“How many different kinds of disgusting do you have to be to boo a man who volunteered to fight and die for you?”
— The Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy ranting about GOP White house hopefuls who watched a gay veteran getting booed and didn’t stand up for him (Season 2).
In 2012, a fictitious news anchor named Will McAvoy first introduced himself to the American public by telling us the U.S.A. was no longer the greatest country on Earth. Some of us were offended. Others wanted to know more.
In the first episode of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama, The News Room, the main character (played by Jeff Daniels) was participating in a panel on journalism when a college student floored him with a single question:
“Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”
Will McAvoy was about to give his usual glib answer, when it suddenly occurred to him that maybe we’re not. He then proceeded to rattle off some depressing statistics about how not-great we are.
“We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 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.”
Will McAvoy then went on about a heroic past in which America thought big and did great things.
“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 disease, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, 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.”
The speech went viral, rocking the internet with some calling it “the most honest three minutes in television history.” Will McAvoy’s unvarnished honesty drew audiences from liberals and conservatives who finally found something they could agree on: The United States was no longer the greatest nation on Earth, but it could be.
Five years later, this speech feels more relevant than ever. Donald Trump won the White House despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million in part because his call to “Make America Great Again” tapped into our sense of a lost past.
We did do some great things, but we also did a lot of disgraceful things that we’ve since glossed over. But one thing is certain: When we did do great things, we didn’t get there by looking at the past.
Watch: The Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy tells America we’re not the greatest country in the world…And his speech goes viral.
Some of the statistics cited in the McAvoy’s rant aren’t entirely accurate. For instance, at the time, McAvoy cited the U.S as 178th in infant mortality. That would be on an inverted ranking and the actual inverted ranking would be 176th for 2010. Of course, the slight inaccuracy was enough for alt-right nationalist rag Breitbart to completely dismiss the point because ‘Murica is the best nation ever.
Throughout the show’s short history Will McAvoy, a professed moderate Republican, saw his party being taken over by far right nationalists calling themselves the Tea Party. McAvoy was appalled and began destroying fictionalized leaders of the movement that simply had no idea how government works. Kind of like the real leaders such as Michele Bachmann of the Tea Party faction who claimed Trump was handpicked by God.
Will McAvoy even coined the term “the American Taliban,” so if you ever used it, that’s where it came from.
Many on the left may not agree with the fictitious news anchor’s politics, but he was a voice of reason on the right and that’s something we can all agree needs to be heard.
Let’s tell Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels, and HBO that we want to see Will McAvoy back behind the news desk. Now more than ever, the United States needs a voice of reason on the right. There’s currently a change.org petition taking off that needs your support if you agree.
Featured image via video screen capture from YouTube