|What Aaron Sorkin Gets Wrong About America|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, June 28 2012
Aaron Sorkin is something like the poet laureate of American television (though, in the debased world of American popular culture, that’s less of an honorific than it sounds). Sorkin, who has also scripted such films as A Few Good Men, The American President, The Social Network and Moneyball, is responsible for two of the most celebrated TV series of recent vintage, ABC’s critically acclaimed (but lightly viewed) Sports Night and NBC’s White House-centered megahit The West Wing.
There are two hallmarks to his style: lyrical, fast-paced, whip-smart dialogue and unapologetic, sometimes militant liberalism.
To Sorkin’s credit, his undeniable gifts as a writer have often been sufficient to make even conservative viewers tolerate the reflexive ideology that suffuses his work. Not so, however, in The Newsroom, his new series chronicling an anodyne television news anchor who decides mid-career to rebrand himself as a Keith Olbermann-style journalistic vigilante.
In the show’s pilot, which aired on HBO last weekend, anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), has his moment of truth during a journalism panel at Northwestern University where, in rejecting the premise of a college student’s question about what makes America the greatest county on earth, he drops the aw shucks persona and responds with an anti-American rant punctuated by this aside to a conservative co-panelist:
“… You're going to tell students that America's so star-spangled awesome that we're the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.”
That’s America – just one of ninescore boringly similar free nations.
The folks at Freedom House, the non-profit organization that tracks the status of liberty throughout the world, would be surprised to hear that. According to the organization’s annual survey Freedom in the World, only 87 nations in the world can be classified as “free.” Expand the definition to include those countries dubbed “partially free” (including such libertarian paradises as Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela) and the number still only rises to 147. But, hey, what’s the freedom of thirty-odd nations when you can punch up a script with a nice round number?
Sorkin’s poor grasp of the facts rankles, but not nearly as much as his interpretation of their implications. Is America really little more than a bicoastal Belgium?
In truth, what makes the United States different is threefold: (1) A national history – beginning with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – that has liberty as its organizing principle (2) A relentless pursuit – as evinced by the Civil War and the civil rights movement – of furthering our commitment to those principles at any cost and (3) a dedication to ensuring that those principles continue to spread worldwide.
Consider two recent examples. Earlier this month, Jorge Luis García Pérez, a Cuban democracy activist, was arrested by Cuban authorities and then “brutally beaten, doused with pepper spray until unconscious and violently removed from his cell” according to a report from Perez’s wife given to Radio Republica in Miami.
His crime? He had appeared, via teleconference, before the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs to discuss the moral degeneracy of the Castro regime. Did Austria not offer him a similar opportunity to testify? And why was it U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez who attempted to publicize his abuse and not one of the friends of freedom serving in the European Parliament?
Think too of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. After spending four years in prison for publicly opposing China’s policy of forced abortions and sterilizations, Chen escaped from house arrest earlier this year … and, tellingly, chose to flee to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Why not the embassies of Italy or Spain? Because Chen believed that the United States, more than any other nation, could be relied on to defend the conscience of one man standing against an unjust and immoral government.
Though the Obama Administration nearly botched the affair, Chen’s faith was rewarded with partial citizenship in the U.S., where’s he’s now studying at New York University’s School of Law. How many of the world’s other “free” nations would have risked alienating one of the world’s largest economic powerhouses to defend the conscience of one man?
Perhaps next time Mr. Sorkin looks up from his keyboard, he will pick up a newspaper and note that the U.S., even in times as trying as these, is still a nation that has time for the downtrodden, the dispossessed and the forsaken; for people like Jorge Luis Garcia Perez and Chen Guangcheng – people who do not share our blood, our culture or our ZIP codes.
Perhaps he’ll notice that the United States is less a landmass than an ideal – and one with the capacity of lighting the darkest corners of places like Havana and Beijing. Perhaps then he’ll realize that’s what makes us so star-spangled awesome.
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