Like most things these days, views of America seem to be very polarized. President Trump ran on a platform that pushed for “Make America Great Again”. This was mostly a call to a return to what has been called “American exceptionalism”, a belief in the “manifest destiny” that some saw as a God ordained right for America and Americans to excel in all areas. Part of the success of this siren call was that it was obvious to anyone looking around that America, by many objective standards, had fallen away from being exceptional or “great” in the vernacular of the day. For at least 2 generations, rather than emphasize the amazing accomplishments of those who helped create America, the tendency in our institutions of higher learning (and ever more in all public education) has been to focus on the flaws and sins of those who were responsible for the nation, it’s founding and it’s constitution.
In the Prologue to this book, Mr. Taunton quotes former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, “How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates freedom and justice for all, that’s so unjust to the people living there?” Kaepernick is representative of many from the current privileged generation, which have enjoyed many of the benefits of the sacrifices of those who have come before them, but who still look around and find the flaws that still exist in society unacceptable. When his own personal and professional struggles surfaced, Colin found solace in the arms of Nessa Diab, a Muslim-American activist who is a child of Egyptian immigrants. Under the influence of her and others, Colin became radicalized and soon was the center piece of movement that spoke out against the injustices that still exists in modern America.
Mr. Taunton highlights Mr. Kaepernick’s story as an illustration for the purpose of the book. He finds that America is on trial and one side “sees America’s wealth, power, and influence as an accident of history” and the other side sees “America’s exceptionalism that is anchored in a Judeo-Christian heritage that has given rise to her laws, art, literature, culture, and place in the world as a refuge from just the types of governments the left idealizes.” There is an ongoing struggle every day between these two ideals contested in a variety of arenas. The conflict of these visions is “tearing our country apart.” All of this led Mr. Taunton to wonder, doesn’t the perspective that there are so many things wrong in America “presuppose there are better places in the world to live”?
In this book, Mr. Taunton sets out to answer that question. If the many people who had promised to move to another country to flee the problems and oppression of America had actually left, where would they go? Over the course of about 3 months, the author travels to 26 different countries around the world and seeks to evaluate each of these countries by the same standards those who are critical of America would use of the US. The big question is simple, if America isn’t great, is there actually a better alternative out there, especially for Americans?
Along the way, Mr. Taunton also would like to answer several pressing questions:
- Is America’s prosperity merely an accident of history and a result of the exploitation of the weak, or are some cultures superior to others by virtue of their religion and poltical philosophy?
- Do reasonable people around the world hate America or are they unsettled by our current identity crisis?
- Is Europe’s open borders policy bringing cultural enrichment we should model, or is it laying the foundation for the gradual overthrow of Western culture as we know it?
- Is America exceptional in ways that matter and should she remain so, or should America—the holdout in the West against globalism, militant secularism, and climate change panic—tap out and become a socialist democracy like those of Europe?
With that premise in mind, I’m not going to spoil the ending by answering any of these questions in this review, but will say that the author does a fair job of evaluating the serious contenders. Some countries are found to be excellent for those who were born there and who are acclimated to that country’s cultural quirks. Other contenders put on a beautiful façade for tourists, but are greatly lacking for the majority of the citizens. Serious contenders are carefully evaluated such as Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. The combination of the author’s understanding of world history combined with the first hand experiences of this trip provide an entertaining and informative journey.
Mr. Taunton has asked several questions that are very worth asking. Whether you are on the right or the left, the majority of us have not taken the time to carefully consider what it is we are voting for or asking others to vote for at the level presented in this book. By looking at the world with the same critical eye, it gives us a much more capable ability to give our own country an honest appraisal. If you are the type to either boast of America’s greatness or great history or the kind of person who is ready to tear it all down and start over, you would greatly benefit from taking this journey with the author.