What Makes A Nation Great — Part I

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
  • Predominant
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. separation of powers – a system of checks and balances.
  4. an independent and free press.
  5. significant and continued investment in shared infrastructure.
  6. a fair and just legal, court, and prison system.
  7. equal access to data and information (ideally via strong local libraries and a speedy broadband connection).
  8. diversity in backgrounds and opinions.
  9. broad and equal guaranteed human and civil rights, liberties, and freedoms (speech, religion, voting, assembly, press, etc.).
  10. an investment in people through an affordable education and works skill that leads to opportunity for economic/financial success for all.
  11. kindness/care for its citizens and for the citizens of other countries.
  12. a desire to fill the role as a shining light of good for other countries.
  13. broad consumer rights and protections.
  14. harsh punishment for government and corporate corruption and corporate anti-trust.
  15. strict protections for the water that we drink, air that we breathe, and land that we walk on.
  16. an emphasis on data, science, truth, and transparency in the government decision-making process.
  17. 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.
  18. affordable health care for all as a right, not a privilege reserved for only the wealthy.
  19. 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 …

51 thoughts on “What Makes A Nation Great — Part I

  1. Pingback: What Makes A Nation Great — Part I — Filosofa’s Word | ShiraDest: toward The Four Freedoms for All Human Beings

  2. Exactly, although our public library system is greatly unequal: in the inner city sections of DC, San Diego, CA and Albuquerque, NM, I saw branches in poor neighborhoods being overwhelmed by unmet need, and not nearly as well equipped as branches in wealthier suburban or even outlying city branch libraries, so that staff I volunteered with always wanted to transfer to “better’ branches where they got more protection and support (like facilities issues, such as toilet repairs being needed constantly, frequently having to call local police for threats against them, constant despair over hungry and loud or unbathed patrons, let alone literacy issues, need for interpreters): branches in richer (or even less poor) areas had far fewer of these problems. Funding and sharing of those funds where most needed is critical, especially with the library system, and more quiet spaces for kids and adults to study in, as well.

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  3. Pingback: What Makes A Nation Great — Part III | Filosofa's Word

  4. Good post Jill.
    It was/is the USA’s time on the stage…all big nations either in size, commerce, military etc get a chance. They have their time, lots of influence and lots of flak from smaller nations and folk who fancy themselves ‘thinkers’, then it’s their time to step down.
    There are many reasons why they achieve this state and many reasons why they fade.
    One reason they fade is when a portion of the population gets into a condition of populist, inward looking hysteria seeking excuses.
    That’s when they start to find inadequates to run the nation ’cause the inadequate speaks words they think they like to hear.
    Happened to you guys in 2016.
    Sorry ’bout that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Roger. I always appreciate your insight, for you see things much more clearly than I do. I don’t mind so much that this country is no longer considered the “leader of the free world”, for that was a pompous title to begin with. But, I mind what is happening internally, the divisiveness, the sheer hatred, the “us” vs “them” culture. And, I do mind that we seem to be withdrawing from our role as a team player in the international community with such things as pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, the Iran nuclear agreement, World Health Organization and others. It just seems as if we are headed down the garbage disposer, both internally and externally. Some days I try to make a difference, but other days I feel like throwing my hands up and saying, “Fine, you fools can have this damn country and do as you will, for I’m done … I’m outta here!” Sigh.

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      • We have two visions:
        On the political front there is Yates’ ‘Second Coming’

        “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
        The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
        Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
        Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
        The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
        The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.

        Surely some revelation is at hand;
        Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
        The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
        When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
        Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
        A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
        A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
        Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
        Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
        The darkness drops again; but now I know
        That twenty centuries of stony sleep
        Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
        And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
        Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

        OR we have
        Your “Good People Doing Good Things”
        Keep on letting the world know there are these folk Jill and we might just make it through.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post Jill. I love the list and agree with you that we do succeed on a few of them. But more often than not, we’re falling short on most. Yes, especially the last 3.5 years. We certainly can’t blame the current president for ALL the problems because as the years come and go, the corporate masters continue to hold sway over so much of our society. The current potus is merely a rubber stamp for what they want government to do, or not to do. Great undertaking on your part Jill. If only we scored a 19 for 19 on that list…….

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    • Thanks, Jeff! No, we cannot necessarily blame it all on Trump, though some days when his evil is showing more than others, it’s hard not to. Trump, though, is just a puppet, a symptom of a much larger disease. Sigh. We’ll never score 19 for 19, but heck, I’d just be happy if we could say we’re doing well with half the things on the list and working on the others. Thing is, right now our government isn’t working to improve on any of the list!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: What Makes A Nation Great — Part II | Filosofa's Word

  7. Pingback: What Makes A Nation Great — Part I — Filosofa’s Word – The Interfaith Intrepid

  8. Your open and honest reflection makes total sense to me. I look forward to reading Part II. With regard to your last comment– “In this, the 21st century, what you or I do affects people all around the globe.”–I would like to add that this has been true from the moment that America rose to prominence after World War II.

