Social Question

ETpro's avatar

By what metrics is America the greatest nation on Earth?

Asked by ETpro (34505points) October 29th, 2013

We constantly hear US politicians beat their chests and boast about American exceptionalism. It is our divine right to be the best in the world at everything, or so it would seem. But what leads to any logical conclusion that the USA is the best in the world?

We have the most powerful military, but then we spend more than the next 17 nations combined to do so. We spend a far greater percentage of our per capita GDP on healthcare than any other nation on earth, and yet our healthcare outcomes are at the very bottom of the developed world. Educationally, we rank 17th among 50 nations in literacy and graduations rates. On a scale of A to F, our infrastructure now ranks D+. It is crumbling around us and we keep slashing spending on it waiting for it to get so starved for funding that it rebuilds itself.

We are 17th among nations in happiness. Social policies like those of Northern Europe make for a happy populace. And yet we rail against such policies as if they are the greatest evil on Earth. When we know what works, why do we insist on policies that don’t?

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54 Answers

tom_g's avatar

Good question. We’re no longer even #1 on the most obese list. Can’t we be great at anything?

KNOWITALL's avatar

In my mind we are still a great country- I have a great life and many blessings like running water, electricity and all kinds of thing’s people here take for granted. Frankly, I would encourage anyone who doesn’t like it here to leave, there are plenty still waiting to get in for some reason.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL: “Frankly, I would encourage anyone who doesn’t like it here to leave”

Right, because that’s the way we improve things – by not trying to make things better.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g Okay, help make it better or leave.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL – You are being serious? Are you focusing this type of comment on Christians who object to secular America or the tea party Republicans?

Or were you those people who yelled at me when I demonstrated in the streets of Boston prior to the invasion of Iraq? (“Go move to France, commie. When we find WMDs, can we shove them up your ass?”)

Or more importantly, can you get away with saying something like that in Missouri without facing ridicule?

mattbrowne's avatar

Top on the list, off the top of my head

Nobel Prizes
Ivy league universities
Innovation combined with venture capital
Software
Space exploration
Certain areas of medicine
Friendliness of the people

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g Kind of serious. I love this country, Tom. Yes, there are a lot of us who feel that way and that sentiment is obvious in the flags we raise every morning.

I respect your right to change the way thing’s are done here but if it came down to being on the side of a Vietnam vet and a protester, I’d side with the vet.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL: “Yes, there are a lot of us who feel that way and that sentiment is obvious in the flags we raise every morning.”

Wow. Well, that’s too bad.

@KNOWITALL: “I respect your right to change the way thing’s are done here but if it came down to being on the side of a Vietnam vet and a protester, I’d side with the vet.”

Strange choice there. Very strange. If I was old enough to “protest” the Vietnam war, I would be doing so as a supporter of the people our country was sending to kill and be killed. I can’t seem them as separate. The fact that you do is “frankly” unnerving. My opposition to getting my neighbors killed in Iraq didn’t position me against my neighbors who were going to be sent over there to get killed.

Anyway, way off topic. Sorry @ETpro.

OneBadApple's avatar

Sorry @KNOWITALL, but I gotta side with tom g on this one. Anyone who waved the flag and pumped their fist in the air during the completely unnecessary invasion of Iraq or the Vietnam ‘police action’ were part of the problem, whether they remember it that way, or not.

Lives…..arms…..legs…..eyes…..sanity…..all lost for BS reasons which so many “proud Americans” now refuse to admit or acknowledge they supported. It is much easier to just “remember it differently”.

Number of people held accountable: Zero.

bolwerk's avatar

The United States is not a nation at all. It’s a country. Asking what the “greatest nation” is smacks of asking what the “greatest race” is.

Countries are all to some extent bad things, but the United States is unusually politically dysfunctional. More democratic countries actually respect their citizens’ rights. Authoritarian parties in Europe live with the reality that they are likely to be thrown from power if they abuse their people too much, so they moderate themselves. That’s why euro-fascists are a petty minority in western parliaments, but an equivalently authoritarian party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and is within striking distance of controlling the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, somewhere between Eisenhower and Reagan, public investment in the USA stopped. Better developed countries are capable of investing in themselves and marshaling responses to economic and social problems they face. Borrowing to finance public projects isn’t such a bad thing, but the U.S. borrows to pay for present excesses, not to invest in the future.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@OneBadApple I’ve read Bush’s books, I’ve read a lot about various actions, and many officials and even Democrats thought WMD’s were there. That is beside the point right now & hindsight is 20/20.

