Sunday, February 28, 2016

Justin and the US

Justin Bieber.

The U S of A.

The U S of A is the Justin Bieber of the world. Really.

Both are brash, capable of bursts of talent amid staggering displays of immaturity. Both think they’re the greatest; neither is. They are, comparatively speaking, young upstarts simultaneously revered and despised. People make fun of them. They’re profligate with their money and their actions, and petulant when caught in the act, whatever that act may be. Both are in love with themselves. Both smirk a lot and have visions of immortality. Both probably lack lasting power.

For years now, I’ve been of the opinion that the US is a grand experiment that shows every sign of failing. As a young nation full of its own bravado, the States took the world by storm and saved it twice from disaster. The country then proceeded to conquer most of the rest of the planet financially as older, more reticent nations watched. Then it began underestimating its foes—Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, terrorists. Its currency, the almighty dollar, showed signs of weakness.  Like any teen-ager, the United States professed great self-knowledge while barely reaching the age of reason. It came to realize that not everything could be solved by displays of posturing, and accepted—with great reticence—the realities of existence: inflation, deflation, unrest, dissatisfaction with the status quo at home and abroad, poverty and racism.  The present political circus is nothing more than an adolescent nation’s tantrums in the face of a changing world.  

I suppose it’s hard to accept the country’s slippage in international rankings. It is 14th in education, behind Canada and the UK, 19th in national satisfaction, trailing Bangladesh, The Philippines, and Uganda; 4th behind Italy in health care efficiency and second, also behind Italy, in general ignorance of social statistics such as voting patterns, unemployment rates and teen pregnancy. It does rank 1st  worldwide in the number of incarcerated prisoners—2.228,424 of them as of January, 31,  2015.

It has fallen to third in global competitiveness, behind Switzerland and Singapore. It is 101st in the peace index, between Angola and Benin, and 60th in the cost of fast food. It hold the 13th place in acceptance of homosexuality, the 23rd in gender equality, the 33rd in Internet download speed, and is first in women’s Olympic figure skating gold medals. It is 17th-ranked in the 2013 World Happiness Index.

None of these statistics are meant as a criticism of the country, but they do indicate a change in perception. The national pride is getting frayed, and we want it back. The problem is, being a very young nation, we lack the historical perspective and background to do this rationally. So we act like a peevish ten-ager and bring to the forefront a Trump, a Cruz or a Rubio, political neophytes whose strengths lay in stirring up the crowds without in the least educating them. Political Justin Biebers, if you will.

And here I’ll quote Alfonse de Lamartine, a Frenchman, and therefore, need I add, a citizen of a much
older nation: “The more I see of the representatives of the people, the more I admire my dogs.”

Merci, Al.



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