America Falling Down: We’re Not the Good Guys Anymore

Everyone wants to believe they’re the good guy. Do you remember the film “Falling Down” directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Michael Douglas? Douglas plays William Foster, a divorced father and unemployed defense engineer. It is easy to identify Foster as the victim; he is stuck in traffic on a hot day (something we can all relate to), he has lost his job, and he wants to get to his daughter’s birthday party, a place and event at which he is not wanted by his ex-wife. She even has a restraining order to keep him away from her and their daughter.

We can identify with Foster. We feel badly for him. That man’s life has gone into the crapper and there seems to be no way out. It’s a hot day, his car’s air-conditioner has failed, a fly is buzzing around and he suddenly just can’t take it anymore. He gets out of his car and to the protests of his fellow motorists, who will see their own days ruined by his thoughtless action, he sets off on foot, alone, across the city, to get to his daughter’s birthday party.

Mr. Foster has had a mental collapse. He thinks he is the good guy in the piece, the victim, beset on all sides. This is his mindset as he embarks on a violent rampage across the city. The true moment of enlightenment comes at the end, when confronted by the authorities Foster says, “I’m the bad guy? How’d that happen? I did everything they told me to.”

The LAPD sergeant who has been chasing him confronts him at the end, and he acknowledges Foster’s complaint that he has been treated poorly by society but he tells him that this is no excuse for his violent rampage.

I see here a microcosm for America. I mean, this is what happened to America too, isn’t it? We suffered a mental collapse, the same thing that happened to William Foster. The attack in 2001 was just too much; it was the fly in the overheated car. People felt sorry for America just as they had felt sorry for William Foster. But like Foster, America didn’t prove worthy of the sympathy. It was wasted.  What Foster did was wrong; what America did was wrong.

I'm just standing up for my rights

We got out, walked across the world and went on a violent rampage. But at the end of it, there was no on to confront us with what we had done. Who would dare? We’re the world’s last remaining superpower. Rather than being forced to come to grips, as Foster did, with the reality of our deeds, and realize that we are the bad guy in the piece, we cling to the illusion that we are the good guy, that we are just standing up for our rights.

But we’re not the good guy in this piece. We surrendered our white hat at the door when we invaded a country that had done us no harm, using the same trumped up excuses that didn’t work for Hitler in ’39. Ten years later we’re still struggling with the weight of our deeds. We’ve never really admitted we were wrong. Bush is disappointed that there were no WMDs, he says, but that’s not an apology. Far from it. He still says he was right to invade Iraq. He was spreading Democracy he says. It’s good for them. Good for the whole region.

Well George W. Bush, William Foster had the same attitude towards the people he confronted on his personal rampage. He thought he was the good guy too, and until confronted at the end he retained this delusion. He was defending his rights as a consumer, he says at one point. He is always the victim, never the perpetrator. Always the guy betrayed, the strong man alone, standing up for his rights as he wades through a sea of betrayal on every side.

Everyone wants to be the good guy. Nobody thinks they are the bad guy. But sometimes you end up being wrong. Not everybody can be the good guy, after all. Sometimes it turns out you’re the bad guy. You may go to your grave thinking you were right, but the court of world opinion will usually have something to say about that, as will posterity and future historians.

Mea culpa – that’s Latin for “my bad” – we can’t even get a mea culpa out of Bush. Of course, even admitting America has made mistakes is conservative treason. They won’t stand for it. No room for sissies in new and improved American Exceptionalism 2010. Because President Obama is not continuing on Bush’s reckless rampage across the earth’s surface he is seen as apologizing for America’s actions and we can’t have that. Other countries apologize, but not us. We’re the good guys. We have nothing to apologize for.

We have this image of ourselves as the plucky little nation we haven’t been for over half a century, beset by powerful enemies, standing up for mom, apple pie and the flag. But even then that image wasn’t an accurate one. American imperialism has been with us nearly since our nation’s founding despite all the wishes to the contrary. In reality, we have been the bully of the piece, throwing our weight around, ignoring the rights of others.

Oh sure we’ve done some good. We intervened to stop the slaughter in 1917; we fought another imperialist power that meant us harm in ’41 and joined in a just war against Hitler four days later (not that we had a choice – he declared war on us) but there are plenty of sins to balance the good. We can’t claim the right to wear white hats, no more than anybody else can. The world is too nuanced for white and black hats, and so thinking in black and white terms is a little absurd, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we laugh at a country that tries to wear a white hat? Or should we cry?

Did we learn nothing from two world wars in the same century, from Korea, from Vietnam, and now from Iraq and Afghanistan? It’s all well and fine to want to be the good guy. As I said, everyone wants to be the good guy. But to be the good guy, don’t you have to actually BE the good guy? Just saying it, just believing it, isn’t going to make it so, and neither will re-writing the history books, which seems to be the Republican solution to America’s sins. Just write them away.

But like any alcoholic wanting to go sober, we have to confront our problem; we have to admit we have a problem, and come to grips with it. People caution about constitutional crises and domestic discord, but isn’t it better to keep it in the family than suffer an intervention on an international scale? Let’s think about the problem here for a bit, and stop making excuses for it.