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    • Thank you, Rosaliene! It’s something that has been nagging at the back of my mind for a while now, and a comment by a reader last week stirred me to finally get my thoughts together and opine! You are right … WWII shrunk the world, made us more connected. Many people eschew globalization, many others fear it. Our current ‘president’ is in favour of isolationist policies. But, we cannot turn back time … for better or for worse, we ARE all interconnected. Personally, I like it … I think it provides us so much opportunity … to learn about others, to make new connections, and to help people around the globe. But, I’m often told I’m too idealistic. So be it, for I am who I am.

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      • As with all of humankind’s advances across the ages, globalization has also brought its share of adverse effects. But, I share your optimism of its benefits of connecting peoples worldwide. Because of my background as a geographer and international trade professional, I’ve always felt connected with the rest of the world. It’s only in recent years, with my growing understanding of our climate and ecological crises that I’ve come to realize that all life on our planet is interconnected. Whether we accept it or not, each one of us is responsible for the well-being of all other human and non-human beings, large and small, on our planet.

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        • Agreed … there are positives and negatives, but I see the positives as far outweighing the negatives. Additionally, I think that every nation simply must take their role in the larger, global community seriously for the security of all nations and in order to preserve and repair our environment. I’m bothered by the shallowness of some when it comes to making sacrifices to save the planet … this is something we have to overcome! You’re right … we are all interconnected and it’s past time we realize it.

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  9. Jill, thanks for writing this. I like Gandhi’s definition – a community’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its less fortunate. Through that lens, we should lift each other up. Right now, if you showed Americans several income distribution charts from countries around the world, most would not pck the one which reveals how many make just above poverty levels and below here in the US.

    Our nation supports an American dream that, in reality, is not attainable for too many. A study done on poverty noted that where and too whom you are born matters more than merit in achieving success. As Warren Buffett notes he was born lucky – a white male in America. He had opportunities that his sister or a black man did not get, Of course, he worked hard and is smart, but he had a leg up.

    I look forward to your next post in the series. Keith

    Liked by 4 people

    • Many thanks for pointing me in the direction of the Gandhi quote … I’ve used it for a header in Part II! You are right … our income inequality is the highest of all the G7 nations, and likely many more.

      The American Dream that we grew up hearing about … does it actually still exist? Yes, where and to whom you were born is one factor, but what colour your skin is may be an even bigger factor. Poverty is cyclic because it’s a vicious circle … you almost have to have money to make money. Part II will be out by the time you read this, and the finale, Part III, later this afternoon. Thanks again for the Gandhi quote!

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      • Jill, thanks. The American dream is out of reach for most folks. Ironically, we have people who vote against their economic interests because they are sold this dream and vote on its hope. They are also told things that would actually help them are bad by those who like their money (think George Bailey vs. Mr. Potter in “It’s a wonderful life”). We all do better if we strive toward Bedford Falls vs, Potterville. By the way, John Nash won a Nobel Prize in Economics proving that if we maximize profit for all, the pie is larger than if we maximize it for the individual or invidual country. That flies directly in the face of Trump’s MAGA. We cannot shrink to greatness. Keith

        Liked by 2 people

        • You’re right, and that is the thing that puzzles me. Why do hard-working people who struggle to pay the bills and buy food, keep sending the same people back to Congress time and time again? Mitch McConnell is a prime example, as is Susan Collins … these people should have been tossed out on their ears long ago! Perhaps it’s a lack of education and understanding of how the system works? I like Mr. Nash’s take on it, and I agree.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Great beginning, Jill. If I don’t remember to tune in tomorrow, and I admit having trouble with memory lately, please remind me! This country has had a few “great” moments but when I compare the “Rise and Fall of the American Colonies” with the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire it all falls into place, and last place at that. We have accomplished in under 300 years what it took the Romans to do in several centuries! Once upon a time I could have told you how many centuries, but now memory fails me. Our decline seems to have gained speed and strength since the Kennedy administration and the televised debates. The entire country, or world if they were interested, could tune in to watch our “golden boy” make mincemeat of his opponent, one of our later impeached presidents. Don’t get me wrong here, I loved the days of Camelot, the dream, the beautiful Queen Jackie and the sweet children playing on the lawn of the White House. That was before I read the background story and realized he wasn’t so perfect after all. Sad day for me, but it doesn’t do any good to bury your head in the sand and play ostrich. Eventually we all have to pull our heads out and wash the sand out of our eyes and ears, to hear the words and see the truth in all its horror, or in some cases, the glory moments.
    And we have had a few glory moments, when we all came together for a common cause, but even they dark corners that should be lit up for all to see and clean. It’s a shame that most of our moments lately have been so bad, nothing to be proud of. Our presidents lately have just been the devil we know rather than the one we don’t know as far as choosing someone really qualified for the role. With so much media coverage and some in the media willing to sell their opinions to the highest bidder, it’s now a choice of which one has the most money to pay for the campaign and to buy the votes needed when they don’t get them on their own qualities. We are speeding toward our doom that we can’t see behind the blur to what we could all be if we only tried. War for the sake of showing our strength is not an option now. We haven’t won a war since 1945. And each country we try to help sees the hidden agenda that most Americans never see. I think our national anthem should be changed to “Can’t Buy Me Love”, because that song title is just what this country is trying to do globally and no one is listening now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tell you what … I will email you a link to Part II, and then later to Part III, for it has become a 3-part project. Your analysis is so very accurate, my friend. We have been in a downward slide, but if you think of the racism that has been, in one way or another, built into the “American way” throughout our relatively short history … we were never great. In the 1960s, with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, John Lewis and so many others, I thought we had made progress … real progress. What I’ve only realized in the past couple of years is that … it was only surface deep. Beneath the surface the same racism simmered, waiting to be given permission to come out again. But that’s only a part of our problem. We have truly become a plutocracy, rule by the wealthy, and at least 80% of us are left out in the cold. How does that make a ‘great’ nation? It doesn’t. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment … I will email you the links when the posts are published … one in the morning, one in the afternoon … to the other two parts. Huge Hugs!!! ❤

