Number One? Who We Trying to Kid?

Downtown Elsewhere

It happens regularly about this time of the year. I wean myself from politics, ignore the talking heads, plug my ears to nostrums, and take a road trip. For several weeks I avoid TV, cancel the newspapers, and ban my index finger from tapping my AP Mobile app. I just try to observe what I see without filtering it through any third party.

As it often does, this year’s summer vacation tour detoured me through parts of Elsewhere USA. It’s an alien land to me because I live in Bubbleville. Mine is a place where democratic socialists do rhetorical battle with liberals, though both agree that Republicans are troglodytes. Not many people in Bubbleville care about a person’s race, sexuality, gender identification, immigration status, or religion. We tend to think reproductive rights are sacred, that gun ownership isn’t, and that healthcare should be free for all. Elsewhere USA generally believes the opposite. Another way of saying this is that Bubbleville USA is more like Canada than like Elsewhere USA.

For years I’ve simply shrugged when those from Elsewhere tell me that the residents of Bubbleville are unrealistic. No more. It’s time for Elsewhere to face the truth: you can don your MAGA hat, strap your gun to the truck rack, and wave as many flags as you want but you still reside in what a White House placeholder calls a “shithole country.”  

Eating Moss?
If that sounds harsh, open your eyes before you shoot off your mouth. Where is the vaunted American wealth? Oh it’s there all right­, in greenswards and McMansions screened from the sight of trailer parks, crumbling roads, Dollar General stores, fast food joints, gutted out downtowns, rust, desperation, and dilapidation. Visit some famous site and park among the BMWs, Volvos, and Teslas. Enjoy the view because once you leave you won’t see those vehicles in any Elsewhere towns within a 40-mile radius of that site. It’s back to screened-in security for those with means and it’s a dinner of magical thinking for Elsewhere USA. Raise the roof and chant “USA Number One!” even though you couldn’t come up with the scratch to repair that roof. Keep on chanting though there is little objective evidence to justify the wear and tear on your tonsils.

Elsewhere USA is a place where 40% of the population couldn’t scrape together $400 to cover an emergency. Even if you can, so what? Buying piles of plastic crap made in China doesn’t make you Number One. A gas-guzzler in the driveway, a 60-inch TV in the den, an iPhone in your hand, and tossing $10 in the church collection plate won’t make you Number One either. Look around. There just aren’t that many nice Elsewheres. Maybe that’s why so many flag wavers take solace in believing America is the strongest nation in the world. That might not be true either–America hasn’t actually won a war since 1945–but the ability to defeat someone militarily doesn’t make you Number One.  It just makes you the national equivalent of the 4th grade playground bully with big muscles and a pea-sized brain. Queue John Prine singing, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore.” 

Even if you have some money you still must consider the question posed by the Apostle Peter: “How then shall we live?” I don’t wish to romanticize Canada, from whence I write these words. There are plenty of problems here, but it is also consistently greener, cleaner, safer, and more prosperous than Elsewhere USA. In Canada, poverty resides in screened-in vest pockets and the average Joe and Jacques live better–even when they don’t own as much stuff. I’ve seen seedy looking places north of the border, but they stick out because they are unique, not the norm. Above all, there is an ineffable quality I note each time I’m here. How to describe it? Less anger? Greater civic pride? More self-respect? Maybe it’s as simple as paying more attention to living a good life than to shouting empty slogans.
Bubbleville Values

We try to live well in Bubbleville as well. It doesn’t always work. Our roads aren’t as good as they should be, we have too many homeless folks and empty storefronts, and there are still too many Bubbleheads in Bubbleville that don’t read enough, worry too much about material things, and are too individualistic. Overall, though, we get out more and are good at putting things into a global perspective. Seldom do I walk around Bubbleville and environs and think, “Just shoot me” when I imagine living there. It’s flat out better in Bubbleville than Elsewhere. We don’t need slogans to tell us that. The evidence is before our eyes.

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