What The Newsroom Gets Wrong About America

The opening scene of The Newsroom is frequently shared on Facebook by those who are unhappy with our current political situation. In this scene, Will McAvoy,  the show’s main character is asked why he thinks America is the greatest country in the world. McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, rejects the premise of the question and explains why he believes America is not the greatest country in the world.

During this explanation, McAvoy shows particular contempt for the answer offered by a conservative intellectual who claimed that freedom made America great. He claims that this does not make America special because so many other countries also have freedom.

While this may be true, it misses the true connection between freedom and the American regime. Although McAvoy can accurately point to other countries that have freedom, freedom is not an essential part of their national character. Germany HAS freedom. It is a possession of the country that it has not always had and might not always have. If Germany lost freedom it would not cease to be Germany.

In America, freedom is different. It is not something that we have but rather something that is a fundamental part of the country. What this means is that, if America were to lose freedom, it would cease to be the same country. Trying to imagine America without freedom would be like trying to imagine a library without books, or an army without soldiers.

No American statesman articulated this better than Abraham Lincoln. In the Gettysburg Address he reminded his fellow citizens that our country was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” This means that, while we can choose to reject freedom, we cannot do so while still remaining Americans.

This conception in liberty has not meant that Americans live in perfect liberty. But what is has meant is that when we fight to realize this liberty, we are fighting to make America more American. No sane person would claim that America is a perfect country. But as long as we remember our conception in liberty, we can remain freedom’s most secure home in the world.