To this day, this is my favorite monologue/speech/rant to ever come out of television. It is from the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which is also one of my favorite TV series ever because of how real the writing makes it. Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy delivers this spiel during a panel discussion at Northwestern University, and nothing on earth will make you associate him with Harry from Dumb and Dumber ever again.
I love this speech because, no matter real or fictional, it is something that almost no one has the courage to do these days: tell the truth. And as much as I love America and the life I led there, there is no denying the serious problems it is and has been facing for years, no matter who the President is and how much we love him.
The same can be said for practically every country in the world. Naturally, refusing to admit we have a problem is much easier than locking our knees and taking the problem head on, but it will catch up with us. It already has.
Will: It’s not the greatest country in the world, Professor. That’s my answer.
Moderator: You’re saying —
Moderator: Let’s talk about —
Will: Fine. [to the liberal panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [gesturing to the conservative panelist] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so goddamned always?
And [to the conservative panelist] with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. So, 270 states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.
And yeah, you — sorority girl — just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. 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. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!
We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, 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 built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one: America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.