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Is America Great?

As our country continues to be told it’s not as powerful as it used to be, we question: “Is America great?” 

Great, the word that describes everything from pyramids to walls. The same word, in fact, that is constantly used to praise our self-proclaimed perfect country. But what truly makes America great? According to the dictionary, the vague word describes something considerably above average. To Donald Trump, it explains what our country used to be and where he plans to bring it. To the rest of us, it’s simply a four-letter adjective that we throw in front of words that need a little extra oomph. Although Jeff Daniels ripped apart our so-called greatest country in the world in the first scene of Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom, there’s more to being great than a couple statistics. Following the general criteria that is commonly used to rank the countries of the world in terms of “greatness”, let’s find the answer to the insanely complicated question: Is America great?

Cultural Influence

America’s far-reaching influence is no secret. New York Yankee caps decorate the heads of fans worldwide as countless people take bites of their Big Macs while simultaneously searching the internet on the revolutionary iPhone. But truly how far do the cultural roots of American greatness stretch? Well, pretty far in fact. Restaurants and clothing brands that originated in the US scatter the streets of cities across the world. The latest Air Jordans encumber the feet of children everywhere while the aroma of fresh Starbucks coffee hangs thickly in the air around them. The latest social media craze, ranging from Daniel’s white vans to the barely English phrase “suh dude”, spreads its strange wings and takes flight across the world wide web as individuals of every country emulate the questionable fads. America’s own George R. R. Martin and his world-renowned Game of Thrones series has given every girl another excuse to refrain from giving a stranger her name. Just the other day as I was studying in London, I overheard a Spanish woman respond to a man’s advancement at a bar with the phrase, “I’m no one.” Hollywood is unquestionably the entertainment capital of the world while American musical artists are nearly the only ones played on the radio these days. So, is America great? If you count the number of McDonald’s lining every street corner of cities worldwide and the number of people wearing Nikes that walk past them, you might just convince yourself that the answer is yes.

Image via Pinterest

Citizenship

America, the home of the free and the land of the brave. Our founding fathers built this supposedly great nation on the pillars of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Impressively, centuries later, our country continues to demonstrate these values. The first settlers into the New World were promised religious freedom and independence, two prominent staples of our society today. Any religion, no matter how ridiculous it might seem, is free to practice in the United States. Citizens nationwide continue to strive towards capturing the elusive American dream, gaining power and respect as they climb the ladder of capitalism.

The US, known as the melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, brags about its progressive attitude toward equality. However, minorities nationwide, specifically from the black community, have been the victims of presumed racial profiling in recent years. Trayvon Martin, Freddy Gray, and Philando Castile are just a couple of the names that have painted the front pages of newspapers worldwide as these incidents become frighteningly more common. After being stopped for anything from simply looking sketchy to a casual traffic violation, these falsely-profiled targets are usually helpless. Their skin, and not their characters, are the things being judged by the people around them. While each situation clearly requires more than a simple point of a finger, the only clear fact is that these minorities’ lives were taken at way too early of an age. Our country is far from perfect as these constant incidents demonstrate that there is always work to be done before we can call America great.

Although signs of racism and discrimination are unfortunately still present in communities nationwide, there’s no denying that progress has been made. Leaders with minority backgrounds have continued their rise to relevance as the names of Cory Booker and Ted Cruz continue to direct our country’s political aspirations. Heck, we elected our first black president, Barack Obama, and first woman presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, less than a decade apart. While America is not yet the completely sensitive, politically-correct country we strive to be, we have never been closer. If there was supposedly a time in the past when America was greater than it is today, it surely did not include minority groups at the helm nor any sort of equality at all.

Quality of Life

Before we get high off our own farts and smugness, let’s face the facts: we’re not the only country who boasts human rights and influential products. Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and many other dominant powers across the globe do the same. But how does America’s quality of life compare to the other elite countries in the world? For starters, more than 10% of America’s so-called great population is illiterate. Compare that to the world’s nearly 90% literacy rate, and we can now call ourselves the United States of averageness. In the past decade, we have only increased this statistic less than one percent. Although, according to yearly standings by US news, our education systems have ranked among the top five in the world, we have shown minimal progress in terms of educating the illiterates of our country. While the educated get smarter, the uneducated continue to ask the privileged to read and write on their behalf.

With education comes jobs, so, unsurprisingly, America continues to demonstrate its averageness when it comes to its unemployment rate. Currently, the US boasts nearly a 5% unemployment rate which is virtually identical to the world. When compared against itself, however, America has impressively cut its unemployment rate in half since the 2007 recession. But even a public bathroom smells alright when compared to how it reeks after someone has just laid a big one, as was the case when the real estate market dropped a golden crap on Wall Street in 07. Nonetheless, unemployment is a tricky statistic as the blurry lines between the different types of unemployment causes fluctuations in the rate, as well as factoring in the number of discouraged workers who aren’t originally included. Although America still ranks among the middle of the world in terms of unemployment rate, its recent surge demonstrates a potential brighter future among the other elite countries.

