America Is Back Again??? Not So Fast …

The former guy’s slogan was Make America Great Again, but every single thing he did dragged this nation further and further from that ideological ‘greatness’.  I would argue that the United States has never been any more ‘great’ than many Western nations, worse than some.  But, greatness is relative and subject to interpretation, so perhaps my standards are higher than some.  However, the nation was certainly at one time much ‘better’ than it has been for the past four years.

When Joe Biden traveled to Europe for the G7 earlier this month, he announced that “America is Back!”  And certainly he has brought us back to respectability among our allies, a respectability that was completely gone under the former guy, who treated our adversaries better than he treated our allies.  However, the U.S. has bigger problems and, in some ways, no we are not back.  Columnist Nicholas Kristof explains where we are lagging and what it will take to fix our problems.  For the record, I agree with most all of what he says, though there are one or two things I might argue with.


The Biggest Threat to America Is America Itself

June 23, 2021

By Nicholas Kristof

“America is back” became President Biden’s refrain on his European trip this month, and in a narrow sense it is.

We no longer have a White House aide desperately searching for a fire alarm to interrupt a president as he humiliates our country at an international news conference, as happened in 2018. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 75 percent of those polled in a dozen countries expressed “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing,” compared with 17 percent a year ago.

Yet in a larger sense, America is not back. In terms of our well-being at home and competitiveness abroad, the blunt truth is that America is lagging. In some respects, we are sliding toward mediocrity.

Greeks have higher high school graduation rates. Chileans live longer. Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts — perhaps a metric for where nations will stand in a generation or two.

As for reading, one-fifth of American 15-year-olds can’t read at the level expected of a 10-year-old. How are those millions of Americans going to compete in a globalized economy? As I see it, the greatest threat to America’s future is less a surging China or a rogue Russia than it is our underperformance at home.

We Americans repeat the mantra that “we’re No. 1” even though the latest Social Progress Index, a measure of health, safety and well-being around the world, ranked the United States No. 28. Even worse, the United States was one of only three countries, out of 163, that went backward in well-being over the last decade.

Another assessment this month, the I.M.D. World Competitiveness Ranking 2021, put the United States No. 10 out of 64 economies. A similar forward-looking study from the World Bank ranks the United States No. 35 out of 174 countries.

So it’s great that we again have a president respected by the world. But we are not “back,” and we must face the reality that our greatest vulnerability is not what other countries do to us but what we have done to ourselves. The United States cannot achieve its potential when so many Americans are falling short of theirs.

“America’s chronic failure to turn its economic strength into social progress is a huge drag on American influence,” said Michael Green, chief executive of the group that publishes the Social Progress Index. “Europeans may envy America’s corporate dynamism but can comfort themselves that they are doing a much better job on a host of social outcomes, from education to health to the environment.

“Rivals like China may see the fraying of America’s social fabric as a sign of strategic weakness,” he added. “Emerging economies, whose citizens are starting to enjoy quality of life ever closer to that of Americans, may be less willing to take lectures from the U.S. government.”

Biden’s proposals for a refundable child credit, for national pre-K, for affordable child care and for greater internet access would help address America’s strategic weaknesses. They would do more to strengthen our country than the $1.2 trillion plan pursued by American officials to modernize our nuclear arsenal. Our greatest threats today are ones we can’t nuke.

America still has enormous strengths. Its military budget is bigger than the military budgets of the next 10 countries put together. American universities are superb, and the dynamism of United States corporations is reflected in the way people worldwide use their iPhones to post on their Facebook pages about Taylor Swift songs.

But they also comment, aghast, about the Capitol insurrection and attempts by Republicans to impede voting. American democracy was never quite as shimmering a model for the world as we liked to think, but it is certainly tarnished now.

Likewise, the “American dream” of upward mobility (which drew my refugee father to these shores in 1952) is increasingly chimerical. “The American dream is evidently more likely to be found on the other side of the Atlantic, indeed most notably in Denmark,” a Stanford study concluded.

“These things hold us back as an economy and as a country,” Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said Tuesday.

More broadly, the United States has lost its lead in education overall and in investments in children. The World Bank Human Capital Project estimates that today’s American children will achieve only 70 percent of their potential productivity. That hurts them; it also hurts our nation.

We can’t control whether China builds more aircraft carriers. We can’t deter every Russian hacker.

But to truly bring America back, we should worry less about what others do and more about what we do to ourselves.

27 thoughts on “America Is Back Again??? Not So Fast …

    • Oh, I have all the confidence in the world in the new POTUS, but the old Congress is my concern now … and the people of this nation who seem to become more bigoted every day. Sigh. xx

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  1. This seems a fair assessment to me, but I would imagine that it will come as a surprise to many Americans. The view of you guys outside your borders is that you look inwards, and wear rose-tinted spectacles while you do it. No country is perfect – mine falls a long way short of being well-governed and managed, but even we score better on most of these metrics. But our problem is that our opposition party is useless and ineffective, rather than deliberately obstructive, so we *may* have more hope for improvement, if only our government ministers could keep their trousers zipped up.

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    • Oh yeah … the majority of the people here are convinced that there’s no place like “America” … in fact, I read something this morning where somebody said there is nothing racist about this country. I nearly choked. This nation … is not great, is not even fair and just, and we are moving further backward with each passing year. The deliberate obstruction and destruction is what’s disturbing, for it is proof that to one of our two major parties, We the People no longer matter, for they have figured out how to get around us and continue increasing their own power and wealth. Sigh. Heh heh … yours aren’t the only ones who cannot seem to keep their trousers zipped … we have Matt Gaetz, a member of Congress, who is charged with sex trafficking, sexual abuse of minors, and I don’t recall what else!

