It is arguable that the United States of America, here at almost 235 years old, is in the midst of an implosion. Dark days are most certainly ahead. Our best days are doubtlessly behind us. We could pull a hat trick (a term from hockey, which is, unfortunately, Canadian) and save the whole thing still yet, but the chances of that are looking more and more unlikely. Some thought President Obama could save us, but I think even he’s given up on that possibility at this point. It’s almost like there’s nothing for us to do until we make our final stand against machine takeover (will be sooner than you think).
It’s not often that you hear someone say that they’re proud to be an American anymore. Not unless they’re carrying a sign (insane) or if they’re a politician (lying). Lee Greenwood‘s “God Bless the USA” is more often heard sung ironically by a guy in skinny jeans on karaoke night. Through extensive research, I’ve actually pinpointed the last moment when it was still culturally acceptable for everyone to be proud of America: September 14th, 2001, during President George W. Bush‘s “Bullhorn Address.”
This speech is so good that had Bush been hit by a meteor at that precise moment, he may have gone down as one of the greatest presidents, and even one of the Greatest Americans. Unfortunately, it did not come to pass and he lived, and the peak of his presidency in this impromptu speech was followed by at first a slow tumble downhill — eventually devolving into an all-out freefall as he continued to destroy one thing people liked about this country after another. And now we can thank him for much of the mess we are currently in. We are on the verge of bankruptcy, we’re losing two wars, and unemployment won’t return to normal levels for years — if ever. America kind of sucks right now, you guys.
But it doesn’t have to. And it didn’t always (or did it? see also: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn). But if we are to be enslaved by robots or the Chinese or both, we can at least say that we had a good run. We did some good things and got a lot accomplished. There were a lot of great people here. How do I know this? Because, effective today, I am America’s #1 Amateur Historian. And starting this week, and continuing through every week until concluded, I will count down the authoritative list of The 100 Greatest Americans, According to Me: America’s #1 Amateur Historian. Because it’s time to be proud to be an American for absolutely no reason again.
Why have I spent countless hours of research browsing Wikipedia to make this list? Because America is the greatest country in the history of the world. And that is a fact. Did you know that a fact can also be something subjective that, therefore, cannot necessarily proven wrong? No? That’s because it isn’t. But I’m going to present it as such, anyway. Because I am a fraud. So, suck it, England, Germany, France, Russia, and all the rest of you — America’s the tops! And I have this list I made up to prove it!
But America is a nation of individuals. And through her history, there are stories of a few individuals who rose up against the tide of unfairness or corruption or merely against all odds. America’s greatness does not lie with our system of government or our military might, but with, since its inception, the ability of the few to achieve greatness despite their surroundings or their shortcomings. Men and women were able to change history in by living in this nation like they would have been able to in perhaps no other. This is a list that not only honors American culture, but the ability of the few to rise up from the many. And then make fun of them. Among those on the list are brave men and women who accomplished the impossible, who shaped our history for the better (despite deep personal shortcomings), and those who simply dominated their field.
From an initial list of hundreds of major American historical figures, I have created from that an authoritative list of the one hundred people who were better than all the rest of them, based completely on my own personal prejudices and other arbitrary factors, such as who I liked more . How can you compare and rank so many different people from so many different time periods and fields, with so many different deeds and ideals and passions? How can you possibly quell the sum of 400 years of history on this continent into the lives of a mere 100 people? How can you justify the vast amount of important people that would inevitably and perhaps unfairly be left off? You can’t. But I did it anyway. And why? Because top 100 lists are fun. And this list is going to be the most fun.
Note to publishers: This list will be updated conceivably once a week for about two years, but don’t let that make you think that I’m a slow worker! No sir! I can work quickly and meet deadlines if anyone would choose to turn this list into a very funny, marketable, and profitable book. In fact, a tome like this is almost meant for book form and would make a fantastic full-color hardcover. But this is only hypothetical, of course. (Please, please, please give me money).
From the Founding Fathers to activists to scientists to presidents to athletes to rap star, this list not only determines for you who the best Americans are, it strategically includes enough different sorts of people so no one can complain that any certain aspect of American culture was ignored. Or at least any segment of American culture that matters.
Know who didn’t make the list? Henry Knox, America’s first Secretary of War. Why not? Because fuck him. He looks like custard-filled George Washington.
Did you notice how I just tricked you into knowing two things about Henry Knox? That’s why they call me America’s #1 Amateur Historian. Know who else didn’t make the list? Winslow Homer, Philo Farnsworth, and Sandra Day O’Connor. They’re among hundreds of millions of Americans who did not make the list. Including you (unless you are one of eight people who is on the list who is still alive).
So we begin our long, not at all boring, joke-filled (I want to stress this) journey down the annals of American history through the people who defined it. So, basically, mostly white guys — 60% white guys to be exact. But considering white guys did whatever they wanted until fairly recently, I don’t think it’s such an astronomical number. I tried to be fair here. By the time we reach number one, perhaps all of us will have learned what it truly means to be a Real American.*
*Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea also did not make the list.