Presidents and politicians in this country love to tout America as the best and the brightest nation on earth. It’s in their DNA, their job descriptions and their speech writers Cliff Notes. They can’t say we’re the biggest nation on earth – that distinction goes to Russia. Nor can they say we’re the richest country on the globe. That would be Qatar, based on comparing countries’ 2014 GDP per capita.
They can claim, as President Obama did in his first inaugural address, that we are “indispensable” to the world and they would probably prove right by many measures.
But by many other measures no responsible national leader can possibly position America as a model country and here’s why.
So long as the kind of racism we just saw at a frat house in Oklahoma - hot on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the historic march across Pettus Bridge - is still with us, we are not a model country.
So long as we continue to kill each other every day for lack of sensible gun laws no one can make sanctimonious statements about America being a model country.
So long as our infant and maternal mortality rates remain embarrassingly high for a developed nation we are not a model country. According to a 2013 Save the Children report, the US has the highest first-day death rate in the industrialized world. “An estimated 11,300 newborns die annually here on the day they are born – that’s 50 percent more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined. And alarmingly, deaths related to pregnancy and childbearing have increased in the US over the past decade, putting maternal mortality at nearly its highest rate in a quarter century according to a recent report published in The Lancet. The US is one of just eight countries where maternal deaths increased between 2003 and 2013; the other nations in this dubious category include Afghanistan, El Salvador, Belize, and South Sudan.
So long as income inequality prevails we are not a model country. According to Laura Tyson, former chair of the U.S. President's Council of Economic Advisers, “during the last several decades, income inequality in the US has increased significantly -- and the trend shows no sign of reversing. … Such a high level of inequality is not only incompatible with widely held norms of social justice and equality of opportunity; it poses a serious threat to America's economy and democracy.” According to the Council of Economic Advisers, says Tyson, “if the share of income going to the bottom 90 percent was the same in 2013 as it was in 1973, median annual household income would be about $9,000, higher than it is now.” By comparison, “during the last three decades, middle-income households in most developed countries enjoyed larger increases in disposable income than comparable U.S. households. In 2014, the U.S. lost the distinction of having the ‘most affluent’ middle class to Canada, with several European countries not far behind.”
So long as we are not willing to invest in our crumbling infrastructure, we are not a model country. Blogger Michael Snyder recently shared two dozen well-documented facts about our infrastructure crises. Among them were these startling facts: The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s crumbling infrastructure a grade of D, in part because close to a third of all highway fatalities are due “to substandard road conditions, obsolete road designs, or roadside hazards.” One out of every four bridges in America either carries more traffic than originally intended or is in need of repair. There are over 4,000 dams in the US at risk of failure, a number that has risen by more than 100 percent since 1999. Our aging sewer systems spill more than a trillion gallons of untreated sewage every single year; it costs more than 50 billion dollars annually to clean up that sewage. Further, estimates are that rolling blackouts and inefficiencies in the U.S. electrical grid cost the U.S. economy approximately 80 billion dollars a year. The World Economic Forum now ranks U.S. infrastructure 23rd in the world while we fall farther behind the rest of the developed world every day.
So long as the fact remains that it will take nearly 500 years for women to reach fair representation in US government at the current rate of progress, so long as political corruption prevails in America, so long as the US is ranked 32nd in press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, so long as we still have climate change deniers, and so long as we lead the world in rates of incarceration, we are not a model country.
And that’s not even a complete list of indicators by which one can judge mythical exceptionalism.
Despite the problems of its Nepalese refugees, perhaps we need to take a chapter from Bhutan’s playbook. The little country with gorgeous green mountains promotes Gross National Happiness which resides in four main pillars: “equitable and equal socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage, conservation of the environment, and good governance – all of which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent.”
Till then, the words of one beloved American president ring true. As FDR once said, “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.”