Who the hell do we think we are?
Travelers frequently make bad patriots, I think, at least in the ideological sense of loving your own country above all others. Because the message of travel is always that, at some level we're all the same. Every culture is full of both beauty and horror.
And it's true, as I sit here, loving Mexico with Angel in a cool cafe in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood in Mexico City, reading about American politics, one of my recurring thoughts is, who the hell do Americans think they are?
It's a thought that has come up for me backpacking in Australia, living in New Zealand, running in Spain, and hiking in Chile.
Do we think we're the best when a host of other countries have objectively happier, healthier populations?
Do we think we're immune to failure when stronger countries have fallen in the past?
Do we think we possess moral authority when we've spent decades undermining democracies across the globe?
Do we think we're committed to equality when we institutionalize racism and hand power over to the bankers and the wealthy?
Who the hell do we think we are and where do we get off calling ourselves great?
An inspiring way to end this would be to point out American positives despite all of the negatives, but traveling, sometimes I think maybe it's better not to: to reject American exceptionalism and dwell on the negatives a bit so we can put America in a global and historical perspective.
America is not greater than empires that have fallen in the past, and it is not "the greatest country in the world" by any objective measure. It is a deeply flawed empire that has done some things well and failed dramatically at times, morally, intellectually, and spiritually.
Which is exactly why Americans need to put in the work. The message of travel, and of history, is that we are vulnerable, and we can do better.