McAvoy presents us with an assertion that the US is not the greatest country in the world, but how is greatness measured? If greatness is measured in GDP, then we are the greatest country in the world by a significant margin (although we rank 6th when we divide that number by our population) We are unmatched in sheer military potential as well, which was achieved through the military spending he mentioned, and those two facts are the primary reasons why people are correct when they refer to the US as “the world’s only superpower.”
Do not mistake these words as indicative of any jingoistic sentiments on my part; I type them with the words of Winston Churchill in mind: “Good and great are seldom the same man.” In my mind, the qualities of “good” and “great” are very separate, occasionally to the point of being antithetical, and this monologue seems conflate the two. I went searching for a point in time where the US as a whole (granted, the only entity I can actually observe as acting on the part of the US as a whole is the US Government, and it is flawed to claim that any government perfectly represents its citizens) acted in a moral way for moral reasons, and came up empty. the US used to pass laws for moral reasons, then why was legislation protecting workers’ right arise only after the assassination of a pro-management president who was bankrolled by big business? One could say that that is too early in US history, and point to the Government attempts to mitigate the Great Depression by providing jobs via construction projects and other programs, but those were not moral. Rather, they were a reaction to the anger over waning government involvement in the economy following the Great War, and the same government was willing to force Japanese-Americans into internment camps on mere suspicion. Looking past this to the Cold War, we see the flagrant oppression of communists and socialists, violating numerous constitutional and human rights in the name of “defending liberty”. This picture only gets uglier when we look at our wars. If we went to war for moral reasons, why did we wait until 1917 to become involved with WWI or until 1941 to join WWII? Moving on from the fact that four of the most horrific air raids in history (Dresden, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima) were perpetrated by the US against Germany and Japan to our various actions during the Cold War, which usually involved supplying right-wing extremists with materiel to retard or reverse the spread of communism or, in one case in particular, selling materiel to right-wing extremists in order to finance the aforementioned supplying of other extremists.
I suppose the point of dredging up all that was to say that the US has never acted with purely good intentions. I do not mean to convey that the darker parts of our history discount all the good that the US and its citizens have done for the world. After all, it was an American who created the polio vaccine; it was an American who first set foot on the moon, and it was an American-funded project which brought about the internet. We are not, have never been, nor should aspire to be the proverbial “city on a hill”; we need to accept that we are human, and as such our mistakes must be remembered alongside our triumphs. In this respect, we are no worse or better than we ever were.