America, like Bill Cosby, has become a fallen hero

When I was growing up, Bill Cosby was almost universally loved. The Cosby Show was hugely popular, and profoundly aspirational. We all wanted families like the Huxtables. Bill Cosby was a hero to us all. Unfortunately, it turned out that Bill Cosby was drugging and sexually assaulting women. He certainly isn’t a hero anymore.

Once hugely popular and inspirational: Bill Cosby’s fall from grace mirrors that of the United States.Credit:AP

I remember how devastated I was to learn that my hero had fallen. A curtain had been pulled back to reveal an ugly truth at the heart of a myth, and I couldn’t unsee it.

Well, I feel like the entire United States of America is my Bill Cosby. The US used to be incredibly aspirational for me and many of my peers. We revered the US. It was the centre of the free world! The land of opportunity! The home of the brave!

When I was growing up, Green Cards were so highly prized they were almost mythologised. They were the golden ticket, a chance to move to the greatest country on earth and pursue the American Dream. When a friend of mine won one in the Green Card lottery, we were awed and envious and disbelieving.

I loved the US. I admired the patriotism, the enthusiasm so many Americans held for their country. I admired Hollywood. I adored the John Hughes movies, and the TV dramas like Hill Street Blues and Family Ties and LA Law. I admired the multiculturalism, the idea of a melting pot of immigrants from around the globe. I coveted the college system, the diners, Walmart, and brands like Gap and Banana Republic. I marvelled at New York, which did and still does feel like the centre of the universe.

Former US president Donald Trump has built a following stoking division.Credit:AP

Now, I wouldn’t take a Green Card if it came with a bag of cash and a date with George Clooney. The country is so divided and so toxic that I worry for my American friends. From an ex-president who tells blatant lies and tries to undermine the democratic process, to the lack of socialised medicine and soaring costs of health care, from the institutionalised racism to the police violence, from the daily mass shootings (sometimes more than daily), to the “don’t say gay” bill, the US is an ongoing series of horror stories.

I still love New York and American movies, but New York isn’t the US, and neither is Hollywood. The US is 50 states, 24 of which have recently banned abortion. The US has more guns than people, and the highest rate of gun ownership in the world by a huge margin. The US had almost one school shooting per week last year, and homicide is the leading cause of death for kids and adolescents. The religious right is waging war on the rights of transgender people, the rights of gay people, and the reproductive rights of women, and they are making progress. Incarceration rates in the US are among the highest in the world and income inequality is the highest among developed nations.

There are progressives in the US, people who care about social justice and about the rights of the most vulnerable citizens. Most people didn’t vote for Donald Trump and most people don’t support the overturning of Roe vs Wade. But access to voting is unequal, the electoral college system is inequitable, and the stacked Supreme Court means that the values of a conservative minority beat the wishes of the majority. It is democracy, yes, but it is certainly not inclusive.

A memorial to victims at Covenant School in Nashville. The US had almost one school shooting per week last year.Credit:AP Photo

I used to revere the US, now I ache for the women and the LGBT+ community and the people of colour and the thousands upon thousands dead from gun violence each year. The US is now my Bill Cosby. It is a fallen hero for many of us.

But it makes me even prouder of my own country. Australia is far from perfect. We have our own problems with income inequality and homelessness, our own problems with gendered violence, our own terrible record of institutionalised racism.

But our gun laws are aspirational. Our Medicare system is aspirational. Our reproductive rights are aspirational. We have progressive governments in power. We don’t need another country to revere.

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