American Exceptionalism is a Myth
And things could get worse with another Trump term
President Donald Trump is fond of proclaiming that America is the “greatest and most exceptional nation in the history of the world,” and that he created the “the strongest economy in the history of the world.”
The fact is that the U.S. is a middling performer on many important metrics used to evaluate countries against one another. A second Trump term would likely cause America’s performance relative to its peers to decline even further.
As great a nation as the United States is, nationalistic messages and ethnocentrism inure us our nation’s most pressing challenges and shortcomings. And those who dare to freely discuss America’s imperfection open themselves up to criticism.
President Barack Obama was frequently skewered by Conservatives for “apologizing” for America, or for suggesting that our country is anything less than perfect.
In a 2014 speech to the United Nations, Obama laid out the argument that we are in fact an imperfect union, but that we continually work together to improve it:
“I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within its own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri — where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So, yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.”
Obama then pivoted to say that America welcomes “the scrutiny of the world — because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems, to make our union more perfect, to bridge the divides that existed at the founding of this nation.”
But for many, life under Trump has gone in reverse. Rather than steadily working to address our problems, Trump and his administration too often ignore them or actively make them worse.
The numbers don’t lie. Today, compared to other countries, the U.S. isn’t just falling behind; we’re laggards.
So what would a second Trump term mean for America’s shortcomings? At best, we’ll get more of the same. But there’s a real chance the country will decline on several important metrics, such as corruption, inequality, environmental quality, press freedoms, and healthcare.
And if Trump does win reelection—or worse, if Trump and Republicans successfully manipulate the election results and judicial review processes in a way that allows Trump to remain president for another four years without actually winning the vote, things could go downhill fast.
In the event of a Trump victory, does it make sense to pack our bags and move to another country, one where we might live freer, healthier, and happier lives? That’s a personal decision.
But it’s at least worth acknowledging that he have major work to do if we wish to reclaim the mantle as the world’s greatest nation. Many countries are getting things more “right” that we are. And it’s not even close.
Below is a summary of how the U.S. measures up against our peers.
U.S. Rankings on Key Global Indices
Democracy: America stands 25th on The Economist’s Democracy Index, behind such countries as Costa Rica, Chile, Portugal, and Spain.
Freedom: The United States ranks 15th in the 2019 Human Freedom Index, released by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute in Canada, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Germany. The five freest jurisdictions are New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Canada, and Australia.
Happiness: America is the 18th happiest country, behind Costa Rica, Israel, much of Western Europe, the Nordic countries, Canada, and Australia.
Economic Inequality: the U.S. is ranked 34th among the 37 OECD countries in terms of income inequality. The three countries fairing worse than the U.S. are Turkey, Mexico, and South Africa.
Corruption: The U.S. ranked 23rd on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index, behind the Nordic countries, much of Western Europe, and even Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates.
Gender Gap: the U.S. is ranked 53rd on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, which measures women’s educational attainment, economic equality, health, and political empowerment and representation.
Poverty: Despite having the world’s largest economy, the U.S. has the world’s fourth highest poverty rate, and the highest among the 38 OECD countries, at 17.8 percent.
Social Mobility: The United States is 27th on the Global Social Mobility Index, behind such stalwarts as Lithuania, Slovenia, Malta, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Portugal.
Crime: the U.S. has the 50th highest crime rate among 133 countries included in a 2020 Numbeo survey, just besting Iraq but trailing Panama, Nicaragua, Palestine, Zambia, and the Philippines.
Gun deaths: The U.S. has the 20th highest per capita gun death rate in the world, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s latest study of Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors.
Free Press: The 2020 World Press Freedom Index, which attempts to measure press freedoms worldwide, ranked the United States 45th out of 180 countries.
Infrastructure: The U.S. ranked 13th in a survey of countries with the best infrastructure. A well-functioning infrastructure is considered a cornerstone of a modern society. As well as serving an important role in facilitating business transitions, infrastructure increases a country’s efficiency and improves the standard of living of its citizens.
Healthcare: In a survey of countries with the best healthcare systems, the U.S. ranked 15th, despite spending more than twice as much per capita as any other country.
Quality of Life: According to a list compiled by BAV Group and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. ranked 15th in quality of life. Beyond the essential ideas of broad access to food and housing, to quality education and health care, to employment that will sustain us, quality of life may also include intangibles such as job security, political stability, individual freedom, and environmental quality.
Education: The U.S. is the 6th most educated country in the world, behind Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, according to OECD data.
Environment: The U.S. is ranked 27th on Environmental Performance Index, behind the Nordic countries and most of Western Europe, Taiwan, and Japan.
The questions we must ask ourselves:
- By the metrics listed above, would another Trump term improve conditions in America?
- Would we have less corruption, more equality, better opportunity, and a healthier environment?
- Would there be fewer gun deaths, better health outcomes and insurance coverage, and a freer press?
- Will economic inequality be reduced? Will social mobility increase?
- Will we regain our position of leadership in the world and earn back the respect we’ve lost?
- And if the answer to these questions is “no,” can we recover? How quickly?