The United States has been one of the most influential countries in history. While we significantly contribute to society and have substantial power, some people ignorantly believe that America is undoubtedly the best country in the world. Believing in “American Exceptionalism” has resulted in a false concept of American Superiority.
Over time, the definition of American Exceptionalism has changed. One of the key differences is the time period we live in today. For most of the 20th century, America was undisputedly one of the greatest countries in the world. Americans had liberty; free-market capitalism reigned supreme with a behemoth of an economy standing behind it, and the strongest military in the world stood behind us. It was okay to think America was great, because most other countries weren’t anywhere close. However, other countries have closed the gap within the last 15-20 years, and Americans haven’t yet fully noticed.
Now, Americans sentiments of Exceptionalism have become quasi-supremacist. What makes American Exceptionalism a dangerous ideology to hold now is that we are no longer in a league of our own. As other countries catch up, holding onto ideas that America trumps all encourages complacency. If Americans continue to believe that other countries simply don’t stack up, innovation will suffer, and America’s reputation will falter worldwide.
America has fallen behind in certain areas as other countries have improved and even surpassed us. In terms of foreign policy, America deals a heavy hand in world politics. The United States is often the tip of the spear in diplomatic engagements around the world. America also has the most capable and powerful military force the world has ever seen. Author Godfrey Hodgson noted that it “is perfectly true that the military power of the United States is unchallengeable” (113). But, what price does that power come?
As the most diplomatically capable country in the world, there is often a responsibility to help other countries solve disputes. If America steps in too much, people believe we are trying to exert our own will across the globe. If we do nothing, we are branded as irresponsible for letting something bad happen when we had the power to stop it. People often argue that America’s style of diplomacy is synonymous with being a sort of world police. In fact, a famous movie called Team America: World Police pokes fun at the idea that America plays too much a hand in international diplomacy (Parker).
Americans also spend an exorbitant amount of money to fund our military. In the opening scene of the TV show The Newsroom, the main character Will McAvoy declares that one of the only things America is number one in is defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of which are allies (Sorkin). Having such a large military puts an expectation on the United States Government to wield that power in a way that creates many “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenarios. There is nothing exceptional about the place our diplomatic power has put us in.
Maybe because America has strived to keep ahead of other countries in military and diplomatic power, quality of life in America has stooped to sub-par conditions for “the best nation in the world”. For example, the United States is the 51st best in life expectancy and we have the 6th highest obesity rate (CIA). Looking at the other data measures on the CIA Factbook yields similarly concerning results. The quality of life that Americans actually have suggests a country far from number one. American Exceptionalism has led us to believe that our quality of life is so much better than other places around the world. But can that really be true when we have high infant mortality rates, high obesity rates, low literacy standards, etc? Americans aren’t better off than people in other countries. In fact, in many cases, they are worse.
The last major aspect to look at is the state of American economics. According to the CIA Factbook, “the US has the largest and technologically most powerful economy in the world” (CIA). There is no question that the United States has a massive economic network that employs millions of workers each year.
However, there are some darker statistics hidden behind our economy. America has the 4th largest labor force (and steadily decreasing as manufacturing jobs are sent overseas). The US also is now the 4th largest exporter in material and intellectual goods (CIA). The implications are significant. As jobs move overseas, more innovation is happening elsewhere. This has slowed our economies growth. As we import more and export less goods, as well as ship jobs overseas, the combination is dangerous for the underpinnings of the economy.
The United States is also currently working to recover from one of the worst economic downturns in its history. Many firms were forced out of business, and many more were shipped away. The recession also showed another scary factor in the economy: questionable oversight and management by the government in recent history. The lack of involvement by the federal government to make rules that keep safety checks in place almost derailed our economy.
Our economy is huge and extremely powerful. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy and headed in the right direction. To reflect one of the greatest nations in the world, it needs to be steered back on course.
What must change are the irrational expectations of Americans. Make no mistake; the United States is not on a crash course for failure, just a course that doesn’t accurately represent the sentiments of its people. But, we cannot continue to expect to be unquestionably the best country around. The idea that America is both the best country in the world, as well as the only country worth a grain of salt is an idea more fit for times of imperialism. Once the United States recognizes the problem, we can be great once again.
De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy In America. Vol. 2. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Project Gutenberg. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/816/816-h/816-h.htm>.
Hodgson, Godfrey. The Myth of American Exceptionalism. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. Print.
Sells, Heather. “‘American Exceptionalism’ Next Political Hot Button?” Christian Broadcasting Network. Christian Broadcasting Network, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2011/march/is-american-exceptionalism-becoming-passe/>.
Team America: World Police. Dir. Trey Parker. 2004. Film.
“We Just Decided To.” Dir. Aaron Sorkin. Episode #1. The Newsroom. HBO. 24 June
“United States.” CIA World Factbook. CIA, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
Featured Image. The American. American Enterprise Institute, n.d. Web. 31 Oct.
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