That’s an excellent slogan for a presidential campaign in which the candidate is not from the same political party as the current president. In order to win the election, you have to convince the voters that the current state of the country is bad. Some form of this question, however, is the focus of a large number of national and local political candidates, pundits, and ordinary people. So, what’s the problem? Is America great or not?
First of all, a little discussion on what’s meant by “Great.” If we’re going to say something is great in America, does that mean we have to be #1 in the world in that area? I don’t think so. What makes a country great is that it has many good attributes that have a beneficial effect on its citizens’ lives. I believe that great countries also have an overall positive effect on the lives of other people in the world. The United States has a lot of these attributes and despite all the negative stuff we hear anytime we turn on the news, it’s a fantastic country and I feel lucky to have been born here.
With respect to the military, we can definitely claim, “We’re #1!” I content that the strong U.S. military is beneficial for our citizens, but good for the rest of the world as well. There are likely many people who would disagree. As with other militarily dominant world powers throughout history, the U.S. has used excessive force when perhaps other options may have been a better idea (Granada and Iraq come to mind). But our men & women in uniform keep the shipping lanes open, help keep regional conflicts from expanding out of control, and for seventy years, have helped prevent World War III.
When you look at the Syrian civil war and the resultant refugee crisis, it’s hard to see how we’re preventing regional conflicts from getting out of control, but remember how World War I began. An assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian Nationalist in a Europe full of alliance agreements led to a rapid escalation of tensions. The self-declared Islamic State is attempting to expand the conflict beyond the area they currently control, but airstrikes (vast majority American) have helped Kurdish troops stop and start to push back the militants.
The importance of keeping the shipping lanes open should not be understated. Almost everything in the world would cost more and be harder to obtain if piracy was rampant. It might lead to a ‘buy local’ movement – which environmentalists would appreciate – but there are still many imported items needed to make the local products (fuel & machinery, for example). Also, because the U.S. is a major food exporter and food aid provider, starvation and wars in the rest of the world would increase if shipping was not as free.
The U.S. Dollar is the preferred reserve currency in the world because it is considered the safest. Countries, companies, and individuals around the world hold onto dollars to help ensure financial security and there are more $100 bills in circulation outside the U.S. than within our borders. What makes this great for U.S. citizens and residents is that our interest rates to borrow money are about 0.5% lower than they would be. To put that into perspective, a 1% increase in a mortgage rate from 4% to 5% increases the monthly payment by 12%.
Freedom of Religion
While there is a lot of discussion these days about treating people of one religion differently than those of other religions, freedom to worship as one wishes was a cornerstone to the formation of the United States. The first amendment to the Constitution begins with, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Religious persecution has been around as long as there has been religion and our separation of Church and State helps make us great.
This may strike some of you as odd considering all we hear about how badly the economic recovery is. While it’s true middle class jobs were lost disproportionally in the Great Recession and a recent Pew Research Center report shows that the percentage of middle class households has dropped From a peak of 61% to 50%, our economy can be self-sustaining and can help improve other countries’ economies. We are a rich nation and therefore, we are a consumer nation. Our buying power drives economies around the world and mitigates overreaction to troubling economic news such as the Greek debt crisis or the slowdown in China. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes’ Paradox of Thrift, a person benefits if he/she saves money, but it’s bad for the economy because there’s less demand for products. The people of the U.S. aren’t very thrifty so we help the world’s economies.
Our Land, Air and Water and Plenty of Ways to Enjoy Them
This is a beautiful country and recreational opportunities abound. Many countries have similar attractions, but we have tremendous diversity, very little pollution, and great transportation systems. Our train system isn’t as developed as in many countries, but our airports and roadways make travel options plentiful. Other than in the larger cities, parking isn’t even an issue. The U.S. is a great country for recreation.
We have some truly wonderful cities which, while younger than counterparts around the globe, offer fantastic resident and vacation options. There’s not much more to say other than New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc., etc., etc.
For over two centuries, we have been a country which has encouraged immigration and recognized the benefits that come with that policy. Unfortunately, the Native American population has suffered from this non-Native growth, and there has been sometimes violent resistance to allowing certain people to immigrate. Still, the diversity we have in this country has grown into a rich tapestry of faith and culture in many cities. (I’ll discuss the current mood against immigration in a later part.)
Extremely Good Medical Care
The U.S. has many of the best hospitals and medical research facilities in the world. Our system of health insurance is a result of worker retention efforts during World War II when salaries were capped. This means that we have a lot more money to invest in healthcare than do countries with government run systems. It also means that medical care is more accessible but also more expensive than in those countries. So, we have superb, but expensive medical care.
The colleges and universities in the United States offer an excellent education to students from around the country and the world. There are private institutions and state schools, two-year community colleges and four-year bachelor degree programs, masters and Ph.D. options, and of course, excellent law and medical schools. (Student debt will be addressed in another part.)
No Bribery and Low Obstacles to Conducting Business
In many countries, it is nearly impossible to conduct business without bribing officials for permits, supplies, or necessary services. Not true in the U.S. There is some regulation to ensure public safety and taxes to be paid, but for the most part, entrepreneurship is encouraged by all in authority and there are plenty of banks, venture capitalists and other financial institutions to provide startup funds. Wherever an entrepreneur is in the world, one of the best places to start his/her business is in the United States.
There are plenty of other positive attributes that the United States has which makes us great. Of course, we could improve in some areas, but that’s true for all countries. There are, in fact, many great countries and the U.S. is definitely one of them.
Next time: Part II – What do the Republican Presidential Candidates Mean when they say, “Make America Great Again?”