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Friday, February 05, 2010

American Greatness

It's the "greatest country on earth." At least that's what we've been told all of our lives. It appears that most Americans have drunk the Kool-Aid on this one too. Most of us have believed all of our lives that America is the greatest country on earth.

There has, for decades now, been an American sense of exceptionalism. Perhaps at one time it was an idealistic and generous form (of exceptionalism). But today it may have become harder and more hubristic. In fact, on closer examination - reading of blogs, editorials and letters to editors of publications, etc. - something else emerges.

It is more a solipsistic brand of exceptionalism that Americans seem to tote around on the bumpers of our cars. Our belief in the superiority of America is more grounded in extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of our feelings, desires, etc. In other words, America is such a great country simply because we feel that way, want it to be that way, etc. We take deep-rooted (albeit self-centered) perspective and simply decree it to be true. And we do so without examining the facts.

Don't get me wrong. I'm an American. I'm proud of my country and I love my country. I am very blessed to be here. And I am more than a little grateful for the life I get to live in this land. That said, I think it takes the effort of some very active imaginations to conjure that America is the "greatest" or "best." Let me explain.

Measuring military strength, yes, we are the mightiest nation on earth. Our spending on defense is more than the next several dozen countries combined. But on many other fronts - which may matter more in determining true greatness - its a different story. Americans turn in a dismal score ... especially when compared to the blessed advantage that we start our performance at.

American children, for example, routinely turn out to be more ignorant of basic subjects like math and geography than their counterparts in other industrialized nations. They are also more likely to die in infancy or grow up in poverty - and those odds are increasing.

Everyone agrees that our health care system is "broken," but we spend more money on health care than anyone. News reports this week state that healthcare consumed more than 17% of all American spending this past year. And yet Americans are not living the longest lives in the world ... or the healthiest. Obesity, diabetes and other diseases are overwhelming our health problems.

There's much talk about America's "crumbling infrastructure"' too. Crumbling roads, creaky bridges and tunnels, railways, sewage and water systems, electricity grids and other parts of our infrastructure are suffering from deferred maintenance.

We have lost so much of our edge in science and technology that even American companies have begun to outsource their research and development efforts --- to third world countries! Of course there's much we could say about sending jobs offshore.

Americans are considerably underemployed and overqualified. Few Americans would tell you that they're performing in jobs which truly challenge them or give them the best ability to contribute. Couple that with the raping and pillaging of corporate finances by executives and shoddy boards --- and you get a dismal picture of corporate America.

It's true that America is first in a lot of areas. That I won't deny. For instance, we are the most generous nation on earth --- giving more money to help the poor around the world than anyone. But not all the ways that we're first are so good. Some are downright awful even.

We have the highest percentage of our overall population incarcerated. In fact, we have more people in prison than repressive regimes like China. We also also have the greatest level of inequality in wealth and income --- where the rich just get richer and the poor multiply rapidly.

We are plagued by the highest incidence of gun violence on earth. And we are slaves to the highest levels of personal debt on earth. Ironically, our government shares that malady by being the greatest debtor government on earth and having the biggest spending deficits on earth.

Americans voluntarily slaughter more babies through abortion than any other nation on earth. And we spend more money on fertility drugs and treatments ... trying to get pregnant with more babies. We also have the highest level of children in the foster care system - removed from abusive and neglectful parents.

Look, I'm not saying that America is not great. But I am a little tired of the flag-waving pollyanna's who don't seem to have a grip on reality. We keep saying that this is the greatest country on earth. But what definition of greatness are we using to draw such a conclusion?

It's time we get a more realistic view of this land that we so love. It will only be when we have an accurate assessment of our true condition that we collectivley roll up our sleeves and get to work at the things that would truly make this the greatest country on earth.

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