Can America Let Go Of Being Number One?

We’re number one! And no, not just in mass shootings and military
spending. Also, weapons dealing… We know from fact-based, stat-heavy, well-researched,
peer-reviewed studies America isn’t actually number one in the world, or the best. Unless “best” here is in reference to
Melania’s anti-bullying slogan, “Be Best,” in which case, it kind of works. And yet we cling to the idea that we’re
the best, that everything we do in the world is for the good of it, and that we’re the
world’s role model. It’s often referred to as “American exceptionalism.” I’m Francesca Fiorentini, and today we’re
looking at this national myth of being the best, whether it’s time to let go of it,
and what it would mean if we ever did. To break it down, let’s look at what American
exceptionalism is, where it comes from, how we’ve actually been losing power and influence
around the world, and how our leaders have dealt with that reality. First, what is American exceptionalism? You might not be familiar with the term, but
you’re definitely familiar with its noises. America is the greatest country in the world. We know this is the greatest country on Earth. We’re the greatest country ever, and it’s
a fact. This is America, the greatest country on planet
Earth. The greatest country in the history of man
… and woman. What an adorable afterthought. Hey thanks, Nikki Haley, for challenging the
patriarchy …but not too much. American exceptionalism is the Regina George
of geopolitical ideology. It’s the “We’re hot, you’re not, deal
with it” belief system that says, “Sure, we’ve got deep-seated emotional problems,
a traumatic childhood, and our friends are only our friends because they’re afraid
of us. It doesn’t matter ’cause everything we touch
is amazing, it’s only cool when we do it, and like, do you even go here?” Just take it from the Regina George of newscasters: Well, the left is never going to understand
American exceptionalism because they don’t believe in American exceptionalism. But I don’t know about you guys, I believe
we live in the greatest nation on the face of the Earth, I believe that we are a beaming
light for the rest of the world, and for those who feel otherwise, there are 195 other countries,
so I suggest they go pick one. Yeah, but I want California. Without you. Or Mel Gibson. Shall we just rock-paper-scissors, or do we
have to fight? Thing is, when Americans say, “We’re number
one,” it doesn’t exactly come from here It comes from here. And not just because we rank super high in
heart disease per capita. It’s mostly just a slogan we repeat and
that the right uses to test our loyalty to the country we live in and attack anyone trying
to make it better. Which is the equivalent of shaming a firefighter
for trying to put out a fire in your own home. “Love it or leave it, a**hole … I love
the smell of toxic smoke in the –” [thud] So where does the idea of American exceptionalism
come from? Some say it has to do with our founding and our Constitution, which guaranteed equality to all. Of course, the country was founded through
the violent takeover of Native American land and enslaving Africans to help build us into
a global economic superpower – LOOK, IT WAS ASPIRATIONAL. But a more recent moment that has deeply shaped
our exceptionalism was when the U.S. entered World War II and helped Allied countries defeat
Nazism. Sure, we showed up late in Europe, kind of
how your period shows up late – a little scary, and then there’s way too much blood,
but ultimately, relief! After the war – and, in part, thanks to
it – America emerged as the world’s main economic superpower. We were helping other countries rebuild, and
in turn, they had to buy our goods. America basically became the world’s pushy
Tupperware lady that no one could say no to. “And if you like that Dip ‘N Serve Tray,
you might also like this F-16!” And when the Soviet Union collapsed, well,
it all went a bit to our heads. You could say we finally won the d*ck-measuring
contest – errr, space race. So there we were, the victors of the world,
with the cash and the glory, and all that helped fuel our illusion of American exceptionalism. And that’s usually where the action movie
ends, because nobody wants to know what happens after Rocky wins. He gains a lot of weight, goes bankrupt and
keeps getting food poisoning from eating raw eggs, which he can’t remember gives him
food poisoning ’cause he also has CTE. There, I said it. Or in America’s case, we expand our military
around the world, kill millions by getting involved in military conflicts from Central
America to Vietnam under the Cold War ideology of stopping communism, embrace free-market
policies that end up ruining our workforce and that of other countries. And — oops, who knew all the foreign intervention
