It’s bad enough that Sarah makes stuff up to bolster her point about American exceptionalism, but then she suggests that “winning” (said one Charlie Sheen) is “part of our national DNA” meaning, I suppose, that once you become an American citizen your DNA turns red, white and blue spelling “USA.” And here I thought it was the bacon ice cream and large quantities of Nathan’s dogs that turned us into blabbering coneheads.
But seriously, what seems most typically conservative, jingoistic and ethnocentric, yet utterly un-American to me, is that Sarah feels compelled to put others down to build America up. For starters, historically, take our two greatest allies: France and Britain. In her MSNBC version she sees fit to knock France, saying: “…we went on to win at all kinds of stuff, and we did it without apologizing. And we’re supposed to want to win. That’s what separates us from the French.” It’s sort of a weird non sequitur put-down because, well, it’s completely untrue. The French love to win. And they’ve done it, historically, with a certain panache, let’s face it, bloodletting that is, um … rarely matched except by Americans.
More important, though, it’s quite likely the United States of America would not exist were it not for France. When Sarah says, “We didn’t fight hard for our freedom on that summer day in 1776 so we could go ahead and be mediocre,” she forgets to mention that the colonials could not have sustained their independence in 1776 had the French fleet not defeated the British at the Battle of the Chesapeake and laid siege to Cornwallis at Yorktown. France blocked his escape route by sea with its fleet while by land it entrapped the British with the French Army, whose commanders included the Marquis de Lafayette.
Which brings us to Britain. Sarah writes “We’re aspirational by definition. Otherwise we’d all be bowing to Kate Middleton, while wearing really silly hats.” I’ll cop to the first part: We are aspirational, not because we’re Americans but because we’re sentient human beings. Even the harshest, most totalitarian dictatorship on the face of the Earth, in Pyongyang (right you are, S.E.), cannot extinguish that flame from the human spirit of those they oppress.
As for the reference to the Duchess of Cambridge, two things. First, there’s something to be said for tradition and ceremony and the trappings of royalty, especially in a parliamentary democracy — and no one does it better than the British. I had no idea you were an anti-monarchist, Sarah, particularly considering how many Americans are Ga-Ga for the largely ceremonial Royals. Perhaps, like your Alaskan namesake, you think Queen Elizabeth actually runs things across the pond.
Second, and much more important, this is where a good grasp of history holds you in good stead. No one can say how much British allegiance to the Crown has inspired their will to defend it or their sense of duty and patriotism, but all Americans save for a few twisted souls should be glad of it.
Were it not for the brave, the indomitable British people standing alone against the Nazi juggernaut in 1940, before America and the Soviets had entered the war, when its outnumbered air force defeated Hitler’s mighty Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, “bowing to Kate Middleton, while wearing really silly hats” would be the least of your worries, Sarah. Moved by the gallantry of RAF Fighter Command, Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
That includes you, Sarah. I would submit that had not the RAF prevailed, we would all be wearing Swastika armbands and delivering the Nazi salute instead of the Pledge of Allegiance to a grotesquely redesigned American flag.
Then there’s a little matter of all those things Sarah thinks were American inventions. She’s sort of like a one-woman Texas Board of Education, spreading historical untruths and inaccuracies to fellow American ignoramuses. It might surprise you to know, S.E., that —
- The automobile was invented by Karl Friedrich Benz, a German, in 1885. His name now adorns arguably the world’s finest cars, Mercedes-Benz. You might have heard of it?
- “Thomas Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light.” Many foreigners can claim dibs on developing the light bulb, but British inventor Humphry Davy is often named the first. Edison improved upon the work of many who had come before. Good for him.
- And we have it on good authority that the mullet was variously invented by Emperor Nero of Rome, adapted by the Huns, copied by (no doubt) your favorite wingnut actor-director Mel Gibson in Braveheart, then traced to Paul McCartney.
- Invented the dirigible which flew around the Eiffel Tower;
- Worked on a helicopter design;
- Designed and flew the first heavier than air plane in Europe, which took off on wheels on its own power from a level field in 1906;
- Developed the first monoplane, the Demoiselle, which is the same basic design with the swept wings of today’s planes.
So yeah, when it comes to choosing between the greatest, most influential pioneers of aviation, I’ll take Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian, over all comers. Incidentally, like Edison and the light bulb, Santos-Dumont did not invent but “popularized” the ubiquitous wrist watch. Why? Because he complained to a certain watchmaker named Cartier that he couldn’t keep fishing for his pocket watch and steering his airships at the same time. Result: Their joint development of the wrist watch.
It doesn’t get much better when S.E. jumps from aviation to space flight. She writes: “Charles Lindbergh didn’t land in Paris and apologize for getting there first. We didn’t have a space race with the Soviet Union to see who could get there last.”
No, Lindy didn’t “apologize” because he was too concerned about not inventing the first Mosh Pit for himself as enthusiastic Frenchmen mobbed him and carried him aloft, having lined up their cars and turned on their headlights to create a perfectly lit landing strip for his final approach.
The space race with the Soviets, particularly the Moon landing, was an awesome achievement. It was also the brainchild of a great liberal Democrat named John F. Kennedy to inspire Americans to new heights and possibilities. But I’d go easy on the rah-rah jingoism lest we be reminded that the U.S. space program, like the Soviets’, was driven by Nazi rocket scientists, like Werner Von Braun and his henchmen who surrendered to the Americans and were swiftly granted the privileges of U.S. citizenship.
And yet, I disagree with Sarah’s assertion that “Americans have grown disturbingly ashamed of winning. … We’re supposed to want a world where everyone gets a trophy and nobody has a house with a car elevator.” No. I’d rather not live in a country where my president is so out of touch with the people that he’s one of a handful of individuals who can afford the extravagance of a car elevator. Let him enjoy his car elevator on his own time and not accrue unlimited power to affect our lives with his decisions. Secondly, Sarah, I would point out that in the greatest sports stage on which the USA excels at “winning” the top three finishers all get a trophy: It's the Olympics, or “Les Olympiades,” as Mitt Romney is wont to say, and they’re called the gold, silver and bronze medals.
Poor Sarah. She’s drawing fire from all sides. One wingnut blog that I like to call “The American Idiot” worries that if S.E. “lies with fools she may get up a fool.” Well, I say … methinks that train has long since left the station.
So, argues the wingnut S.E. fan, she must “not lend one iota of credibility, let alone ratings boost, to MSNBC's narrative. Cupp's talent can better serve where it might reach reasoned minds.” As in this latest Cupp screed? “Reasoned minds” in Rightwingville are like raisins in the sun. Black, dry and shriveled.
What’s most exceptional about America, to me, is its celebration of the universal human spirit in an ideal. The human spirit that yearns for freedom, and justice, and democracy. These are values represented by the American idea to which oppressed peoples the world over have looked for inspiration.
It’s what we should celebrate about ourselves and about America. A grand idea. An ideal yet to be perfected. Because, even if it fails to match the reality, the American idea lies not in “winning” (said one Charlie Sheen) but in serving as the beacon of Jeffersonian democracy and freedom and justice for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That ideal, now threatened more from within than without, however imperfect, still remains the best hope for Mankind.
Happy birthday, America. We love you.