Saturday, November 7, 2015

Commentary – Claiming American Exceptionalism Leads To Self Deception And Failure

We’re hearing a lot about American Exceptionalism. The original use of the term was based on the unique way the country was formed and the way it evolved.  Today, we are asked to accept that believing that the U.S. is exceptional is somehow akin to both patriotism and superiority. If you don’t believe the U.S. is the best in every way, you are not a good American. Not only are the people who say this in denial; but also by not recognizing the facts, they are damaging our ability to improve and to become the exceptional nation we claim to be.

Without honest reflection, without critical analysis we cannot see our failures and therefore cannot correct them.

I think the U.S.A. will be regarded as having been among the great civilizations. There is little doubt about our considerable influence in the world because of the size of our economy, the power of our military, and the leadership we’ve shown in new technology.  Whether these are the criteria we should use in an evaluation of our achievements as an exceptional nation or not depends on what we do with those attributes. But the “I am the greatest” as a working title only mimics Mohammed Ali, who actually proved it, and the P.T. Barnum of our time, Donald Trump, who thinks because he said it, it is true.  Our country’s exceptionalism can only be known when all the facts are in and analyzed. And it can be realized only when we do what we need to do to actually make us exceptional where it counts.  We are not there.

Here’s where we stand:

1. United Kingdom
2. Switzerland
3. Sweden
4. Australia
5. Germany & Netherlands (tied)
7. New Zealand & Norway (tied)
9. France
10. Canada
11. United States

“It’s fairly well accepted that the U.S. is the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but many continue to falsely assume that we pay more for healthcare because we get better health (or better health outcomes). The evidence, however, clearly doesn’t support that view.” From Forbes Magazine (2014).

However with what has been derisively called “Obamacare,” the U.S. is showing signs of moving up in the health category. A complete single payer or extension of Medicare would do more to make the U.S. “exceptional” in this area.  An examination of the health care systems of the top performers would be helpful.

Homicides per 100,000 (2011)

1, Japan                        .03
2. Denmark                  .08
3. Germany                  .8
4. Italy                         .9
5. Netherlands             .9
6. Sweden                    .9
7. United Kingdom    1.0
8. Australia                 1.1
9. Canada                   1.5
10. France                  1.8
11. Norway                2.3
12. United States       4.7

Number Incarcerated (2013)

1. Norway                                   3,575
2. Denmark                                 3,820
3. Sweden                                   6,364
4. Netherlands                           13,749
5. Australia                                29,383
6. Canada                                   38,691
7. Germany                                64,379
8. Italy                                        64,873
9. France                                    67,977
10. Japan                                    68,873
11. United Kingdom                  84,066
12. United States                   2,234,751

Wealth: Income Equality After Taxes

1.  Netherlands
2.  Norway
3.  Sweden
4.  Denmark
5.  Germany
6.  Japan
7.  France
8.  Canada
9.  Italy
10. Australia
11. United Kingdom
12. United States

Military Spending – (USA TODAY) 2014
Percent of GNP

1. Saudi Arabia          10.0
2, Russia                       4.5
3. United States            3.5
4. France                       2.2
5. China                        2.1                

Per Capita

1.  Saudi Arabia         $2,747
2. United States           1,891
3. France                        964
4.  Russia                        593
5.  China                         155

Education  — Overall rankings  (OECD, 2015)
Rankings based on math and science at age 15

1. Singapore

2. Hong Kong

3. South Korea

4. Japan
4. Taiwan

6. Finland

7. Estonia

8. Switzerland

9. Netherlands

10. Canada

11. Poland

12. Vietnam

“The results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) … show that teenagers in the U.S. slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; from 20th to 24th in science; and from 11th to 21st in reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which gathers and analyzes the data in the U.S.” — The Wall Street Journal

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that where health and education are strong, crime and punishment are low. Inequality of income also appears to relate to the quality of life of a country.  The U.S. needs to address these areas.  That means establishing a better, more inclusive health care system, creating less of an income gap (higher minimum wage), and making sure most of our children have access to a full education.  How do we pay for this?  Take a look at our budget.  In what area might we be overspending? And when multi-multi-millionaire hedge-fund managers are taxed less than a schoolteacher or factory worker, we are not treating our citizens fairly. Those who take advantage of bad tax policy inhibit the county from building roads and schools, taking care of those who have slipped through the safety net, supporting our soldiers wounded in action, helping communities suffering from a natural disaster, and preparing our children for a future where education is essential for the economic survival of all of us, not to mention the exceptional status we seek.

We have the natural and human resources to be an exceptional nation.  We simply need to use them and use them wisely.

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Kim Messick said...

Great post, Ronald! The right-wing purveyors of American "exceptionalism" have a vested interest in steering conversation away from these very important facts, but you have documented them clearly and succinctly. I would like to think that what's truly exceptional about our country is our willingness to appraise our flaws honestly, admit them openly, and then work like hell to come up with something better. This kind of writing is a vital part of that effort.

Ronald Tierney said...

Thanks for commenting. I wish these are the subjects that guide our political discussions, especially as we think about the next president.
Thanks again, Ron