditions, thereby becoming not a race or a religion or a region, but a part of a grand democratic community bonded by a glue called being American.
Our compassion and courage. And I’m not just talking about the courage and compassion of those who survived the shooting on Saturday and helped others survive. No, I’m talking about America giving to the developing world: $28.67 billion in assistance as of April 2010, which is more than France and Germany combined.
And American giving to disaster victims around the world: Americans gave more for relief aid to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake than the next two highest nations combined. Americans opened their wallets as well as their hearts to the Hurricane Katrina victims here at home in 2005.
These are not isolated examples. American generosity at home and abroad is the rule rather than the exception. No other country comes close.
So even though we have our windbag religious wingnuts and blowhard bigots and ranting radio and TV commentators stirring up the pot, it is a Melting Pot, after all. Yes, there’s still a lot wrong with how this country behaves and I will be criticizing that in the months and years to come – because, hey, it makes sexier headlines. But I would rather be an American than any other nationality on earth!
As his own end drew near, Berlioz maintained his disbelief in God and immortality. In one of his last letters, written shortly before his death, Berlioz wrote his creed: "I believe nothing."