No, America is not “the best country in the world”.

Someone shared this video with me. It’s one of the most naive and shallow–and also insidious–takes on American politics/history I have seen in a while. And all the more disappointing that it’s of a young woman.

Below is my response.

I’m going to warn you, I found it very hard to watch the full video, even though it was less than five minutes long (apparently clipped).

As the Jeff Daniels character says in the now famous scene from the show The Newsroom, there’s no evidence for the proposition that America is the “best” country or freest country in the world or anything like that. Certainly, that may be true for a privileged elite, of which the young woman attending Harvard is probably one. But for most of the history of this country and even now (increasingly now, actually), and for large swaths of people who are not male, White, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and wealthy, “freedom” would need to be put in quotes and heavily qualified. 

I will agree that some of us are among the most privileged people on the planet—but that privilege has been bought at the expense poor people in this country and other peoples in other countries, mostly in the global south, who have been exploited systematically for generations by the corporate capitalist class. That exploitation has only worsened with the bipartisan support of globalization in the last 30 years. To put it succinctly, many of “brutal realities”, referenced by the young woman in the video, of people living elsewhere have actually been created by this country.

I am continuously amazed by the low tolerance of some people (like this young woman) for hearing about the realities of life for non-privileged people, both in and out of this country. We have just begun to scratch the surface of our real history as an American public, and people (mostly White people) are losing their shit. The whole CRT “debate” is exemplary of this bullshit—and your state of Florida is ground zero for it. The 1619 project was created to talk about the legacy of slavery in this country, and the response of people like this young woman is the propagandism of 1776 project and videos like this.

It is not “reducing America to its worst moments” to acknowledge that those “moments” were not at all momentary, but systemic and lasted generations, and that some of us have benefited greatly from the suffering of others of us. What she dismissively calls “woke” culture is just privileged people like me coming to realize that we have privilege and that privilege came at the cost of other people. That is, in my mind, a form of good citizenship. 

I would really encourage you read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which the young woman refers to derisively. You love history, and the books is about much of the history that we were not taught in school, but should have been. If you’d like, we can read it together and talk about it chapter by chapter over a period of months.

The young woman in the video wants to applaud how we have “learned to treat racial, ethnic, and religious minorities with respect”, but Black men continue to be murdered by police on a regular basis (the videos are all over TikTok, the platform on which this video is shared), Muslims were persecuted after 9-11, and our last President emboldened the alt-right and neo-Nazis with his rhetoric (and the complicity of the entire Republican Party). Not to mention the fact that the Civil Rights movement–which we White people love to applaud today, even though most White people, even in the north, were opposed to it then–is only about a half century old. I’m sure that seems like a long time for the 20 year-old woman in the video, but there are people who are alive today who lived under Jim Crow. And even the protections from the Civil Rights era have been rolled back in recent years. Ironically, the exact same arguments which the young woman in the video makes–about how people need to be proud of their country (rah!rah!rah!)–were used by many Whites against the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago!

Also, I’m not sure when this speech was given, but it looks like it was relatively recently. In light of that, it’s amazing to me that this woman could not imagine why Americans might not be so proud among an international audience. Under Bush we had flouted international consensus and support in the UN and invaded Iraq under a pretense of finding weapons of mass destruction (all to promote a military-industrial complex and a lust for oil). The largest protest in the history of the world was the protest against the Iraq invasion. Under Obama, a Democrat, the U.S. government increased both the systemic surveillance of our own citizens and drone strikes abroad, which killed innocent civilians and radicalized untold numbers of Muslims. And then came the parade of “deplorables”: Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, Donald Trump, and the Freedom Caucus. Trump was a national embarrassment, not just for the four years of his presidency, but for the year-long campaign before and for the last two years after, during which he has refused to go gently into the night.

All these politicians are a symptom, not the cause, of a deeper problem, a gravitation toward authoritarianism and a tolerance of fascism in the American public at large. That drift is happening because the “American Dream”, which had only ever been available to a mostly White and mostly male subsection of the American public, is now increasingly unattainable even to them. The young woman’s claim that people are not constrained by “class” is both absurd and insulting. I’m sure it must seem like that as a Harvard grad, but it’s laughable, even from where I sit in my very privileged position. As wealth continues to accumulate at the upper 1% of the social pyramid, more and more people at the bottom are looking for someone to blame.  And too often they blame, not the billionaires and their political lackeys who are really responsible, but vulnerable people and minorities: Black and Latino people, immigrants, transgender people.

The young woman in the video talks about the privilege of being able to criticize our country, while at the same time criticizing people for criticizing this country! What’s more, it’s easy for someone who has never been in the streets protesting to make bold claims about free speech. The reality is that legislatures have been passing laws for years now to criminalize protest (even nonviolent protest) as threats to commerce and national security. And the police have been funded with military style weapons and equipment and emboldened by a pro-police culture which treats bullies as heroes just for wearing a blue uniform. A soccer mom that I go to church with was maced by police in Hammond for trying to film them during a nonviolent protest. (For more on my personal experience with the police and protesting, see my essay “The Police Aren’t Here for You”.) Even the most innocuous forms of protesting have become potentially dangerous, even to privileged people like me. What the young woman in the video fails to appreciate is that the people who sacrificed to secure her rights in the past, who she valorizes, are the same kinds of people who are in the streets now getting teargassed and bashed with police batons. Yet, she wants to silence those people for being too critical of the government!!

And contrary to what the young woman claims, her people are not being “silent” at all. They are loud and they are trying to drown out those who disagree with them in any way they can. The behavior of the Republican Caucus at the most recent State of the Union speech is really the relatively polite end of a very ugly phenomenon.

Finally, you may not realize it, but there’s a lot buried in the subtext of her comments. It’s coded language which well-educated racist and transphobic people like to use in polite company so as to maintain plausible deniability. There is violence laid between almost every line of her speech. The birth certificate reference hides transphobia. The “woke” comment conceals racism. And the “somber reckoning” comment at the end is a threat. It’s a threat that many minorities are familiar with. It says, “Remember your place. Don’t push the limits of our generosity. Or we will put you back where you belong.”

Videos like this are the feel-good side of an authoritarian movement which is literally trying to take over our government. Samuel Johnson said in 1774, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” It’s also the first refuge of the fascist.

Note: It didn’t take much digging to find out that the young woman in the video is Julie Hartman, who is not just some student, but is part of the new generation of conservative new media talk show hosts (younger versions of Rush Limbaugh). She’s associated with the absurd Prager “University” and authored a piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Harvard Students Are COVID Sheep”. So there’s that.

I also found the full video, which includes attacks on Black Lives Matter and others.

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post,, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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