5 min read

Assertion #3: We No Longer Build Great Big Things

I’m paraphrasing here. McAvoy says “We used to be (great). We used to build great big things.” His next few claims are all in this vein. He’s listing things that supposedly used to be great about America, but no longer are. By “build great things,” the character seems to be referring to megaprojects like the Hoover Dam and bemoaning the fact that such accomplishments are in our collective rear window.

Except they aren’t. Not even close.

Here are a few megaprojects that have either been completed in recent decades or are in progress:

  • The Freedom Tower
  • The Tevatron 2 TeV particle accelerator
  • The Very Large Array massive radio astronomy observatory
  • The Global Positioning System
  • The Hubble Space Telescope
  • The Alaska Way Viaduct replacement tunnel
  • Boston’s “Big Dig”
  • Birmingham’s Big City Plan
  • Tesla’s planned “gigafactory”
  • The 350,000 mirror Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station

All of these projects are huge in scope, and several of them required or led to engineering breakthroughs, scientific breakthroughs, or some mixture of the two. The notion that the U.S. no longer embraces ambitious projects that produce tangible results is just wrong.

Assertion #4: We No Longer Explore the Universe

This part of McAvoy’s rant is perhaps the most nonsensical. The character seems to hearken to the day when millions of Americans spent the evening glued to their TV sets, watching U.S. astronauts set foot on terrain never before traversed by humankind. While it’s true that those days are gone—for the time being, anyway—the country continues to explore the universe as aggressively as ever. A few examples:

Mars. Of the nine successful Mars missions this century, seven were launched by the U.S. Several are ongoing.

The Solar System. The NEAR spacecraft explored the asteroid Eros. The Cassini-Huygens mission has performed over one hundred flybys of Saturn and Titan, returning specular photos and massive amounts of data.

The Universe. The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s successor, will be able to observe the formation of the first galaxies.

The fact that the general public knows little of these accomplishments makes them no less remarkable, and the notion of McAvoy being ignorant of them—given the manner in which the character is otherwise portrayed—simply makes no sense. He’s behaving like an ignoramus, which is insulting to the viewer, insulting to the character, or both.

Assertion #5: We No Longer Make Extraordinary Technological Advances

McAvoy’s specific wording is “ungodly” technological advances, but you get the idea. And while quite a few countries are now capable of making technological leaps (a good thing, to be sure) it’s not like the U.S. is standing still. Anyone who’s been to Silicon Valley recently can tell you the region is booming—and not just in terms of real estate prices. It’s as dynamic today as it was back in the nineties when I lived and worked there, and some of the world’s most famous tech companies were born.

In the last twenty years, American companies have taken the lead in e-commerce (Amazon, eBay), online advertising and search (Google), and social media (Facebook, Twitter). In the Enterprise space—computing systems for large companies—U.S. companies lead the way in esoteric but critical areas like virtualization, SOA, and cloud computing. A U.S. company revolutionized both the smartphone and tablet categories (Apple). All three popular smartphone operating systems were invented, and continue to be honed, in this country.

IT isn’t the only domain in which American tech companies continue to make major strides. In the world of aerospace, the Boeing 787 and the Lockheed f-35 both faced (and continue to face) major teething problems, but this does nothing to change the fact that both platforms are technological tour-de-forces. Talk all you want about the gross mismanagement of the f-35 program—I’ll probably agree with you on most counts—the tech is extraordinary.

A few other areas in which U.S. companies have made huge technological strides: 3-D printing (Stratasys), private space exploration (Bigelow, Orbital Sciences, Virgin Galactic, XCOR, SpaceX), and automotive engineering (Tesla).

Assertion #6: We No longer Cure Diseases

In recent years, U.S. pharma has created treatments for Hepatitis-C that are so effective they essentially cure them. And while the costs can be prohibitive, this does nothing to change the fact that major breakthroughs have been made. I could present additional examples, only one is required to demonstrate that McAvoy’s implicit assertion is wrong.

The Aftermath

McAvoy is generally portrayed as smart and well-informed, and so are his co-workers. The various producers, assistants, and anchors are—almost without exception—nearly as savvy as he is. And this is what makes their reaction to The Rant so perplexing. He’s chastised, but only for being a big meanie and telling America the hard truths it doesn’t want to hear. No one bothers to point out that he’s—you know—wrong.

It would have been great to see at least one character come up McAvoy and challenge him on the facts. This happens in many other episodes, for many other reasons, but in the pilot, McAvoy gets a pass. This is not at all in keeping with the bold, intelligent nature of at least a half-dozen characters on the show, and the lack of such a confrontation gives the episode a trite, phony feel.