The question is about America still being great, and I said it is. If you feel differently that is your right.

bolwerk's avatar

Democrats and even many less gullible people believed there were WMD in Iraq because the Bush Administration lied about that.

josie's avatar

I think Jeanne Kirkpatrick once said “Americans need to face the truth about themselves no matter how pleasant it is.”

ucme's avatar

It’s not…Great Britain, the clue’s in the title :)

OneBadApple's avatar

@KNOWITALL “Bush’s books” ?? Really ?

It was incredibly easy to recognize Bush & Co’s lies and deceit before the Iraq invasion, and that thousands were going to lose their lives and limbs for no legitimate purpose at all. You call it “hindsight”, I call it shameful failure of the general public to pay attention in the first place.

And I never said that we don’t live in a great country. We do. But that “love it or leave it” crap just doesn’t fly. The reply to that during the Vietnam era was “change it or lose it”.

Pachy's avatar

I believe we are a great, if flawed, country and I’m happy and thankful to be a natural-born citizen. Frankly, I could care less what the “Greatest” country is, as if such an absolute were even possible given the number of variables involved.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@OneBadApple Let’s do this via PM so we don’t derail please.

bolwerk's avatar

The “greater” a country is, the more propensity it has to commit mass murder. Every country should be kept weak, or preferably entirely abolished. People like Bush aren’t anywhere near as dangerous in countries that aren’t “great.” Even neocon-cum-open fascist Silvio Berlusconi doesn’t dare try the kind of military adventurism American neo-cons pull.

OneBadApple's avatar

@KNOWITALL Maybe some other time would be better for that. I served in Vietnam, saw young friends die in it and be maimed by it, followed by politicians whistling toward the sky with their hands in their pockets. I will be forever angry and resentful, and no PM discussion will change that….

syz's avatar

“That is beside the point right now & hindsight is 20/20.” That’s the sort of thinking that keeps the Tea Party idiots on the front pages.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@OneBadApple @syz
I keep forgetting this is such a liberal site until this kind of thing continues. One-sided and zero communication effort. Lame.

bolwerk's avatar

@syz: yep. They depend on people being unable to objectively evaluate situations like Iraq, and make that possible by spreading misinformation. But they also believe their own misinformation, which is why they fight ultimately unwinnable wars. It became fashionable among real conservatives (i.e., Democrats) to declare Iraq a quagmire by 2008. Non-ideologues knew that all along.

Neodarwinian's avatar

” We have the most powerful military ”

We have as many carriers as the rest of the world combined.

Perhaps this is what the politicians mean when they say greatest.

I never say we are the greatest nation on earth. I say we are the most powerful ( in the strict sense of the word ) nation on earth.

OneBadApple's avatar

@KNOWITALL

You know what’s REALLY lame ? Cheering “U-S-A….U-S-A” loudly while thousands are sent to an early, completely unnecessary death.

That’s as lame as it gets, right there….

nikipedia's avatar

Ok so no one actually wanted to talk about what the US is good at?

fundevogel's avatar

The US is the best at dropping atomic bombs. Two nothing. Beat that any other country in the world.

No, really, don’t.

glacial's avatar

It’s not.

janbb's avatar

@nikipedia Must disagree. France has the cutest babies – but the USA is second.

bossob's avatar

Greatest number of billionaires.
Greatest number of lawyers per capita.
Greatest number of firearms per capita.
Greatest rate of incarcerated citizens.

I am not impressed.

glacial's avatar

@fundevogel Not exactly “two nothing”, but USA still wins.

fundevogel's avatar

@glacial ugh. I’m guessing those are mostly tests? I wish I could find an index or directory so I better knew the story behind the explosions.

glacial's avatar

@fundevogel Yeah. Why wait for the enemy to bomb you, when you can do it yourself?
(And by you, I just mean any of the countries on that list.)

