America is Better than Your Country, But You Can still Borrow its Mantra

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America is better than your country. As a matter of fact, it’s the greatest country in the world. True or false?

Regardless of what you think, Americans’ belief in their greatness is the reason why they walk into any competition, acting as if a win is tantamount to being a patriot who battled in war. They’re protecting their country’s self respect and pride every time they compete. They’re protecting their right to achieve their dreams. They’re upholding their conviction that they should be a shining example to the rest of the world about dignity, determination and power.

Watch most Hollywood-made movies. America saves the day, and the hero is American. Why? Because America is great. It’s a beacon of hope. Listen to any speech given by a top official and you’ll hear it. America is the greatest nation on the planet – and even in the wider universe if you count its role in kicking aliens’ asses in every movie.

Before President Barack Obama took office, I never listened to US presidents’ speeches. Okay, I listened to Clinton’s speech, when he insisted that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. But, like many other people across the globe, Obama captivated me, in a way that not even my own presidents or prime ministers have.

Since Barack Obama sprang into the spotlight on his first campaign to become President, I started listening to his and other public officials’ speeches. One thing that struck me was the consistency with which most people claim that America is the greatest nation in the world.

…would my country – Trinidad and Tobago – be better off, if we prophesied our greatness and made it a core message that was disseminated to the masses…?

I wonder; how would people in other nations feel to hear their leaders speak like that? This brings me to the question, would my country – Trinidad and Tobago – be better off, if we prophesied our greatness and made it a core message that was disseminated to the masses – at every political rally, at every school assembly, at every national event, and on every televised message?

Would it make us strive for greater? Would it boost our pride, sense of nationalism, and love for “sweet T&T”? Would it stream into our consciousness and stick, making us believers in our country and ourselves? Would it make people who represent us at international competitions feel more confident? Of course, this sort of identity would need to be backed by governments investing in people to ensure that they have the tools and training to operate successfully on the world stage.

Saying that we’re the greatest doesn’t mean we’d actually become the greatest, but like any sportsman will tell you, it’s all about using the hype to drive your intentions.

Saying that we’re the greatest doesn’t mean we’d actually become the greatest…

I can hear your silent thoughts already: “We’re not the greatest country. We’re Fifth World. Look at our politics!” Yes, we don’t have perfect systems.

Yes, our politicians aren’t progressive. Yes, we have Government ministers who publicly state – without a stutter – that activists on hunger strikes should hurry up and die. Yes, crime is plastered across newspapers’ front pages. Yes, we suck at being green. Yes, we don’t stand up for serious issues – as a people. Yes, we don’t have systems and organisations that support entrepreneurship and innovation, and don’t focus on diversifying the economy. We’re not that great. And we know it.

But let’s consider the merits of America’s mantra. While claiming greatness may seem like a cocky position to take, it’s also a good one. This sort of identity formation is what has propelled America as a superpower, even at its weakest moments. It has made being great its objective in every task, and helped it fire back at critics of its ‘exceptionalism’, while boasting of its industry leadership in technology, science, and other areas.

That’s why Jamaica’s dominance at the Olympics is enough to piss off Carl Lewis, and many others, who don’t believe in the power of Caribbean prowess – and are upset that Jamaica has ended USA’s dominance in top athletics events. Coincidentally, I’ve heard that one reason Jamaica performs so well is because its people genuinely love their country and believe in their potential to be great. And they’ve got icons to support that belief – Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Merlene Ottley, and others.

Let’s revisit Obama for ten seconds. While he believes in America’s Declaration of Independence, which claims that God bestowed America with unalienable rights, he’s been heavily criticised by Republicans for seeming to be “insufficiently willing to assert the supremacy of the American way of life”. But that’s beside the point. Does Obama absolutely believe in the America is the greatest nation in the world rhetoric?

“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism,” he once said.

So, hey, we can believe in Trinbagonian exceptionalism too – the same way we believe that only Trinis know how to party hard and still go to work the next morning (or not).

Maybe this belief in greatness is something we should have borrowed, along with every other aspect of American pop culture. We’d have to do it in a way that wouldn’t totally turn off our Caribbean neighbours (wait…we’ve already done that) who already think Trinis are cocky. But…if our aim for greatness leads to better systems and cooperation, which invariably sometimes benefits them, maybe they’ll forgive our pronouncements.

I imagine that this kind of philosophy – not the extremist notion that God blessed your nation alone with gifts – but the one where you believe in your potential for and achievement of exceptionalism is what truly builds a nation. A nation is something bonded by shared values and beliefs. Is my country just a country, or is it a nation? These days, to me, it’s just a country.

Do you really believe that your country is great? How do you prove that your country is great? You have to be great too. People have to believe in themselves. Not just role models and icons. You have to believe in your own greatness. Never underestimate your excellence, and strive to achieve it. Do it as an individual; then let it spread to your social circles. Make the desire for greatness contagious.

