Questioning America’s Standing in the World
April 25, 2021
There is so much talk today about America’s standing in the world. For a long period, the U.S. was viewed as the most powerful nation in the world. The U.S. had the most wealth, the largest military, the highest standard of living, the best universities, the most democracy. Its historical Presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt (all shown on Mount Rushmore) were inspired men who practiced the highest constitutional and moral ideas. More foreign people are clamoring to immigrate and get into the U.S. than into any other country.
The U.S. enjoyed friendly allies from around the world. The U.S. was trusted to lead in the Western ideas on Democracy and Capitalism. Other countries looked upon the United States for leadership and progress.
The U.S Divides in Two
Then two things happened. First, Americans became fatally divided in over what they thought made America great. One group of Americans sided with liberal values, another group sided with conservative values. America had a two party system, with Democrats on the liberal side and Republicans on the conservative side. For a long time, the two parties fought over every important piece of legislation but in the end they would negotiate and compromise. Congress people of each side counted friends on the other side of the aisle and they would work together.
Today, bilateral discussion and legislation is notable for its absence. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, made it clear that he didn’t want any elected Democratic President, such as Barack Obama or Joe Biden, to succeed. He would bury any liberal legislation even though it represented the will of the majority. His party would use the filibuster to prevent any rational debate to take place between the parties. McConnell wanted Republicans to control the Congress, the executive, and the Supreme Court. He favored a dominant one party system to a healthy two party system
As it turned out, the two.parties lived with a 50–50 split of power and influence. Both parties used gerrymandering when they were in power so that their elected officials had long lives in the House and Senate. The main failing was that no legislation would be passed that offered solutions or alleviations to major social problems such as hunger, poverty, crime, guns, immigration, or affordable health or college. The government lost its power to govern.
The presidency of Donald Trump during 2016–2000 worsened U.S. standing abroad. Trump kept telling the American people that the U.S. is the world’s greatest country. He would build a great wall to keep foreigners from flooding in with their poverty, crime and un-American ideas. He would get our allies (U.K., Germany, Japan, etc.) to pay more of the cost of protecting them from their enemies. In the process, he criticized and demeaned many leaders. Leaders in other countries saw him as a lying narcissistic president and couldn’t understand how American voters could have voted him in. His presidency intensified, emotionalized and deepened the conflict between the red (conservative) and blue (liberal) sections of American voters. .
The second development challenging the allure of the U.S. has been the rise of China and Asian countries. Businesses were globalizing and moving their production from the West to the East in search of lower wage rates. Asian economies showed annual GDP growth rates of 6 to 10 percent while the West struggled with aGDP growth rate of 2–4 percent.
China showed spectacular improvement in its economy starting in the 1980s. Many of its cities were modernizing and showing impressively designed skyscrapers and the startup of shopping centers and streets with high fashion. New Chinese global companies appeared not only in hardware such as Heier but in new software such as Tencent and Alibaba. China paid much attention to construction and improving living conditions both in urban and rural areas. It managed to save more people from poverty than any other country. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party had absolute control and could get things done.
The Chinese leaders started seeing themselves as not only the leader of Asia but also the main beneficiary contributing to the economic development of other Asian nations. Under its current President Xi, China has expanded its vision to be the country that will bring prosperity to all the world’s undeveloped countries. China launched its Belt and Road Plan to build a new Silk Road from China to Europe. China would invest resources in other countries through grants and loans to build better infrastructure. Chinese workers would go abroad to help build the infrastructure, thus relieving labor pressure at home and also implanting its political influence abroad.
Talk and fear increases now over the question of whether the U.S. and China will eventually go to war. There are the perennial irritants in China’s wish to rule the South China Sea, Taiwan’s continuing independence, and Hong Kong’s oppressed citizens. Any careless initiative by either China or the U.S. could plunge the countries into war. In the meanwhile, both countries are competing to win the loyalty of other countries.
How Great a Country is the U.S.?
Americans still tend to believe that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. Why do so many foreign people want to come here? It must be our wealth, our freedom, our opportunity, our fair dealings, our Democracy, our Capitalism.
It is understandable that people want to place trust in people and things they believe in. Occasionally, they are surprised or shocked about some revelation. We greatly admire Thomas Jefferson although we have also learned that he took advantage of a slave girl who bore him several children. We admired Richard Nixon for opening up a relationship with China but also ended up repudiating him for the burglary that took place at Watergate. We trust the famous Wells Fargo Bank to protect our money and then learn they lent out our money for their gain. We value the products of pharmaceutical companies but are abused by their monopolistic pricing.
An unsettling and sobering video event occurred in May 22, 2014 entitled “Why America Isn’t The Greatest Country In The World.” Americans were watching The Newsroom, a political drama series created and written by Aaron Sorkin and shown on HBO. The series starred Jeff Daniels as anchor Will McAvoy who sets out to put on a news show.
The show contains an opening scene where Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and other panelists are asked what makes America the greatest country in the world. Sharon on the panel answered “diversity and opportunity.” Lewis answered “freedom and freedom.” To be funny, Will McAvoy answered “The New York Jets.”
The moderator objected to Will’s answer and told him to get serious. McAvoy got serious. “Well, our Constitution is a masterpiece. James Madison was a genius. The Declaration of Independence is, for me, the single greatest piece of American writing.” Then Will McAvoy startled the audience. “It’s NOT the greatest country in the world, professor. That’s my answer.” Then he elaborated:
There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, Number 4 in labor force and Number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending. Where spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.
It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chests. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior.
We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
Now it is 2021. Similar disheartening statistics about the U.S.rankings in literacy, math, science and life expectancy persist. Covid.struck in 2020 and President Trump only suggested trying bleach at first. He badly mishandled the situation by saying that lockdowns and masks aren’t effective. Now with 280,000 deaths, we might be finally making some progress against Covid, as it continues to rage abroad killings millions in India, Brazil and other countries.
In retrospect, we should now acknowledge how foolish it is to argue which country is the greatest country in the world. The task for each country is not to dwell in the past, which might have some great moments, but to have the courage to list their country’s major weaknesses and to develop plans and solutions to make each country better. The prize should be given not to which country might be great but rather to the countries each year that make the most improvement. And the improvement should not be limited to how much economic growth has taken place. More fundamentally, how much did the country improve its citizens’ well being and happiness. The Nordic countries of Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland always score in the top ten happiest and healthiest countries. If you insist on rating the greatest countries, they are the candidates.