In the opening scene of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series The Newsroom, Jeff Daniels shatters the myth of “the greatest country in the world.” (More)

Videos are usually Lake Toba’s thing. He’s in our Teknowhat Department, so he gets 4G (Giggle-Guffaw-Gasp-Groan) access to the Official BPI YouTubelizater. The staff have only 3G access, so we can’t giggle, guffaw, gasp, and groan all at the same video. That makes me grumpy, which should be the fifth G when The Powers That Be finally invent 5G access. But I digress.

My point is, videos are usually Lake Toba’s thing and he has two wonderful videos for us in this afternoon’s Midday Matinee. I know coz I snuck into the editing room.

But HurrikanEagle is also in our Teknowhat Department so he has that spiffy 4G thingy too. And he found this gem from Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series The Newsroom. Alas, embedding is disabled so you’ll have to click the link to watch it at YouTube. I’ll nibble a macadamia while you watch.

Welcome back.

Yes, YouTube commenters, I know most of the achievements Sorkin lists happened when America was “the greatest country in the world” … for white men. Women and people of color contributed to and benefited from many of those achievements, but white men got the credit and the first and, usually, the largest share of the benefits.

And yes, other YouTube commenters, I know that Sorkin mythologizes a past that never existed. We sometimes “fought for moral reasons,” but we also fought for the basest of reasons: to subjugate Native Americans, to gain territory from Mexico, to impose our corporations’ agendas on Central America. We sometimes “passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons,” but we also passed and struck down laws to enforce Jim Crow and stifle organized labor. Even as we “waged war on poverty,” we also waged war “on poor people.” Many of us “sacrificed, cared about our neighbors, put our money where our mouths were,” but many didn’t. And as for “we never beat our chests,” the notion of America as a “shiny city upon a hill” was first uttered in the early 17th century … 176 years before the Declaration of Independence.

And yes, still other YouTube commenters, I know we still do many of the things Sorkin lists: build big things, make amazing technological advances, explore the universe, cure diseases, and cultivate many of the world’s greatest artists and yes, still, the world’s largest economy.

But Sorkin is a storyteller, a mythmaker, not an historian. Daniels’ speech isn’t about producing evidence to prove the shimmering glory of our past or the decaying grimness of our present. The speech is about two hand-written cue cards held up by a colleague, when Daniels looks into the audience as he struggles to answer the question of “What makes America the greatest country in the world.” Her cue cards read:

IT’S NOT

BUT IT CAN BE

Whatever the quibbles with Sorkin’s history, those two messages are true. Especially the second one. We can be “the greatest country in the world” or – in opening words of our Constitution – form “a perfect Union.”

It won’t be easy. We will never be perfect and, for each generation, our imperfections will loom larger than our strengths. And that’s as it should be, because we can’t fix weaknesses if we refuse to acknowledge them.

So quibble if you will, but Sorkin’s mythology taps into something important, deep in our national character. And that is worth celebrating.

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Photo Credit: HBO

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Good day and good nuts