Maybe we need to overtly demonstrate belief in the already established greatness of some of our countrymen, and the potential of ourselves and others. This isn’t about becoming the greatest nation on Earth; it’s about becoming a nation that consciously strives for greatness. Even if we don’t fully achieve it, hopefully it will land us several notches above mediocrity. Let’s just say we are great for the sake of motivating ourselves to do the work to become better. If we switch the dialogue to what we can achieve, maybe the tides will change, and we will have more to celebrate, than criticise. What do you think?

 

Image credit: bleacherreport.com

Karel Mc Intosh

Karel Mc Intosh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Outlish Magazine. She's also the Lead Communications Trainer at Livewired Group, where she conducts workshops in business writing, social media, and other communications areas. A real online junkie, when she isn't surfing the Internet, she's thinking about surfing the Internet. Find out more about her here or tweet her @outlishmagazine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=755860622 Anil Ramnanan

    It makes sense as long as we don’t get lost in a greatness that we don’t have. Reminds me of this
    http://youtu.be/Zabb3fxGTPk

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=189765564059 OUTLISH Magazine

    Yeah Anil Ramnanan. I watched that while doing some reading for the piece. Yeah the idea isn’t to get caught up, but focus on getting to the place of greatness. Dunno if it will work – but it was an idea I wanted to explore – Karel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732200881 Tessa Best

    Americans’ beleif in their greatness as described in your article is a part of what in the USA is referred to as the myth of American exceltionalism and while that myth has served to promote not only confidence but also hard work and a few other prerequisites that has helped America to be as successful as it has been, it remains a myth.
    The world has changed dramatically in the last 30 years and so has America and as Junto Diaz (American writer) has said “there is a great gap between the way the country presents itself and imagines itself and projects itself – and the reality of this country”.

    The truth is there is no magic bullet for exceptionalism and if we are truthful we have produced a continous stream of many exceptional moments and citizens in Trinidad and Tobago and we continue to do so. We are a great country but like every country we can be much greater than we are. In Trinidad, like in most countries that have suffered colonial oppression there is a crisis of confidence, and a situation where we simply have not been trained value, appreciate and protect the valuable resources that we have and leverage them to produce great things for our people.

    To this day our resources are devalued in public while they are stolen or squandered (imagine 2 out of every 3 dollars of tax payers money is stolen or squandered) while our people suffer. This happens in America too but American citizens are more likely to organise and put and end to it and fight for the rights of the least of their brothers than mash them down to get ahead. It takes a much longer time for Trinis to get things like that done, maybe we have less experience doing it….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=189765564059 OUTLISH Magazine

    Hi Tessa Best. Yes, I mentioned the exceptionalism. I agree with what you said, but maybe it’s time for us to just try to do, rather than say we don’t have the experience? – Karel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732200881 Tessa Best

    There is a rising consciousness the latest were section 34 and kublalsingh. But there is more to be done and many have absconded their duties so we have moved slower that we could. I remember an interview with Earl Lovelace where he was asked:- Mr Lovelace I seem to detect that you feel we are placing too much emphasis on government and its role in our development as a people?

    Yeah. I feel that we have placed too much emphasis on what we call government, you know, and where are we in this whole story? We talk about ourselves as though we are a long-standing country. This is a very young country; 50 years old. We have been in enslavement three times as long as we have been independent so it is really a very young country with a lot of people who are new to power. People, who have never really had power, people who have had power and paraded power and felt themselves entitled to power. So there are many factors here and we have, in a kind of way, to be patient with each other.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732200881 Tessa Best

    Also one has to remember that this myth of American Exceptionalism is something that Barack Obama is trying to retell so that its is relevant to the new America. It has been suggested that in America “a new country emerging that’s been in the making for a long time”. It is an America that the old white majority who invented the old version of American exceptionalism does not recognise and it is the America that holds the majority vote. Consider this interview and it may add some dimensions to your exploration http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-rewriting-the-story-of-america/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732200881 Tessa Best

    So my point is that Trinidad has to adopt its own narrative. What worked for America in the past is no longer relevant to today’s America or to the new world that we have fashioned in the last 30 years. In fact the new America is re writing that myth and it may yet be cast aside. We need to go back to processes like what we began in Vision 20/20. We need to stop looking back at mistakes made by many in the past and focus on making correct decisions now as a country and as citizens. Therefore we should not let go of Section 34 and anyother wrong thing that is going on now. In addition to that we need vision and planning for the next 5-20 years. We dont have that.

  • patricia

    Beautiful words!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1020196909 Charmaine Mcintosh

    Yes!

  • Astrid Oxford

    I absolutely loved this post and it goes without saying that The USA have a formula for success that begins with instilling greatness in the minds of their citizens and in Trinidad and Tobago we know we are great people but it isn’t something that our leaders continuously preach to us. I wonder why not?