National Self Esteem

There is no shortage of blog posts and online commentary about the US elections right now.? Despite being dedicated to under reported news, today I’m going to add just a little more to this excessively covered, global concern.

There is this long tradition in the United States that during presidential elections, candidates constantly play the patriotic card and use variations of these slogans:

The US has the greatest workforce in the world.

The US is the greatest force for good in the world.

The US is the greatest country in the world.

Yet anyone who studies history or labor statistics will find plenty of evidence contrary to these statements. Actually you don’t even have to study anything, regardless of country, when you read those statements you should recognize they aren’t true.? Yet election after election, the two mainstream ruling parties say these three over and over.

Watching speeches and debates between Obama and McCain or Biden and Palin, all of them make sure to spew these empty lines as if they’re trying to appease some segment of the audience that despite all logic and facts to the contrary, want to believe this is true.

Thankfully there are countries in the world were candidates don’t do this. Smaller countries, older countries that have weathered mass destruction and extreme poverty, they don’t bother repeating mantras about being the best and the greatest in the world.? Even the Finnish national anthem is about being one nation among many great nations of the world.

I wonder if I will live to see a major candidate in the US that finally stops pandering to jingoism and a mass superiority complex.? Besides being inaccurate, these types of statements help validate and continue destructive and failed policies and practices. I also hope this tradition doesn’t spread further in the world. Of course nationalism is not simply an American phenomenon and it isn’t going to disappear. But this rhetoric of we are the best, we are always right, everything we do is good; if a country is ever going to get better and a candidate make a real change, this practice will have to end.


  1. October 8, 2008

    I always find the proselytising ‘GO USA!’ weird and slightly hollow, as if they are trying to convince themselves, as well as others.

    Other countries tend to be rather more muted and proud of their achievements but less publicly so, it’s seen as being rather vulgar, especially here in the UK. That’s not to say someone saying ‘The UK is crap’ wouldn’t get stick though, unless they had a point…and like US there are reasons to think that also.

    e.g. Great Britain – what’s so great about it? Etc. But we have a history of putting ourselves down, which is not exactly psychologically very good 😉 it does mean extreme nationalists get short shrift here.

  2. jc.
    October 8, 2008

    The mentioned phrases are much like the money shot in porno, strangely stupid and unnatural but seemingly demanded by the audience.
    I do, however find any contention that the rest of the world is less nationalistic than the united states to be laughingly foolish. In Sweden, for instance, the swedes like to claim an unfamliarity with “nationalism” (“Those americans are so strange!”) often citing a similiar whitewash of reality much like the descripition of british “putting ourselves down”. The reality is of course much different. As a landscaper I am truly amazed at the amount of homes, summer cottages and even gardening allotments that sport actual flagpoles. Not flags on a stick but actual flagpoles many meters high!
    National myths require much self unawareness.

  3. October 8, 2008

    Yeah I agree – this was most apparent with Canada – a nation which quite rightly has a chip on it’s shoulder about it’s neighbour’s patriotism, but if you go there it’s flags on EVERYTHING, including normal members of the public with smallish homes and MASSIVE flagpoles in their garden, and in fact you can’t trade in Canada with having to put a frigging maple leaf on anything (due to consumer demand) – even McDonalds had to to prove it was ‘Canadian’.

    I found it totally spooky, tbh.

    Contrast this with the UK – unless it’s during a sporting event or special event (like England in the World cup, when you get English flags everywhere, and jubilees and probably during 2012), people would give you funny looks if you festooned your home with Union Jacks – having a flagpole with the UK flag on a small house is a rare sight.

  4. DRock
    October 8, 2008

    There are countries out there that do not get all pumped up about how awesome they are…that’s because they suck! U-S-A U-S-A. Yeah it’s freaking obnoxious but those that often beat their chests and talk about how their country is the greatest (whichever it might be) usually have never been to another one. Lewis Black had a skit about this “How do you know the USA is the greatest if you’ve never been to another country? They might be giving away free shit over there.”

    Two unfinished wars, a nation in debt, financial crisis, soaring energy prices, a broken healthcare system, tens of thousands of physically and mentally wounded vets returning from foreign wars, and the images of the dead bodies laying in the sun for days outside of the New Orleans dome still burnt into our collective memories. Those chants of U-S-A ring hollow as never before and while it’s part of the political script for a presidential election most people in the US know something…a lot of things are not alright.

    • bicyclemark
      October 8, 2008

      I did think it was cool, even though you don’t hear about it anymore, when Obama didn’t wear the stupid flag pin. I thought it was a sign that starting with him more and more politicians would stop going through the motions with the symbols and the empty phrases of greatness. Does he still not wear it? at the very least, I hope so.

  5. October 8, 2008

    The “U-S-A NUMBER ONE” does seem to point to a deeper set of issues, it seems to smack of an insecurity, something that requires the repeating of these mantra’s to prove something. I dont know what it is, but it might be the fact that such a large country with so many people with different ideas and belifs would fall apart without this contiunal drilling of that mantra. Americans seem to always refer to themselves as …….-American, the ……. being another nation or culture.
    Just my two cent.

  6. keith
    October 8, 2008

    these debates seems to be a circus of bullshit. if they can’t promise me an hour longer recess, no homework, and no gym class, i just don’t care…

    • bicyclemark
      October 8, 2008

      “Abortions for some, tiny plastic flags for others”

  7. October 8, 2008

    I’m also finding this repetition quite irrational on the level of political powers taht are suppose to be convincing their nation of truths…

    oh wait, I’m talking about politics aren’t I’m… sorry I’m an idiot. Ya, all those lines of repetition make total sense.

    Sheesh… almost confused myself there.

    • bicyclemark
      October 8, 2008

      hey nuno — you remember in Portugal during the Euro Cup– all of a sudden there were Portuguese flags in every window. I’d never seen that in my life.. it was odd feeling. And of course afterwards.. i think because of the olympics, they stayed up and to this day in Lisbon, lots of houses in the Bica (since they never clean up) STILL fly Portuguese flags off the balcony.

  8. October 8, 2008

    @bicyclemark – leave it to european football to bring out the patriot in the Portuguese :)!

  9. October 9, 2008

    It’s part of American culture to be macho, especially concerning nationalistic pride. It must look cocky and overbearing to other countries, but I kind of like it.

  10. steven
    October 9, 2008

    If the American workforce is the greatest in the world, then why have real wages for average workers been stagnant since 2000? Similarly, the productivity versus wages ratio is at historically high levels. If these candidates believe this notion of a superior US workforce, they should address the lack of compensation workers get for their efforts.

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