America the Beautiful! America the Greatest! We’re Number One, right?
Absolutely, naturally, and indisputably. At least that’s the theocratic pronouncement of far-right-wing nativists who’re presently putting forth a dogma of American “exceptionalism,” using the concept as a not-to-be-questioned litmus test of your and my patriotism. Never mind that on many crucial measures of national achievements, our Good Ol’ US of A has slipped a bit in recent years, and a simple-minded assertion that we’re Number One doesn’t make it so.
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For example, in the annual rate of educational improvement – a bedrock indicator of a nation’s future ability to thrive – the US has tumbled to 25th (Say it Loud and Say it Proud: We’re Number 25!). Not only does that place us behind such education powerhouses as Germany, but also behind Columbia, Latvia, Portugal, and Slovenia.
Yes, America remains the world’s richest nation – yet, our wealth is more concentrated in the hands of a rich elite than nearly every other nation. China has a more democratic distribution of riches than our society does. So does Bangladesh, The Congo, Haiti, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and all but six other countries.
Health care? We’re only 38th (and dead last among wealthy democracies). Our tax code is the least progressive in the industrialized world; the quality of America’s infrastructure ranks a poor 25th; and, in a category that not long ago was a source of great national strength and pride, the wealth of our middle class has fallen below that of 26 other nations.
In the past century, America became great – not by merely “believing” in some hocus-pocus exceptionalism, but by achieving greatness through deliberate and determined public investments in the common good. And that’s our true path back to being Number One.
“Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance,” wwwhks.harvard.edu, July 2012.
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