Let’s take a moment to recall what this project is all about. We are seeking to answer the question: If America is not great, then who is?
Michael Moore style America-bashing is very much in style. Whether it is Ashley Judd shouting on the Washington Mall, George Soros-funded protests, or Barack Obama apologizing for American “arrogance,” it is one side of a battle that rages for the heart and soul of the nation. Trump’s White House has become the flashpoint in a winner-take-all contest featuring two very different visions for America.
One group sees America’s wealth, power, and influence as an accident of history. For them, the idea of “American Exceptionalism” is not only dead, it is offensive. These people never tire of lecturing us about how out-of-step America is with the rest of the world and how she needs to get with it. America, they say, is bad for the world.
Others want to preserve America’s uniqueness, her exceptionalism, which 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. Proponents of this vision would readily acknowledge that America’s global influence has, at times, been evil, but this is, they would argue, the result of an agenda that has nothing whatsoever to do with the principles upon which America was founded.
The war between these competing visions is played-out every day in local and national government, in our courts of law, in schools and universities, in media, and even in families. Listening to this cultural debate—it is not only inescapable, it is tearing our country apart—it occurred to me that the vision advocated by those who would burn America to the ground UC-Berkeley-style presupposes there are better places in the world to live. Are there? Were Alec Baldwin to leave the country as he once promised, where would he go?
As this trip has rolled along, we have visited and evaluated the major options available to those who think America is not-so-great. Those include countries in Oceania, Australia, Asia, Africa, and South America. In all, we have, so far, considered 16 countries on our way to a total of 21. Are there 21 potential rivals to America for the elusive title of “World’s Greatest Country”? I don’t think so. That list is no more than ten, and probably closer to five. I mean, do any on the Left (or Right) really think that a country in Asia, Africa, or South America is preferable to America? I doubt it. Singapore might get a few nods, but that’s about it. Even so, we have included countries at the extremities of wealth, power, population, and global influence on these continents to provide us all with a measure of perspective.
Now, as the expedition nears its conclusion, we turn our attention to Europe. The America haters on the American Left generally love the soft socialist democracies of Europe, and those in Scandinavia most of all. Take for example Condé Nast Traveler’s 2017 “Best Countries to Live in” list. I discussed this list at length in an earlier article. It is, as I said, typical of the genre:
- Australia/Switzerland (tie)
- [Due to the tie for number 2, there is no number 3]
- Denmark/Singapore (tie)
- [No number 6]
- The Netherlands
- Canada/The United States (tie)
As you can see, no countries from South America and Africa made the list. Singapore was the only country from Asia, and North America just barely made the top ten. Predictably, this list is dominated by countries in Europe. With this in mind, when we were planning this trip, we deliberately bookended it with those countries that were considered to be models for what America should be: New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore on one end and a handful of European democracies on the other. A trip like this requires some judicious choices since it wasn’t possible for us to visit every country in the world or even every country in Europe. Scandinavia, however, was a must-stop.
From London, Zachary and I headed to Norway. It was with great anticipation that we landed in Oslo. We were here. We had made it. What would the greatest country in the world be like? Should we send a message home and tell family and friends to pack-up and join in us in the new New World where we could colonize and start over? Surely the Norwegians had perfected the broken human condition that has given the world broken, bad government. After millennia of civilization, the Norwegians had gotten it right, providing a model, a path of light leading humanity to personal bliss and national Utopia.
My first impression was one of cost. It is not for nothing that The Telegraph named Norway one of the most expensive countries in the world. Everything—be it a mediocre hotel, a taxi, a hamburger, clothing, or a snow globe—will put a dent in your wallet.
“What would you like?” the server asked.
“Yes, uh, I’ll take a cheeseburger and fries,” I said.
“Sure,” she replied in perfect English. “That will be 165 [Norwegian Kroner].”
