Thursday, March 12, 2020


David Wallace-Wells writes:
Barely more than two decades ago, the United States saw itself as a kind of eternal and all-powerful empire — the indispensable nation. It would have seemed laughable, then, to be told that China would have produced a far better and more comprehensive pandemic response — a shamefully superior response. But today, distressingly, we take that relative failure for granted, and don’t expect to outperform the Chinese on matters like these, let alone South Korea or Singapore. What feels new is that we are doing worse even than Italy.... We are well behind Italy and seem somewhat closer in the effectiveness and coordination of our response to Iran, where it’s estimated millions may be infected, including many senior figures in government. When countries like these are desperate, they now turn to China, which is sending a huge supply of necessary equipment and human resources to Italy. The United States used to play that role not that long ago.
It seems to me that this has been the attitude of Americans, or at least certain right-leaning Americans, throughout my adult life: Why are you always complaining that our schools are terrible and our infrastructure is crumbling? You just hate America don't you? We're number one, baby! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

In the eyes of many Americans, we're simply superior by definition -- we don't need to demonstrate it by actually being the best at, well, anything.

In my youth, the rental car company Avis sold itself sold itself this way:

This became a popular catchphrase -- but it also led to the popular parody slogan that appears on this T-shirt:

That's the British album cover for Fatboy Slim's 1998 album You've Come a Long Way, Baby, but the photo was taken in America in 1983.

That slogan seems to be the way many of us think about American superiority -- it's so obvious that we don't need to make an effort to sustain it. At most, it needs to be defended from evil America-hating liberals and leftists -- people who, yes, are critical of America, but usually out of a hope that America actually will be #1 for real, or at least do things as well as our resources suggest we could.

The dominant Americans of the last few decades don't care. To them, trying harder is for losers, and America is already a winner. Making an effort is what inferior countries do. Superior countries don't need to bother.

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