The American dream is preached daily throughout the streets of our nation as success stories decorate our newspaper’s headlines and our community’s book stores. But for the majority of us that didn’t create Facebook or invent the iPhone, we’re forced to live on our modest incomes. Thankfully, the US ranks among the mid-twenties when it comes to cost of living in the most recent surveys that analyze this statistic. While on the surface the numbers may point in a positive direction, it’s the truth that lies behind them that really shows our country’s true colors. America demonstrates one of the greatest income disparities between its economic classes. The top 0.1% makes almost a frightening 200x more than the bottom 90% in our country, and this difference is only growing. As a whole, our country might seem like an affordable place to live. However, the majority of our citizens don’t make nearly enough to enjoy the expensive lifestyles of New York City, San Francisco, or any other truly desirable city.

Although America’s greatness might not be evident from its literacy rate, unemployment rate, and income disparity, the truth is that the US is still a pretty great place to live. Bombs don’t rain down on our cities as they do in the Middle East, and most people still enjoy the daily amenities of living in a Democratic nation regardless of their economic class. Our flaws in the various statistics regarding quality of life are simply a testament to the fact that our country can always improve. But I know I’m not the only one who can walk outside, let the sun shine down on my fully-clothed body, and appreciate the country I call home.

Power

America is powerful, plain and simple. Our military ranks in the top three of the world, if not number one, year after year as the number of active personnel and technological advancements is second to rarely anyone. Although it helps that the US’s budget of over $600 billion is nearly triple the times of any other country’s military, power doesn’t concern itself with money when terrorist attacks continue to haunt our planet. America has deployed more than 150000 troops in over 150 different countries across the globe. Their military influence stretches from the densely-populated streets of New York City to the dirt-covered paths of Afghanistan where the greatness of America is a myth that is solely passed on by word of mouth.

Although the US demonstrates one of the largest militias in the world year after year, we would be nothing without the many alliances that our great leaders before us have negotiated. Most importantly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which includes 28 members stretching across the globe, has promised to defend any other country within the organization that is under foreign attack. The first, and only, time NATO invoked Article 5 of the treaty, which states an attack on one is an attack on all, was after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Throughout history, America has turned towards its strong alliances to defend itself and climb the totem pole of the world’s greatest powers. Although the US claimed their independence from the Allied and Central powers during World War I, they still worked closely with the Allies in defeating the German empire. After their first victory, the US formally joined the Allies during World War II after two years of independence before eventually winning their second world war. America’s deeply-rooted alliances have stretched from our country’s beginnings, further expanding our military and political power across the globe.

Perhaps America’s most influential prowess among the great countries of our planet is its vast economic grip on the world’s markets. Besides the US’s impact on exchange rates and foreign transactions, our greatest influence comes with America’s buying power. When the dollar’s worth decreases, Americans buy less. When Americans buy less, their demand for the goods of the countless foreign nations who export to the US also decreases. Countries with unstable economies are impacted dramatically by this decrease in demand, causing them to import less American goods. And thus begins the vicious cycle that can push any unstable nation into the next Great Depression. The US leads the entire world in terms of nominal GDP with its economy nearing the $20 trillion mark. More importantly, however, we also rank in the top ten in the world based on GDP per capita, which is basically the country’s economy divided by its population, with an amount over $50000. Although China is nearing America’s nominal GDP mark, they are way off in terms of GDP per capita due to China’s rapidly-increasing population. It’s important to take both numbers into account when determining a country’s economic influence. With the world’s largest economy and no sight of ever slowing down, America has firmly placed itself as the most powerful economic influence across the planet.

Image via Economist

So, is America great? According to a yearly standing done by US News, our country ranks fourth among the world’s powers. Let that sink in. Years of proclaiming our dominance over the rest of the so-called inferior countries of the world, we have achieved the almighty ranking of… fourth. So does this simple fact prove Donald Trump’s countless rants regarding our country’s lack of current greatness? Far from it in fact. America’s far-reaching cultural influence, progression towards an equal world, high quality of life, and insanely powerful economy prove the opposite.

Despite the US News’ rankings, there is no greatest country in the world. While one country might dominate a specific department such as military influence (achem America), no country will ever achieve absolute rule over the rest of the world. Great is one of the vaguest words in the dictionary, but ultimately, it simply means above average. Is America above average? Of course. Our country competes with the elite powers of the world year after year in every aspect of what makes a country great, a feat that only a few nations have attained. Although America and every other nation cannot claim to be greatest country in the world, we sure as hell are great. In fact, we might as well start using the word elite if we want to be specific.

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