Roughly the equivalent of $20 USD, I was sure she had misheard me and thought that I had asked to buy stock in her restaurant instead. But she repeated cost of this minor transaction and I discovered that, no, this average burger, this average meal, was $20. This was just the start. Since our arrival, it has felt like a money hemorrhage. At this rate, we will have to forgo the remaining countries tour, call the project Around the World in 60-something Days, and see if we can get steerage on a freighter headed for America.
This illustrates an important and frustrating point lost on advocates of socialism. I cannot recall the number of times that people supporting this government and economic model have told me how everything is “free,” be it education or healthcare or even unemployment. But the fact is, nothing is free. Neither the Norwegians nor anyone else has ever figured out how to give the masses free stuff without somebody paying for it. Norway, like Scandinavia in general (and Britain and Switzerland and France and Singapore…), is absurdly expensive. Unsurprisingly, they consistently rank among the highest tax rates in the world.
And that’s the frustrating part of it all. Just because you didn’t write a check for a co-pay for your annual check-up doesn’t mean your visit was free. It means you paid for it—probably grossly overpaid for it—by other means. But to the unwary, it does seem free. Regardless, as economist Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute has observed, Scandinavia is not the model for high taxation and subsidies that progressives think that it is. These countries are, he points out, small, homogeneous, and oil-rich. Eonomists have long noted the importance of these characteristics. Furthermore, they are “Euroskeptics”: Norway is not part of the EU, and while Denmark and Sweden are, none of the three adopted the Eurozone’s currency.
Scandinavia is also infected with the pro-Islam, anti-Christianity propaganda that grips so much of the Western world. Consider a conversation I had with an African immigrant to Norway.
“Are you a religious man?” I asked, deep into our conversation.
He looked trapped, nervous. After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to go first, so to speak, and reveal my own position.
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” I said. “I am just curious. For what it is worth, I am a Christian.”
He finally answered: “Well, as I told you, I am an Ethiopian, so you know that I am a Christian.”
“Why the reluctance to tell me?”
“Because in this country, you can be an atheist and you can be a Muslim, but you cannot be a practicing Christian. I came to this country years ago to escape Muslim persecution of my people. Now it is here, only it is with the law. If you’re a Muslim, you can blow people up and the Norwegian government will be reluctant to punish you. There will be no meaningful consequences. But if you are a Christian and you say the wrong thing, you can lose everything.”
This theme was repeated yesterday.
Chatting with a woman who noted my American accent, I saw that she was wearing a cross necklace.
Me: “What is the significance of your necklace?”
She told me about a friend who travels and buys jewelry and brought back a selection. She briefly considered a pair of earrings, but then said, “No, I’m going to take this.” As if summoning her courage, she adds: “It reminds me of my grandmother, who didn’t [just] read the Bible, she studied it.”
Me: “Sounds like you had a good grandmother.”
Her: “I do. I really admire her.”
Me: “She seems to be a good role model.”
Her fingers went to the cross. She twisted it. “She is. It can be dangerous to wear this here, but I do it. I should be able to do it. What is happening in Europe is wrong.”
Me: “I agree. That cross is a powerful Christian symbol. It is this country’s heritage. It is Europe’s heritage.”
She nods. Our brief exchange on that topic is over.
Such conversations are not unique to Norway or Scandinavia; it is characteristic of much of Europe. It always leaves you with the feeling that you have been talking in code with a member of some underground resistance. Being an American, however, who is used to being open about what he believes, I never fully appreciate their difficulty. I can’t. Freedom of speech in my country, while in mortal peril, remains viable in a way that it no longer does in Europe.
Norway has much to commend it. It is the opposite of anywhere Africa—safe, clean, quiet, and law abiding. And yet, there is something, well, depressing about it. Apparently, Norwegians agree: they and their Scandinavian neighbors take more anti-depressants than another other countries in the world.
Walking back to our hotel after a tour of Akershus Castle and the Folk Museum of Norway, Zachary and I heard the city’s church bells. But what was this? Bach? A modern hymn? On the contrary, it was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” How appropriate. A depressing song on a dark, dreary Norwegian afternoon.
Norway star rating: 6/10