“America is the greatest country on Earth.” We’re spoon-fed this belief almost from birth, and quite continuously throughout our school years. As adults, we hear this sentiment usually from hawkish “patriots” to those who have to believe it out of genuine insecurity that they could be living anywhere but the best. There are those who do not believe this to be true. They probably believed it at some point early in life because that’s what they were taught.
There are plenty of arguments as to why the United States may be the world’s greatest country. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have inspired other nations to revolt or rebel against monarchy or colonization. Americans have invented everything from major modes of transit, peanut butter, modern electricity – including LED bulbs – the Internet, to several major sports played the world over, Netflix, iPads, and even dental floss. Hell, we won World War II and went to the moon! Americans think they invented the notions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the dream that if someone works hard and plays by the rules, they will ultimately be increasingly successful and fulfilled. Americans are known for their grit but also a sense of humor; their stubbornness but also their big-hearted generosity.
And yet at the heart of the belief that the U.S. is the world’s greatest country, and that so many feel the need to regularly say so, is the intense arrogance for which Americans are perhaps most famous. The shameless act of volunteering the belief the U.S. is the greatest nation out loud is actually quite insulting, especially when one considers the following facts:
- The U.S. ranks 1st by far in the world’s prison population
- Ranks only 14th in the latest World Happiness Report
- Ranks 33rd out of 36th among developed (OECD)* countries in infant mortality rate
- Ranks 26th in life expectancy among developed (OECD) countries
- According to President Biden in a recent interview with NBC, ranks 8th in infrastructure health
- Only ranks 15th on The Human Freedom Index, and Americans think they’re the ones who practically invented the concept
- According to a Yale and Columbia University Study, the U.S. ranks 24th in environmental performance. In fact, under a study called the “Social Progress Index,” the U.S. is one of only three countries to have backslid on social and environmental performance in the last decade
- In overall rankings by U.S. News and World Report, the U.S. ranks 20th in quality of life and 19th in “social purpose,” which is a mix of caring for things like animal rights, social justice, racial equity, religious freedom, and trustworthiness. But Americans rank 1st in agility, so hey, there’s something
- A 2019 study by Harvard’s Electoral Integrity Project found U.S. electoral democracy between 2012-2018 tied with Mexico and Panama, and “lower than any other long-established democracies.”
Meanwhile, a host of European countries and Israel continuously outrank us in dozens of categories, including some mentioned above. And then of course there’s Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels’) feisty soliloquy as penned by Aaron Sorkin for HBO’s popular “The Newsroom” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fTkA3dvpPM).
The belief in American supremacy seems to be most important to political conservatives, who constantly remind others in an almost unsolicited fashion how lucky they should feel to live in the United States. This, regardless of how much international travel or research in which they’ve personally engaged. Perhaps this makes sense because it is political conservatives who are most determined to proclaim America a finished product that needs little to no improvement. After all, who seems to be the most bothered by the notion that the U.S. could have been brought to its knees by an invisible pandemic? Who has most poorly taken to the “Great Awakening” taking place in social justice since the murder of George Floyd, and to diversity, equity, and inclusion movements in general? Who is it proclaiming now more than ever that they’re being “replaced” by immigrants? Any threat to “traditional values,” whatever those are, is ostensibly a direct assault on the nation itself to people on the political right. As the old 1980’s ad campaign goes, this is the country of “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.”
There is a special pride in uniquely American traditions like baseball and cookouts, being neighborly and charitable. And the U.S. did wisely set aside some of its most beautiful lands as State and National Parks. In fact, America’s vast open lands spur the imagination for endless possibility and the romantic notion that all Americans are in some way pioneers and explorers. America is home to legendary leaders and heroes, authors and artists, many of whom have overcome great obstacles to succeed. But none of these things change the fact that places like Canada, Denmark, and New Zealand absolutely wipe the floor with us on any number of measures. Sorkin’s Will McAvoy sure knows the U.S. is not the greatest country on Earth … but it could be.
*The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development