Column, 263 words

Exceptionally Mediocre on a Global Scale

America became great through deliberate and determined public investments in the common good, not hocus-pocus exceptionalism.

Jim Hightower

America the Beautiful! America the Greatest! We’re No. 1, right?

Absolutely, naturally, and indisputably. At least that’s the theocratic pronouncement of far-right-wing nativists who preach the dogma of American “exceptionalism.” They use the concept as a not-to-be-questioned litmus test of our patriotism.

Hightower-25-Leo Reynolds

Leo Reynolds/Flickr

Never mind that on many crucial measures of national achievements, our Good Ol’ U.S. of A has slipped in recent years. A simple-minded assertion that we’re No. 1 doesn’t make it so.

For example, the U.S. rate of educational improvement — a bedrock indicator of a nation’s future ability to thrive — has tumbled to 25th place among rich and newly developing nations. (Say it Loud and Say it Proud: We’re No. 25!).

Not only does that place us behind such education powerhouses as Germany. We’re lagging behind Colombia, Latvia, Portugal, and Slovenia too.

Yes, America remains the world’s richest nation. Yet our wealth is more concentrated in the hands of a rich elite than most other other nations. Even China has a more democratic distribution of riches than our society does.

Health care? We’re in 37th place and ranked dead last among wealthy democracies. The quality of America’s infrastructure ranks a poor 25th. In a category that not long ago was a source of great national strength and pride, our middle class is being hollowed out.

In the past century, America became great — not by merely believing in some hocus-pocus exceptionalism, but by achieving greatness through deliberate and determined public investments in the common good. That’s our true path back to being No. 1.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

  • BostonT

    The GOP (Greedy Old Party) seems determined to make the United States a third world country. We talk about ‘rebuilding’ Afghanistan and yet our own roads and bridges are falling apart. Ancient water mains are almost daily erupting. Our electric grid is monitored by mid-twentieth century technology and is barely holding on.
    Our rail system is a joke. Up here in the northeast they talk about high speed trains. What high speed? Towns and cities are so close together that by the time you get up a ‘head of steam’ you’ve got to stop at the next Petticoat Junction’.
    Let’s take care of this country and if there is anything left then maybe we can help out these other places. Because if we don’t help ourselves surely no other country will!