Definitely crossing some of those regions off my list of places to visit.

fundevogel's avatar

As a Californian I am not so happy about that giant white spot in the American Southwest.

glacial's avatar

Exactly. It also illustrates a great reason to have colonies – and a great reason not to live in one. I guess Canada should feel lucky that Australia exists.

longgone's avatar

It never was. The US just happens to have a very vocal group of people claiming it to be…

bea2345's avatar

@fundevogel – what is the giant white spot in the American Southwest.?

fundevogel's avatar

If you watch @glacial‘s link to the end they mark all places there have been nuclear explosions with white spots. There’s a very large one there.

flutherother's avatar

America is the greatest nation on earth only for its ideals, which seem reasonable to me. How well it lives up to them is another matter.

OneBadApple's avatar

Yup. Even with all of our faults, nobody can start wars or exploit the middle class like we can…

Blondesjon's avatar

@nikipedia . . . Movies: Most of the highest-grossing films of all time are American.

Music: Although the UK gives the US a run for its mo . . .

I know that we despise each other but I would like to say that your post is outstanding. Never let it be said that you are not a patriot. ‘Murica!

filmfann's avatar

@Rarebear posted my response.

ETpro's avatar

This has already run way off any rails that would let me respond to each reply without jumping into fights I’m not a protagonist in. Rule 22 of ETpro’s survival guide is don’t jump into the middle of other people’s fights. It’s down the list a bit, because I sometimes violate it when a bully is going after someone weaker than them, or I genuinely think I can prevent mayhem without taking too much bodily damage in the process. This isn’t one of those exceptions to rule 22.

So I will just comment on some interesting comments above. If I leave yours out, please don’t feel slighted. And to the many who listed reasons why we are not the best at everything known to mankind, thank you. You are too numerous to name, but each of your answers are appreciated and awarded a GA.

@mattbrowne Thank you for reminding me about some of the reasons I am still proud to be an American. All true, and it took someone from Europe to provide the list.

@tom_g, @KNOWITALL & @OneBadApple If one of you does not ask the question where America’s stupid, unnecessary wars get debated, be advised I will and you may not like how I phrase it. So strike while the iron is hot.

@nikipedia Thanks for actually adding to the USA does well list.

@bolwerk Having now looked the words up, I am finally aware there is a distinction between country and nation. Thanks for pointing that out to me. For those who care about accurate use of words, please read the question replacing nation with country.

@bossob Thanks for expanding on the best-of list, even if some of those 1st place awards inspire my disgust and not my pride.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@ETpro There’s a difference between loving our country and loving what the country’s leaders do, and how we as Americans put up with it. I’m just a little dismayed at the number of negative comments. Ask away.

ETpro's avatar

@KNOWITALL Indeed there is a difference in loving your country and loving what its leaders do. But dismaying as they may be, most of the negative comments are the gospel truth.

rojo's avatar

I think This is most certainly relevant.

bolwerk's avatar

That is authoritarian swill. Aaron Sorkin couldn’t find a sane Republikan, so he made one up.

tom_g's avatar

That “Newsroom” clip is garbage. What exactly inspired the saccharine-sweet piano and “we used to be” crap that starts at 2:00? Low blood sugar?

ETpro's avatar

@rojo Agreed.

@bolwerk It didn’t matter what party Will McAvoy was part of, but what Alan Sorkin had him say. The truth of a persons words are not determined by their Party affiliation, but by what they say. Perhaps Sorkin rightly guessed that if he had a Democrat tell those truths, nearly half the brains in the USA would instantly tune him out.

@tom_g True it turns maudlin there. True it expresses half truths. There was plenty wrong with America when the “Greatest Generation” helped stop tyranny and then rebuild a shattered nation and a shattered world. But there was plenty great about it too, and the greatness he lists is true, and missing from today’s world.

bolwerk's avatar

@ETpro: nothing is especially wrong with a characterization like that because there are (or at least were) people with that mix of ideological and personality traits. But holding it up as a pithy political insight is just insipid because, when you parse it, he is acting like a dickhead, cutting people off, talking down to the “sorority girl,” trashing the victims (“worst generation”), blah blah. And that’s trust in the first two minutes.

It’s left-right/liberal-conservative false equivalency agitprop.

tom_g's avatar

@ETpro: “But there was plenty great about it too, and the greatness he lists is true, and missing from today’s world.”