would lead to crazed murderers who want to kill Americans, and they do. And instead of reassessing our response, we
invade two more countries that had nothing to do with it – well, one we invade AGAIN
– and throw trillions of dollars at counterterrorism, only to still be fighting in Afghanistan,
the never-ending war which just turned 18, and that means it’s old enough to fight
itself, OK? And yes, somewhere in all that, Prince released
“Purple Rain,” and for a moment things were good. [happy harp sound] And maybe behind all of our problems is that
pigheaded ideology called American exceptionalism. This word “exceptionalism,” which has
been repeated throughout American history, that we are the exceptional country, that
at this point, I think, makes us a danger to ourselves. American exceptionalism is a bit like the
curse of the monkey’s paw. You know, every time something amazing happens,
it also has horrible consequences. [spooky music]
You’re going to have a new nation with brilliant founders! BUUUT – they’ll own slaves. You’re going to win a great world war! BUUUT – you’ll start dozens of others. You’ll get your first black president! BUUUUT – your next president will be a crumpled
Fritos bag with a turd inside. Our American exceptionalism has made us a
danger to ourselves and others. Case in point: our wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq, moves that truly sealed our fate – not as the leaders in human rights or democracy
around the world, but in being a violent global douchebag. After those wars, the perception of America
in both Europe and the Middle East – which already wasn’t good – fell even further. Also, ’cause when France wouldn’t join
the war, we tried to make “Freedom Fries” a thing, and the world was like: “Stop trying to make Freedom Fries happen,
it’s not going to happen.” In many ways, the Iraq f*ck-up got us a president
who didn’t vote it and campaigned on ending the war. Obama understood how much international trust
was lost in America after eight years of fighting. He knew American exceptionalism was a problem,
even though he said he believed in it. I believe in American exceptionalism with
every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability
to flout international norms and the rule of law. It is our willingness to affirm them through
our actions. God, he’s so diplomatic and presidential, I almost forgot about things like the expanded drone program. Like, it briefly disappeared from memory,
and in that moment, things were good. [happy harp sound] Obama came into the White House with a radical
agenda on foreign policy… by telling the truth about our foreign policy. While the United States has done much to promote
peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we’ve at times been disengaged, and at times we’ve
sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal
partnership. All the Latin American leaders behind him
are like … “Estás bien, hermano? Que chistoso! En serio?” [laughter] But all that diplomacy was referred to by
the right as Obama’s “apology tour.” The world apology tour that Obama conducted. President Obama began his presidency with
an apology tour. President Obama becoming the first sitting
U.S. president to visit Hiroshima since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb there … A lot
of people debating today whether this was an extension of President Obama’s apology
tour. It was considerably worse than a simple apology. It was a stagecrafted act of atonement. What? We’re talking about f*cking Hiroshima! 140,000 people murdered with an American atomic
bomb!! Even Jeffrey Dahmer apologized for his crimes
and he ate people. Think about that. Obama was attempting to help America dip its
toes into the idea that we should no longer be the world’s police, nor are we the only
economic superpower. Other economies, not just in Western Europe,
but also BRIC countries, have grown faster than the U.S. economy, and are on track to outpace us in the next 20 years. And they do natural resource destruction,
foreign election meddling, religious nationalism and gymnastics almost as good as us now! Ugh! We’re in different geopolitical times, thanks
in part to how poorly we managed our power. Now, America doesn’t call the shots, and
that scares many people, especially the powerful on both sides of the aisle. Which brings us to Trump – because the monkey’s
paw always provides. Oooohh, Fritos! [spooky music] Trump was elected on the premise that he was
going to make America exceptional again. And yet his entire presidency is proof that
we aren’t. He’s a strongman TV star who got help from
a foreign government to get where he is. Welcome to the rest of the world, baby! And in some ways he knows we’re not special. Because like Obama, Trump is also honest about
our foreign policy – but this time, witha sociopath’s lack of regret. O’REILLY: He’s a killer. Putin’s a killer. TRUMP: A lot of killers, you got a lot of
