Small Wonders: Hopeful, defeated at the same time

I'm tired. So very tired.

You could say I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. But I won't be beckoning you to your windows to curse the world. I don’t know what good that would do anyway.

Some months ago, I told myself I was going to avoid writing politically charged columns because I’m the “feel-good” columnist and have a pathological need to be liked. A recent personality profile said my communication style was “considerate.”

That may or may not be true. I don’t care, just so long as we all get along.

But then I watched the first episode of HBO's “The Newsroom.”

In the opening scene, cranky, disillusioned, centrist nightly news anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, verbally tees off on a question posed by a sophomore coed at a college forum.

Her question: “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”

His frustrated, reluctant answer: “It's not.”

The sermon that follows is epic, honest, glib, inspiring and made perfectly for TV by a master of the genre, Aaron Sorkin. If you haven't seen it, a link to the full clip is on my website (below).

“We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math,” McAvoy rants. “Twenty-second in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality.... We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

It’s a ludicrous question, posed by an American to Americans, serving only to incite chest-thumping jingoism with no basis in reality. It assumes we all already agree that America is the greatest.

“We sure used to be,” he finally adds. “We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.... We reached for the stars.... We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't scare so easy.”

At the risk of being branded unpatriotic, I find myself, philosophically at least, in the company of fictitious characters Will McAvoy and Howard Beale. But I'm not really mad. I'm something past mad.

I'm tired.

Tired of left versus right, red versus blue.

Tired of labels tattooed to our foreheads so strangers can know “exactly where you stand” on very complex, unsolvable issues. Tired of being told what to think.

I'm tired of having winless arguments on Facebook about healthcare, same-sex marriage, birth certificates, tax cuts for billionaires and the economic dependence of the poor while ignoring the vast majority in between.

I'm tired of debating who the real job creators are (clue: look in the mirror); tired of people taking advantage of a system meant for good. “Welfare” wasn’t always a bad word.

Tired of elected representatives forgetting who they represent, instead embracing personal wealth and parroting party ideology over morality.

I’m tired of a culture that craves disparity and conflict over unity and commonality, that seeks to tear each other down rather than lift each other up; tired of the never-ending reinterpretation of “facts” to suit our belief and refusal to consider anyone else's “facts.”

Tired of people not agreeing with my obviously well-studied, superior opinion because of their own well-studied and superior opinion.

I'm tired of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Justin Bieber being breaking news.

Does our civilization have any higher goals than staring at the high-definition flickering light mounted on our walls, atop our desks or permanently embedded in our hands, consuming the well-marketed opinions of our favorite pundits, then vomiting them out as our own in hopes of changing some else’s mind and never succeeding?

And yet, here I am, doing little to solve the problem — hopeful and defeated at the same time.

Is America the greatest nation in the world? Of course it is, says the contented American columnist sitting safely within his glass house.

Or, maybe it isn’t, says the tired realist with plenty of facts to back that up.

But it can be.

PATRICK CANEDAY writes. Contact him at

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