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      • I guess they haven’t travelled anywhere else to be able to make the comparison. Ours, sadly, is a racist society too, as a multitude of events since the referendum have shown. Our government is racist in many of its policies, which doesn’t help!

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                • So true. Even parents who aren’t overtly racist and don’t intentionally teach their children to believe that white skin is somehow ‘better’ have subtle ways, intentional or often unintentional, of conveying that message. I’ve heard the philosophy that says babies are born inherently preferring people of their own “race” and I do not believe that for a single minute! Watch kids of all colours playing on the playground … they don’t notice or care about skin colour, they just want to play and have fun! And then, they listen to their parents, go to school and listen to other kids who learned bigotry at an early age, and the die is cast.

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                  • That ‘philosophy’ sounds more like an excuse to me. It’s rubbish! My granddaughter’s best friend has a Chinese mother, and it’s lovely seeing them together, free of any taught behaviours. Knowing my daughter, there is no danger of that changing!

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                    • I fully agree … it’s rubbish! It’s ingrained in the minds of some and they don’t bother to stop and think that … underneath the skin, everything is the exact same. As my dad used to say … if a Black man cuts his finger, it bleeds red just like mine. Sigh. People can be so bloody stupid!

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  3. Jill, this is a must read for many, especially given the credibility of its author. American exceptionalism is no longer an accurate statement and has not been for several years. The last measure I saw, which is about five years old, had America 23rd and 27th in Math and Science (note my memory may have reversed those). We have declined in upward mobility ranking much lower, so to whom and where you were born are better indicators of success than merit. We rank low in healthcare outcomes while spending more than anyone else, and we cannot seem to come to grips with major problems like better gun governance, water availability and climate change, letting industry tell politicians what to think with their donations. And, to top it off, we have one of our major political parties with platforms built on deceitful representations of election fraud* or white maltreatment. The fact that many in their party believe this BS indicates their gullibility. Keith

    *PS – it should be noted Rudy Giuliani was suspended from practicing law by the New York State Bar Association for his election fraud lies

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    • Yes, I fully agree with all you say. We are, I think, rather like that fairy tale where we see ourselves much differently than others see us. Some of us see the reality, but the others go to the mirror on the wall that will tell them they are the fairest of them all. But you’re right … our education system is not top-ranking and 4 years of Betsy DeVos didn’t help it any. Yes, I saw that about Rudy, and you’ll see him get my opinion in my afternoon post!

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  4. In all the education comparisons since the 1960s, I don’t think Americans were ever no. 1. Canadian children could out-math, out-read, out-everything, including out-American history as compared to Americans knowing Canadian history. We have always had a very good education system.
    Until lately, when even our children are not being taught as well as they once were. Thanks to a lengthy run by Conservative politicians, the system was watered down. Their intent was to have only the rich be able to afford post-secondary education in order to keep poor people poor, incapable of rising up the administrative ranks. In Alberta right now, Jason Kenny is trying to force a new curriculum on our K to 6 students that 95% of schoolboards and teachers are boycotting as regressive. But he is determined to put it into process before he gets voted out next election.
    He is a mini-Trump, out to destroy what is good, and prolong what is bad (fossil fuel production, including coal!)
    Where do such people come from?
    But who cares who has the best education system as long as everyone gets a good education, one they can use to give us a better world, a world that will continue to support life as we know it, or as we want it to be.

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    • Under Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, ours was intended to go in a similar direction as what you describe, where only the wealthy can afford college, especially advanced degrees, and the rest of us plebes will be confined to doing the hard work, always under the thumb of the already-wealthy. And even more importantly, none of us plebes would be taught enough about government to every qualify for public office, thus ensuring that government would always be a plutocracy.

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  5. He’s pretty much right on the basics. The Republicans are an American Party but they forget what a small world it is these days for public opinion and that is definitely aghast that half the Republicans aren’t in jail. They’re the American Taliban, striving to hold the progress of women up, trying to ensure the country lives by a set of rules they would impose but which the country don’t want. But the people and what they want don’t matter. The insurrection in January seems to have been organised by them and yet they are still walking about an trying to bury the truth. Every attempt to make progress is held back by the arrogant Mitch McConnell and his filibuster. Education can’t progress as children mustn’t be allowed to learn certain truths, the people must suffer as they shouldn’t have access to social welfare yet the rich must be protected at all costs.
    Joe Biden’s standing in the world is good but America’s standing is atrocious most of which can be aid at the door of the four years under the previous incumbent and the Republican Party which won’t just lie down and die as it should, a willing sacrifice for the American people.
    Cwtch

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    • The “American Taliban” is not a bad description of today’s Republican Party. Operating, perhaps, with less overt cruelty, but the end goal is the same … to rule, keeping everyone else under their thumb, including women, Blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, and the poor. It seems to me that our only hope for a brighter future lies with changes being made in Congress such that no one party can dominate the conversation. A viable third party might help that, or might make it worse … I just don’t know for sure. Sigh.
      Cwtch

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  6. from a general perspective, America looks like it’s, coming back, but, if you look closer, from a more, detailed standpoint, America really isn’t, progressing, not by that much, and not fast enough either…

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    • Quite so. Our political system is as corrupt today as any on the globe, we have a serious gun problem that we are almost completely ignoring, and people are putting their children to bed hungry, to name just a few things.

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