It's time for a new patriotic cliché.
"As American as apple pie" has been debunked by the Huffington Post; "the American Dream" has turned into an ironic reminder of our nation's growing inequality; even baseball, "America's pastime," has suffered Congressional investigations into steroid use and imported enough overseas talent to redefine the meaning of "World Series." In 2013, 28 percent of MLB's opening day rosters represented players born in other countries.
Don't get me wrong – I love apple pie, and I subscribe to the American Dream (albeit as one of the white, suburban males that the Dream was originally intended for in 1950s America). Though I'm barely a casual baseball fan, I can admire the sport's diversity as one of the most American things about it.
But after the U.S. Men's National Hockey Team lost to Team Canada in a thrilling Olympics semifinal match Friday, Twitter became flooded with the same, stale patriotism that we've come to depend upon when persecuted on an international stage.
We started a #f***Canada trend, touted our superiority in other sports and ironically made fun of their publicly-funded health care system. We also repeatedly threatened to throw away our maple syrup and reminded our Canadian neighbors that Justin Bieber is from Ontario. (No matter that Vermont makes plenty of our maple syrup, and it was our nation of Beliebers that made Justin such a star.)
Even though we were joking, the entire response stunk of the American arrogance the world often accuses us of, the same irreverent attitude that popularizes "Back to Back World War Champs" tank tops – we are the best country in the world. But if you've ever seen Will McAvoy's opening rant from HBO's "The Newsroom" (and you should because Jeff Daniels gives a riveting performance) there's ample evidence to the contrary.
"We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality ..." he says. "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."
The scene also includes that freedom, the great American ideal, is not ours alone – Freedom House, an American independent watchdog organization, reported that 90 countries ranked as "free" in 2012. Sure, we're a democracy – but so is Canada, and yet we still claim superiority.
I love America, and I want to believe that it is a genuine nation, one that can follow though on its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. But maybe it's time we college kids begin to collectively work to make that promise come true instead of bragging about it on the Internet as if it's simply a fact of our existence.
Not to get too Kennedy here, but what can we do for our country – what should we be doing to prove that we are greater than American arrogance and the world's largest military?
As college students, the vast majority of us can vote, and in a democracy, voting is the most valuable tool of the citizenry. But in the 2012 presidential election, only 41.2 percent of 18-24-year-olds voted. And in the local elections that typically lead to more relevant policies, I'd venture to guess the percentages are even lower. When Stacey Campfield won the right to represent UT students in the 2010 state senate election for Tennessee's 7th district, he won it by only 8,146 votes – a little more than 22,000 people voted for him.
If roughly one out of every three students were to vote against him in this year's election, we could oust the man who would take away our rights to use our student fees as our elected student government sees fit. We could end our own misrepresentation.
No wonder Campfield backed out of a speaking engagement Friday night; he probably thinks we won't vote and therefore doesn't care to waste time representing us.
It's time we begin to represent us, to represent the U.S. as the best country in the world – it's time we back up our Twitter talk with legitimate civic engagement. It's the local elections that move a nation forward, and it's representatives like Campfield who sacrifice that potential at the altar of extremist political appeals.
If you would believe that America can be greatest country in the world – if you believe it already is – then start now and start small. Pay attention to the news and vote in local elections.
If we're ever going to make the American Dream a reality, it's on our generation to wake up.
R.J. Vogt is a junior in College Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.