Our need to assert America’s superiority to other nations seems to be getting stronger as the case for it gets weaker and weaker. What’s going on?
Obviously no presidential candidate is going to call attention to the fact that we rank 34th in child poverty rates, just ahead of Romania. Or the fact that we rank 49th in rates of infant mortality. Take the fact that the “land of opportunity” now trails behind most of Europe in social mobility. On the other hand, we excel all other countries when it comes to the number of prisoners behind bars. And our rates of obesity outrank those of other countries, including Mexico.
No one wants to hear this – and, so, no one says it. This is no doubt due, in part, to the universal impulse to shoot the messenger who brings bad news. Yet other countries do seem somewhat better at facing adverse facts. And why do we have to go the extra mile and not just avoid unpleasant facts but also insist on being exceptional? The “most powerful,” the “world leader,” the “best.”
Certainly part of the explanation has to do with our history as a refuge for the oppressed throughout the world. We recall that priceless heritage, and it has been and continues to be reaffirmed as others seek opportunity here or political and religious freedom, or seek asylum.