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      • THANK YOU, MY FRIEND. YOU DID A LOT OF WORK ON THIS POST AND I AM IN AWE OF ALL YOUR WORK. BTW, LAST NIGHT I READ A BILL OF RIGHTS POSTED BY MOTHER WINTER_____________. FORGOT THE LAST PART OF HER NAME. MY NEW SLOGAN IS COURTSY OF HER –“I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE!” RE-POSTED IT ON MY SITE SO CHECK HER OUT. HUGS

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sometimes, when an idea gets under my skin, the words just flow and the fingers pound the keyboard without having to stop and think. This series was like that … ideas just flowed and the challenge was to keep the word count to a manageable level. Thank you so much for your kind words … it’s what keeps me doing what I do! I will definitely check out that post … thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

  11. I sympathise with you. Knowing things are wrong as in ‘How the mighty are Fallen’ for I always saw he US as mighty rather than great. But there are lots of problems there and most emanate from your leaders who allow dark money to set the tone and the path of the country. It seems that the NRA own most of the politicians on one side and can even make gun shops be allowed to reopen in the middle of a coronavirus as a necessary store. Clean out the dark money from politics and make the politicians work for the salary on offer and for the people who pay it.
    Cwtch

    Liked by 3 people

    • Gee David, I had a great reply started but my poltergeist is extremely active today. I think it flew out to Mars a few seconds ago. Anyway, we need to limit the number of years our senators and reps can spend in D.C. Get rid of the career politicians and start electing people who will work FOR the people rather than for a corrupt administration while cashing in on the people!

      Liked by 3 people

          • PLEASE do not send him back in November! Shoot him if you must, and Elaine too, but he has done enough damage already! Put him out to pasture with those retired race horses y’all have! Anything, but keep him out of Washington … I’m begging, I’m pleading!

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                  • No, but would you believe I did live in Kentucky for a time? Burlington, just south of Cincinnati, when I worked in Edgewood, KY, at a commercial laundry owned by St. Elizabeth Hospital, among others. And, my sister-in-law lived in Lexington where the horse farms are for many years! I should have known better …

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                    • Oh my yes. My brother lived in Lex for years until he built a new house in Nicholasville. And two of my kids lived there while in college. They worked during the summer so we didn’t see much of them for several years. My nephew owned a horse at one time and she had the last filly sired by one of the triple crown winners who’s name I have forgotten at this time. I’ve been to Burlington before on my way to east KY for a meeting but couldn’t tell you now how I got there. I couldn’t tell you then either except I took a wrong turn someplace but that one wasn’t as bad as the wrong turn that ended me up in Tennessee. I’m actually the “Wrong Turn Queen” around here. I’ve been lost in a walk in closet before.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I can relate to the “Wrong Turn Queen” … I am directionally challenged and cannot read a map worth a darn! Plus, I cannot use GPS because I am near deaf and cannot hear her, so I end up driving on while holding my phone to my mouth and yelling, “What did you say??? ” The lady in the GPS never answers me, though. Last time I went to visit my friend in Pennsylvania, I got lost coming home … less than 4 miles from my house where I’ve lived for 22 years!!! Hugs, dear Angie!!!

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    • The greed and corruption among those in power in this country is jaw-dropping. Never before in this nation has there been so much outright unfettered dishonesty and thievery, and if it doesn’t stop, we will be no better than any of those countries Trump referred to as ‘shithole countries’. You’re right … we need a serious housecleaning here, and a complete re-alignment of campaign finance rules, as well as oversight of every single politician. Will it happen? Not in my lifetime. Sigh.
      Cwtch

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