This started out to be a simple post, but by last night I was already at 1,868 words and realized that it would need to be broken into two, or possibly even three parts. I hope you’ll bear with the ramblings of my mind, as I attempt to define what, in my view, makes a nation ‘great’, and where the U.S. stands in that assessment.
For more than five years now, we have been bombarded with Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “make America great again”. I have argued that the U.S. was never ‘great’. It was once a decent country, certainly one whose citizens enjoyed more rights and freedoms than those of many other countries, but ‘great’ in my mind is something akin to perfect, and the United States has never been anywhere close to perfect. Nor, for that matter, have most other countries. A number of readers have argued that the U.S. aka ‘America’, is truly great, if a little bit rusty around the edges these days. I think that ‘rust’ has eaten into the inner workings.
All of which begs the question: What does it mean to be ‘great’? Merriam Webster provides 11 separate definitions for the word, but for our purposes, I think we can narrow the field to just a couple:
- Notably large in size
- Markedly superior in character or quality
Well, I can’t argue with the first one. With a land mass of 3.797 million square miles and more than 330 million people, it is ‘notably large in size’, in fact the 4th largest country on the planet, and the 3rd most populous. But that doesn’t make us ‘great’ … only big.
Predominant — having superior strength, influence, or authority? Granted, the U.S. has had notable influence in the western world until recently, but that word ‘superior’ bothers me. We had that influence mainly because of our bloated military and our willingness to help our allies, to be a key player in the global community. But that was a few years ago, and today we have shunned any responsibility to our global partners. We are no longer trusted by any nation, and deservedly so.
And the third one is simply arrogant and disgusting. Superior … no. We have as many flaws as any nation on earth, more than some. The U.S. may well have a superiority complex, but we are not superior.
So, what makes a nation great? If you Google that question, you will be rewarded with 3.42 billion results in only 0.53 seconds! Obviously I am not the first to ponder the question! I read through a few of the top ten results, many cite a successful capitalistic economy, others the contentedness of the populace, but the one I found most nearly matched my own views was on a website called 20SomethingFinance , written by one G.E. Miller. He provides a list of criteria that I am almost completely in agreement with:
- a truly democratic vote – every vote is equal, and representation is fair and just. Voting is encouraged (not suppressed), accessible, quick, and easy – the higher the participation, the better.
- an election system where political contributions are publicly funded or capped at levels accessible to all incomes and corporate and private dark money influence is kept out.
- separation of powers – a system of checks and balances.
- an independent and free press.
- significant and continued investment in shared infrastructure.
- a fair and just legal, court, and prison system.
- equal access to data and information (ideally via strong local libraries and a speedy broadband connection).
- diversity in backgrounds and opinions.
- broad and equal guaranteed human and civil rights, liberties, and freedoms (speech, religion, voting, assembly, press, etc.).
- an investment in people through an affordable education and works skill that leads to opportunity for economic/financial success for all.
- kindness/care for its citizens and for the citizens of other countries.
- a desire to fill the role as a shining light of good for other countries.
- broad consumer rights and protections.
- harsh punishment for government and corporate corruption and corporate anti-trust.
- strict protections for the water that we drink, air that we breathe, and land that we walk on.
- an emphasis on data, science, truth, and transparency in the government decision-making process.
- strong employee rights that put an emphasis on health, safety, the right to form a union, equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and family/life balance.
- affordable health care for all as a right, not a privilege reserved for only the wealthy.
- economic justice and a muted level of economic inequality.
On paper, the U.S. meets most every one of these criteria, but the reality is something quite different altogether. In fact, reading through the list for the third time, I can honestly say that the only bullet points we still come close to fulfilling are #4, #7, and #8. We do still have a free press, though they are constantly intimidated and demeaned by our ‘leaders’ in government. We do have broad access to information, both through libraries, bookstores, newspapers, and other media avenues. And we for damn sure have diversity of backgrounds and opinions, though some count more than others. Every other item on that list has been diminished in the past decade, especially the past three years.
So, let me tell you my vision of a ‘great’ country. I view a great country rather like I view a great family, for what is a nation but a larger family? In my vision, the perfect nation recognizes and acknowledges its role as part of the larger global community, understands it has a responsibility to help other struggling nations, and does not see every situation in terms of “what’s in it for me?” In a truly great family unit, while individualism may be encouraged, the ‘greater good’ is paramount. The ideal family is part of the greater community and helps neighbors when needed. They are also part of the nation and pay taxes, use their voices to get things that help people done. And ultimately, we are all part of the global community, like it or not. In this, the 21st century, what you or I do affects people all around the globe.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II …