Patriotism, nationalism, loyalty, allegiance: all words with positive connotations. To support one’s country is to be a good citizen, and to do otherwise is to be unthankful and petulant. Americans either believe America is the greatest country on Earth, or they don’t—but which group is correct?
Until recently it was less common for people to debate whether the United States is the greatest country on Earth. Americans have walked and played golf on the moon, and no other country to date can say the same. We have an extremely powerful military, arguably the best in the world, and people can generally live without fear of invasion from enemy forces. Most Americans need never fear dying of starvation; in fact, the most common cause of death in the United States is heart disease, which is related to eating too much instead of too little. Perhaps most importantly, we do have freedom in the United States. The mere fact I can write a column assessing the United States is a testament to the freedom we have to speak out against our government, something few would dare to do in many other countries. Although we still face countless social justice issues, we step closer and closer each day to true equality. Same-sex marriage is legal now, and police are being monitored very closely to ensure equal justice regardless of race. For every person in the United States who discriminates against those who are different, there are several others who are all-accepting. The majority of the problems in America aren’t life-threatening, and while life may not always be glamorous here, we need not live in fear of death.
That said, the United States also has countless areas in which it falls far behind other countries. We have more incarcerated people than any other country in the world, despite having a relatively small population compared to China and India. Healthcare is not a guarantee, which means medical emergencies often result in crippling debt. The education system is flawed, and higher education is so expensive it is often inaccessible to the less fortunate. America is the archetype of capitalism, and while capitalism has contributed countless inventions and concepts to the world, it has also victimized the lower classes of people. In the United States, upward mobility is very difficult. Almost without fail, if a person is born in poverty, he or she will die in poverty. This is the reason why stories like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby are so popular—people escape poverty rarely enough that a story of someone doing so is intriguing and spectacular. We are told to limit our dreams to only that which is practical, meaning that which can make lots of money. Mass shootings take place far more often than in any other developed country, and still it is more taboo to possess marijuana than it is to possess a weapon. The United States is an extremely flawed country, and one would have to purposely ignore many things to claim otherwise.
Does this mean the United States is not the greatest country in the world? The answer is unimportant. Despite its surplus of blemishes, the United States is still an excellent place to live—and perhaps that should be enough. For some reason, people feel the need to rank everything, then to not rest until they preside at the top. It is this type of thinking that dehumanizes those from countries worse off than the United States, that rationalizes closing borders and building walls, that actually makes the United States look even worse. For one country to be the best in the world, every other country must lack in one area or another. If one country is far better than another, it means the country is standing idly by while the other country struggles to keep its citizens alive. Instead of aiming to be the best in the world, we must focus on becoming better than we are and bringing the rest of the world with us. We are all citizens of the world, and it is time to share our prosperity with our brothers and sisters internationally. Only when the entire world has enough to eat, a place to sleep, and no threat of death will anybody belong to the greatest society on Earth—humankind.