Kind of continuing the riff off of today’s rally, I’d like to point out that Brazil just elected its first woman President, Dilma Rousseff, from Lula’s PT, Partido Trabalhador (Worker’s Party). I haven’t read all the details (her wikipedia page is pretty extensive), but she looks to be an interesting character. The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant (we like to think of America as a pretty exceptional melting pot, but Brazil is probably just as much so), a former socialist and literally an imprisoned freedom fighter against the military dictatorship that prevailed back in the day, she worked also as the Minister of Mines and Energy and Chief of Staff under Lula.
At the rally today, we heard a lot about China overtaking us in education, energy sovereignty, a number of other benchmarks of progress. I know that using other countries as a standard by which we gauge our own scientific and military prowess, human decency, and other metrics is a time-honored nationalistic tradition, but I’ve always felt weird about the twin characterizations of ourselves as benevolent stewards of Democracy who also happen to be (or need to be) better than everyone else by a weird fluke. But that’s getting a bit off-topic.
The point really is that we are not the only advanced country that breaks these kinds of barriers, historic and deeply powerful though Barack Obama’s election certainly was. We have a leg up in a number of metrics, but we really need to just not kid ourselves about how we’re doing (and about the progress of others) if we want to hope to make things better. Thankfully, we have partners out there who are pushing the envelope in decency, women’s equality, energy, scientific progress, the whole thang. The bar for excellence is being set regularly higher, and we find ourselves at a point where low-achievement and dysfunction are the new normal.
[As a brief side-note, I would say that overcoming self-delusion would also do some significant American political parties some significant good. Which am I talking about? Who can say? I don't know, take your pick]
Look, I love my country. I love it more than I ever would have contemplated as a young anarchist, so sure that this country effin’ sucked and was a hater towards everyone else in the world. I love it for all its eccentricity, pride, hypocrisy, occasional brilliance, vision, and yes, even being the site of what I would acknowledge as some of the premier horrors of human history. But exceptionalism cannot hide the fact that there are things we love about ourselves that are either not true, or are even truer of other people whom we deride and refuse to acknowledge. That’s a thing I don’t love about my country. Exceptionalism also can’t hide, however though it tries, that other countries are beginning to embody those qualities we cherish in ourselves. That can be taken as a compliment, a suggestive nudge in the right direction. Take it how you will, really.
So thank you, Brazil. The bar has again been sent, may the recalibration of our sense of selves begin, and let’s work to set the bar even higher.