From the video…

- “We stood up for what was right.”
“We fought for moral reasons.”
“We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons.”
“We waged war 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 chest.”
“We built great big things.”
”[We] made ungodly technological advancements.”
”[We] explored the universe.”
”[We] cured diseases.”
“And we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.”
“We reached for the stars.”
”[We] acted like men.”
“We inspired 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.”

@ETpro From my understanding of history, nearly all of these statements read as fantasy. Am I wrong? What supposed period of time is this guy talking about, and what possible reasons could he have for making those statements. Some are just patently absurd.

ETpro's avatar

@tom_g OK, getting down to the specifics, the time period is, I believe, from the end of WWII in 1945 to the beginning of Reganomics in 1980.

Some statements are true, some are in the grey zone, and some are false. I can forgive the occasional slip. It’s common to reminisce about the good old days even when the truth is some things weren’t all that good back then. My take on their veracity is as follows:

– “We stood up for what was right.”
In opposing Hitler and his plan to slaughter all humanity except for Aryans, yes we did. In rebuilding former enemies as well as our allies whose countries were laid waste during the war, yes we did. Were there social injustices we tolerated. Of course. There still are. I’m not of the school that says all that falls short of 100% perfect it 100% wrong.

– “We fought for moral reasons.”
In WWII and in Korea, yes we definitely did. Vietnam was a moral and military disaster, but the Soviet Union and their allies did have the same goals in mind Hitler has pursued. They wanted their Communist ideology to rule the entire world. They planned to pick off one nation at a time till they achieved that goal. I suspect that if we’d done nothing about Vietnam, then Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and eventually all of Asia would have fallen under Chinese domination. But one never knows what was down the road they did not take.

– “We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons.”
Not always, but there is a great deal of truth there. The Civil Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act.

– “We waged war on poverty, not poor people.”
True. Perhaps it was a poorly executed war, but we did build a large part of our social safety net in those days. Those who hate the idea of a social safety net and favor just letting the poor starve as a solution think this was a misguided effort. I do not agree, And since Voodoo Economics went into place, the war has been waged against the poor and not against poverty.

– “We sacrificed.”
Yes.

– “We cared about our neighbors.”
Most of us actually did.

– “We put our money where our mouths were.”
Yes, to a large degree we did.

– “And we never beat our chest.”
OK, on this, I don’t know of any time in US history when it was true.

– “We built great big things.”
The Interstate highway system. The Modern Air Traffic Control System. NASA. Landing a man on the moon… Definitely YES!

– ”[We] made ungodly technological advancements.”
See the above. It took decades for things like the personal computer, the Internet, cell phones, satellite communications, GPS and the like to finally emerge, but a great deal of those advances hearkens back to technology developed in the effort to put a man on the moon. After Voodoo Economics, we can’t afford to invest in the future, because that takes up money we need to give to our poor, disadvantaged billionaires.

– ”[We] explored the universe.”
As much of it as we could get to.

– ”[We] cured diseases.”
Yes, we’ve even cut our investment in that. Billionaires need welfare, and can’t be asked to pay for a future they won’t live to see.

– “And we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.”
I don’t know about the world’s greateds artists. That one gets back to the American Exceptionalism he’s supposedly rejecting. But we did build the world’s greatest economy.

– “We reached for the stars.”
Yes, we did.

– ”[We] acted like men.”
I’d prefer to say humans, but yes.

– “We inspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior.”
True, and it’s patently false now.

– “We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.”
In comparison to the toxic politics that have ruled since Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich, this is so abundantly true!

– “And we didn’t scare so easy.”
Yes. We didn’t cower and pass“Patriot” Acts that America’s real Patriots would have organized to fight.

– “We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed…by great men. Men who were revered.”
We absolutely did have a better educated, more literate, less gullible electorate then.

– “First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”
True!

– “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”
True!

tom_g's avatar

@ETpro – Thanks! Great, thorough response.

– “We stood up for what was right.”

@ETpro: “In opposing Hitler and his plan to slaughter all humanity except for Aryans, yes we did. In rebuilding former enemies as well as our allies whose countries were laid waste during the war, yes we did. Were there social injustices we tolerated. Of course. There still are. I’m not of the school that says all that falls short of 100% perfect it 100% wrong.”

Again, I’m not a huge history buff, but I was under the impression that the US were reluctant participants in WWII, and were forced into it out of self defense.

– “We fought for moral reasons.”