killers, what, you think our country is so innocent? We should have taken the oil. You wouldn’t have ISIS if we took the oil. I’d bring back of a hell of a lot worse
than waterboarding. Trump doesn’t see America as a force for
good in the world. And on the one hand, after so much righteous
bombing, that’s almost a bit of a relief. Until you look at how he’s cozied up to
our most unhinged allies and foes: Saudi Arabia, Israel, North Korea, Russia and right-wing
populists like Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, Roseanne Barr. Also, let’s remember that for whatever isolationist
talk Trump’s spewed, he’s expanded drone strikes to five times the rate of Obama – authorizing
75 of them in his first 74 days in office. But on the 75th day, in that moment, things
were good. [happy harp] …No, they weren’t. [sad horn] The problem is, what America does still matters
to the world. And when we leave behind the better parts
of American exceptionalism – the whole wanting to be human rights leaders and promoting democracy
– there are real consequences. For example, when the Trump administration
withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, or said this about the UN’s International
Criminal Court after it floated the idea of holding the U.S. accountable for war crimes
in Afghanistan: The United States will provide no support
in recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has
no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority. That emboldened countries like the Philippines,
whose President Rodrigo Duterte is under investigation for human rights abuses, to up and leave the
International Criminal Court outright. Now, the ICC isn’t perfect, but if we subscribe
to the idea that everyone is a murderer and international law is BS, then we don’t just
have inaction on human rights, we have no framework for it. So there’s nothing to stop, say, Saudi Arabia
from kidnapping and murdering a journalist, or Russia from poisoning two people in a UK
park, and the only thing to stop Trump from declaring war on Iran is if Saudi Prince bin
Salman wakes up with a tummy ache and is just like, not in the mood anymore. And all Trump’s chest-beating is only further
proof that American exceptionalism is gone. For a moment, when a bully talks like that,
people in other countries stand back, but it’s more like the cartoon character that ran off
the cliff, doesn’t realize it, thinks everything’s fine and then whooosh! As sad as that it, it’s almost comforting to know there’s a blueprint for American politics right now, even if that blueprint is “Looney Tunes.” Let me guess: When we finally build the wall,
we’ll just paint a tunnel on it to injure all the migrants? It makes sense. Also, an anvil falling on Trump would be the
perfect way to end this nightmare. [anvil falling sound effect] We’re in free fall when it comes to what
America’s role is in the world. If we’re not the Regina George of it, the
aggressor or the savior, who are we? We need to rethink what are our priorities. We remain with the institutional priorities
of this quasi-imperial state of ours, which overthrows governments, or puts sanctions,
or dictates to others what to do, but it’s not going to work this way. Right, the U.S. can’t be that a**hole that won’t come to the party unless we’re the center of attention. Especially when that attention is insisting on busting out an acoustic guitar and singing “Wonderwall.” “After all… we’ll build that wonderwall— That’s my drink!” Can we be part of a global community in a
responsible way? Collaborate when it comes to things like climate
change and refugee crises? Maybe it’s time to let go of the monkey’s
paw of American exceptionalism and recognize the only thing we’re exceptional at is not
using the bidet, and that is not something to brag about. Thanks so much for watching Newsbroke! Thus concludes our breakneck season 2. Yes, we have reached the end, and we hope
you’ve enjoyed the ride. Thank you so much for watching and sharing. Thank you so much to my producer and editor Kate Elston, comedy writers Matt Lieb and Johan Miranda, our social media producer and
writer Jesse Fernandez, our animator Marisa Cruz, our incredibly talented researcher, photographer and prompter runner, Pablo de la Hoya, and to AJ+ for having us back. Make sure to follow me on Twitter
and Instagram @franifio to see what I’m up to next And who knows, maybe that will involve
a season 3. Before I go, I just want to recognize that
this next year of American politics is going to be heinous and tiresome and stress-inducing. Especially on social media, so even though
I told you to follow me on all those platforms and you should definitely rewatch Newsbroke. Take a break once and awhile. Thanks so much for watching, and we will see
you on the flip-side.