13 Replies to “America Falling Down: We’re Not the Good Guys Anymore”

  1. This is a very good article that expresses what I have felt for a long time. What you are accurately describing is jingoism, a blind loyalty to one’s nation that makes no allowances for the fact that one’s nation can be wrong about anything. That’s what passes for “patriotism” among RWNJ’s like Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, and others. Their idea of “exceptionalism” is that we can charge full speed ahead without explanation or apology to other nations. In their minds, might always makes right. People who have pointed out the fallacies in that kind of thinking have been labeled Commies, Marxists, traitors, etc. There is no reasoning with people who think that way, because along with their blind certainty, they look down on other countries. It never occurs to them that there is no country on earth that has not had less-than-proud moments, or that how a country addresses them is a measure of its greatness or lack of it.
    Individuals cannot operate that way in their own personal lives without incurring serious costs, and the same is true of countries. But their obtuseness doesn’t allow them to do any such introspection.

  2. Thank you, Anne. It’s been bothering me a lot too, especially lately with all the GOP rhetoric about attacking this country or that country. It wasn’t until I thought about Falling Down that I had a way to express what I was feeling.

  3. I loved that movie and it fits perfectly. You’re on quite the roll, Hraf:-)

    I often imagine these Tea Party patriots asking that at the end of their lives, as they watch their reel with their God, who sadly asks, “Why were you against healthcare for your neighbor and their starving child but you wanted the rich to have it?” The Tea Partier shakes their head in confusion, “But, but Jesus hates healthcare and socialism…” and God smiles even more sadly and gently says, “I gave you a brain, hoping you would use it, son. But clearly you didn’t.” And slowly it dawns on the Tea Partier how he’s been used…..and he says, “But I thought I was the good guy.” and God says, “I know, son, but you were actually the bad guy. You hurt a lot of people because you refused to use the gifts I gave you.” And then God plays the Reality clip where He debunks Fox News and the Tea Partier slowly sees the wolf in sheep’s clothing and knows he’s been a tool of evil.

    Of course, it will be too late for them to fix anything by then and the damage will have been done – which is why the road to hell was paved with good intentions and the Tea Party patriots might be surprised by the heat.

  4. I am afraid that this country has not progressed in any way that I can think of since the 70s. Sure, we have a few new technological breakthroughs here and there but what if we done since the space shuttle? Who makes all of our satellites? Brazil does, and shares that information with the Chinese.

    I think if we are going to be the world’s policeman wearing white hat we should’ve thought about that before we allowed Gen. Bush to go into Iraq. At that point America’s standing in this world dropped about 1 million points and that point was culminated with the world leaders refused to shake George Bush’s hand.
    ( ) not one world leader shook his hand while shaking everyone else’s.

    We have lost our technological edge over the world, we are quickly losing our manufacturing edge over the world and it is apparent that while the Republicans (and Democrats to a degree) try to tear the country apart, it won’t be long before it is open to other nations picking us apart as well. Our influence as the people in the mansion on the Hill and as a nation of laws and rights is just about shot. The job of secretary of state has to be the loneliest job in the world would you roll into another country and talk to them about human rights.

  5. Thanks, Sarah. Yeah, it will be too late for them. I just hope it’s not too late for all of us the way this is going.

  6. In their case, the road to hell will have been paid with good intentions only for those they care about. Whatever their “good intentions” are, they don’t seem to extend to those of us who don’t buy what they’re selling.

  7. I can’t think of too many more things we can do to lose stock with the world but let another Republican hold the executive office.

  8. “Falling Down” is a great movie. Every true, red-blooded Murcan should watch and memorize that film. True, patriotic Murcans will worship that film as the absolute anthem for angry white men who are fed up all these colored people acting all uppity and thinking they belong, or even have anything positive to contribute to the greatness that is Murca.

    I think the 200 year experiment on immigrants and immigration has proven to be a big, fat FAIL! Colored immigrants will never contribute anything positive to this country. The ones that can read Inglish good try to cheat votes and steal elections for their own kind. The other 99.99% of the colored immigrats that don’t never learnt no Englsh aint contribute nuthin and will prolly always suck at our hard earned welfare.

    I, for one, feel like Michael Douglas–FED UP!!

    I’m tired of paying property taxes to subsidize their housing.

    I’m tired of paying sales taxes so they can afford to buy things.

    I’m tired of paying school bond money and parcel taxes so them and them kind can use my kids’ schools and steal my children’s education.

    I am FED UP!!

    It’s time real Murcans started “Falling Down” so we can preserve Murca for real Murcans.

  9. YeeHaw!! /rolls eyes

    Maybe the immigration policy would be different if conservatives didn’t kick the can down the road and try to blame Obama for everything like, “FOX accuses Obama of giving land back to Mexico” only to find out that it was Bush that had closed it 4 years earlier

    Don’t let the facts get in the way of your blind hatred.

  10. I like your article (great movie!), and the parallels you’ve drawn are accurate, except how can you reasonably claim that Obama isn’t continuing the rampage? Sure he may come across as apologetic – whatever that means – but the fact is that he’s ramped up US military presence in Afghanistan, and troops are of course still in Iraq; furthermore, the posturing against Iran/China/Venezuela seem to indicate that America still considers itself the world policeman good guy making sure the world remains “safe for democracy.”

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