A recent thread on the notion of "American Exceptionalism" on the Turn Left Interactive forum got me to thinking about patriotism, nationalism and the need for nations to raise their game.
First, I think that the notion of nationalism is becoming an outmoded notion. The idea that any nation can exist above the rest of world is incompatible with a world that is more interconnected than ever before. In a world where economic crisis resonate across the globe, and people from any corner of the globe can communicate at a moments notice, the idea of any nation being above all seems like a relic of a past. Now the fact that that past is one of absolute rule may explain why this notion is so dear to the Right Wing of so many countries, including the US.
So where does that leave patriotism? There's nothing at all wrong with having pride in ones country, but one also needs to be looking at ways that one's country can elevate its game.
Champion teams and athletes know this need; The Pittsburgh Steelers are scouting the players they wish to draft to fill gaps and prepare to defend their Super Bowl championship, North Carolina and UConn will be visiting camps and clinics in search of young men and women to set themselves up to retain their NCAA Basketball titles. A nation needs to do much the same.
But for those on the right, there doesn't seem to be a belief that anything needs to be done. They stand there and howl, "We're number 1" and pound their chests. Countries that question or criticize us are shouted down or made to be an enemy.
The left takes a different look at things. They look at where a country may lag behind it's neighbors and allies.
For me, the two areas I see the United States needing work are sustainability and secularity.
I look at America and I see a country that has created a culture of consumption. Much of the current economic crisis has possible roots in a notion that we Americans need to have more and more. This wasn't how our country was, generations ago, we lived more within our means and in communities that supported each other, we practiced thrift too. There are places in the world, especially in Scandinavia, that seem to still have this notion as part of their culture. Recent hard times in the US has seen a return to these values a bit, but I wonder what will happen where prosperity returns.
I also find it odd that a country that has been fighting religious fundamentalists seems to be in the grip of fundamentalists. The debates over gay marriage, stem cells and evolution all make us seem backwards to our fellow industrialized nations that have embraced science, tolerance and what Karen Armstrong calls 'Secular Modernity'.
But there is one thing that Americans truly can take pride in--our energy. This is a nation that was started by an act of dissent against the leading imperial power of its day. And we've kept that spirit alive; when a region of our country decided that keeping a race in bondage was an economic necessity, others rose up to abolish the practice, when many of those same people codified discrimination, those affected joined with others to gain rights to vote, among other rights, when one of our leaders and his cadre decided to use fear to justify empire, the people rebuilt a movement that has made strides to getting America back on the road to rejoining the world as a whole.
Is America the best country in the world? In some ways, yes, but we're a work in progress, and need to look to where we need to make that progress.