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I would like to think one can refuse to believe their country is the “best” in this or that way and not have to be told that if they don’t like it they should leave. I’ve even heard the question, “What’s stopping you?” in ignorance of personal and financial reasons people can’t just pick up and go to New Zealand. To be honest, I might consider a change of scenery if I could—but I shouldn’t have to. This is my home. Maybe other people should leave, like those who want to rah-rah we’re the best but not actually stay in touch with the world passing us by. They are the ones who don’t see our problems for what they are, and are holding us back into irrelevance and mediocrity.

There is an awful lot to be thankful for, and an awful lot to be critical of. But to think we’re the most “free” or our system is “best” is a long-gone reality (if it were ever true). I can love my country without being blind to its faults and challenges. In fact, it’s a mature love, not the wide-eyed infatuation and rose-colored history glasses many people wear, ignoring all those people of color and gender who didn’t have the luxury of such views.

Part of the reason I “grew up” and moved out of Uncle Sam’s basement of “exceptionalism” is education. Not the “liberal” education of college many of us have been subjected to, but educating myself outside the bounds of national news borders.

TED talks were what really did it for me. You hear about all the amazing solutions and advances around the world and realize we’re using practically ancient banking technology and ridiculously inefficient medical systems compared to the so-called “developing world”. We’re 15 years or more behind some countries in Africa in simple things, as much as we enjoy consistently better infrastructure (which is crumbling, too, now that I think of it).

I looked and learned about all sorts of variations of democratic processes, and with the exception of one-party nations, every single one is better than ours. We are not the light of the free world any more. We don’t export human rights, we sell our soul for alliances with anyone based on geopolitical advantage and fat military contracts.

I could go on, but those who don’t know me might not know my deep reverence for our founding ideals. THAT is what the Flag means to me, not the government today but the Republic for which it once stood. My wife says I bleed Red, White, and Blue, but my blood boils when I think of what we have squandered or don’t really appreciate, all because we think we made it and have nothing left to prove.

I agree with Reagan. We will not be a “great” nation unless we can be a GOOD one. And if you are offended by people who don’t think America is the “best”, or people aren’t “patriotic enough”, then you’re probably part of the reason it’s true.