@ETpro: “In WWII and in Korea, yes we definitely did.”

Again, my reading on this could be way off, but I don’t recall anyone really having much of a problem with Hitler until the US was under real threat. I’m not sure that qualifies as a moral reason as much as self-defense.

– “We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons.”

@ETpro: “Not always, but there is a great deal of truth there. The Civil Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act.’

But are we talking about specific moments that the government was simply dragged into doing something about, or are we talking about the country passing moral laws in general. Also, if we have such laws, can we fault future generations for not crafting those laws again?

– “We waged war on poverty, not poor people.”

@ETpro: “And since Voodoo Economics went into place, the war has been waged against the poor and not against poverty.”

granted

– “We sacrificed.”

@ETpro: “Yes.”

I’m not even sure what this means? Who sacrificed, who sacrifices now, why do people sacrifice, is there less sacrifice now, and what does this even mean?

– “We cared about our neighbors.”

@ETpro: “Most of us actually did.”

I was born in 71, so I have very little to run with here. My tendency to translate this question, however, is how people generally accept or treat people in our community. I would argue that we’re more accepting of and respectful of our neighbors now. Whether you look at race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

– “We put our money where our mouths were.”

@ETpro: “Yes, to a large degree we did.”

Not sure how to interpret this.

– “And we never beat our chest.”

@ETpro: “OK, on this, I don’t know of any time in US history when it was true.”

– “We built great big things.”

@ETpro: “The Interstate highway system. The Modern Air Traffic Control System. NASA. Landing a man on the moon… Definitely YES!”

Again, I could be way off, but I think that since we do build upon previous advancements, it isn’t quite fair to say that we didn’t build an interstate highway system since 1980 since we already had one. If I have a house built in 1950, I’m not sure what it would mean to say that we did all of this in 1950, and simply hung new curtains since.

– ”[We] made ungodly technological advancements.”

@ETpro: “See the above. It took decades for things like the personal computer, the Internet, cell phones, satellite communications, GPS and the like to finally emerge, but a great deal of those advances hearkens back to technology developed in the effort to put a man on the moon. After Voodoo Economics, we can’t afford to invest in the future, because that takes up money we need to give to our poor, disadvantaged billionaires.”

Agreed that we gained a ton from the moon effort. And a large part of why we were able to spend all of that public money was because of the threat of the Soviet Union and communism. While I would love to see greater space and technology research funding, I’m not sure I would want to enter another atmosphere which caused the first influx of funds.

– ”[We] explored the universe.”

@ETpro: “As much of it as we could get to.”

We’re still exploring via space telescopes, mars rover, etc. But again, exploring the moon would make little scientific sense since we already did it.

– ”[We] cured diseases.”

@ETpro: “Yes, we’ve even cut our investment in that. Billionaires need welfare, and can’t be asked to pay for a future they won’t live to see.”

I’d love to see more public investment in this, sure.

– “And we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.”

@ETpro: “But we did build the world’s greatest economy.”

ok

– “We reached for the stars.”

@ETpro: “Yes, we did.”

And I believe we’ve reached further since then.

– ”[We] acted like men.”

@ETpro: “I’d prefer to say humans, but yes.”

I would disagree that this is what he meant, and I would only agree with the “humans” thing simply because what humans do = “like humans”. In that case, I would say that it is – and can’t be – any different today.

– “We inspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior.”

@ETpro: _“True, and it’s patently false now.”

When you say that “we” inspired to intelligence in the past, who are you specifically referring to? Are those the same people who do today? I’m not sure I follow this one.

– “We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.”

@ETpro: “In comparison to the toxic politics that have ruled since Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich, this is so abundantly true!”

McCarthyism?

– “And we didn’t scare so easy.”

@ETpro: “Yes. We didn’t cower and pass“Patriot” Acts that America’s real Patriots would have organized to fight.”

McCarthyism?

– “We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed…by great men. Men who were revered.”

@ETpro: “We absolutely did have a better educated, more literate, less gullible electorate then.”

How is this possible? Don’t we have more access to information today than we did at any point during this amazing period? I don’t see any evidence that people had any of these qualities.

– “First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”

@ETpro: _“True!”

– “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

@ETpro: “True!”

The key word here is anymore. The US was the greatest country, or are you arguing that the US was a better country than it is currently?

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