As with my post on another site concerning the United Methodist General Conference, I hope this is my one and only time I write about our upcoming Presidential election. Disgusted by the whole thing, I have tried to ignore it as much as possible, waiting for the autumn when there are two candidates to start caring.
All the same, the incessant nattering about Donald Trump and his slogan about making America great again has driven me past the point of distraction. I am really curious and want to know from people who think Trump is going to do something to “restore the American dream” or “make America great again” what, exactly, that means for them. Because, you see, I don’t think America was ever as “great” as folks imagine it was at some mythical time past. At the same time, there are actual metrics to which we can refer in regards to specific areas like friendly business climate, infrastructure, political freedom, etc.
[W]hen one looks at infrastructure, life expectancy, family paid leave, health care, social mobility, income inequality, political corruption, government efficiency, economic stability, childhood poverty, student debt, water quality, education, prosperity, happiness and even Internet speed, one finds the U.S. absent from the top 10 “best countries” in every single instance. While the U.S. continues to have the largest economy in the world and by far the biggest military budget, in most categories relating to prosperity, security, happiness and well-being, the great American empire falls somewhere between the developed and the developing world.
But don’t take my word for it. As the ancient philosopher Plato once observed, beliefs without justification aren’t knowledge, and justification requires evidence. So, let’s take a gander at some statistics from various sources, beginning with the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Swiss not-for-profit foundation that’s “independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests.” According to the WEF, the U.S. fares as follows relative to the rest of the world: 16th in quality of overall infrastructure, 22nd with respect to competition, 33rd in terms of public institutions, 34th in terms of ethics and corruption, 35th in terms of health, 58th in terms of primary education, 67th in terms of security and 73rd in terms of wasteful government spending.
In terms of the WEF’s overall “global competitiveness index,” Switzerland comes in first with a value of 5.7 (out of 7), followed by Singapore with 5.6, and then the U.S., Finland, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands all tied with 5.5. So, not terrible overall — yet conservatives would cringe at the thought that we’re tied with multiple “socialist” countries for third place. As it happens, though, the U.S. is far behind such countries according to other international rankings. Forbes, for example, ranks the U.S. as the 22nd best place for business in the world, with countries like Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Finland above us. Eventhe Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Economic Freedom leaves the U.S. out of the top 10, placing Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and Denmark at the top.
In terms of “prosperity,” a concept that includes factors like governance, education, health, personal freedom and the economy, the London-based Legatum Instituteranks the U.S. 11th, with Norway, Switzerland, Canada and Sweden being the most prosperous. We’re also ranked 13th in the world with respect to social mobility, or the freedom for underprivileged individuals to climb the social ladder and become successful. The result is that, as Politifact confirmed in a “Mostly True” rating from 2013, it’s actually “easier to obtain the American dream in Europe” than it is in the U.S. Take a moment to let that sink in. According to the research that Politifact cites, “Of the 10 countries studied, the United States had the strongest link between parents’ education and a child’s economic, educational and socio-emotional outcomes … more pronounced than in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Nordic countries, as well as Canada and Australia.”
Social mobility is important in part because studies show that “a lack of wealth does make poor people sadder,” and social immobility prevents those without wealth from acquiring it. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. isn’t among the top 10 happiest countries. According to the most recent data, we’re the 15th happiest country in the world, behind Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and our gentle neighbor to the north, Canada. Another factor relevant to happiness concerns the overall empowerment of women, who constitute 50.8 percent of the U.S. population. As the Global Gender Gap Index reports, countries like Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark score the best, while the U.S. ranks a shameful 20th. Yet another happiness factor relates to the prevalence of childhood poverty. Here the U.S. ranks 34th out of 35 countries considered by a recent study. Sadly, this is consistent with a 2014 report from Johns Hopkins that found that “teenagers in Baltimore face poorer health and more negative outlooks than those in urban centers of Nigeria, India and China.” Other studies have revealed that rates of PTSD among inner-city residents in America are “as high or higher than [rates among] Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans.”
As they say, read the whole article. Just to highlight some things, imagine the reality in which allegedly socialist hellhole Denmark has a better business climate than the United States. Let it sink in there is greater social mobility in pretty much every other developed country in the world than in the United States; that is, after all, “the American dream” – the ability to live more comfortably over time, and provide for our children to do so even more.
As things would have it, there is a candidate who offers real policy solutions to address many of these metrics. While not getting nearly the press Trump receives, Bernie Sanders wants the US to improve its infrastructure, to make receiving a college education easier, and to enact policies that would create real wage increases as well as decrease the wage gap between workers and upper management. So why aren’t all you folks who want to make America great again supporting Sanders?
Of course, as Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out, being socialist is no protection from racism. There is ample evidence of this in the news, as Sweden prepares to expel up to 80,000 people seeking political asylum and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity has plummeted as she opened the country to Syrian refugees. As racism is the original American sin, its violent evidence for all to see as young African-American men will more likely wind up in prison than in college; as police continue to remain above the law even as they maim and kill African-American suspects with impunity; as it seems perfectly acceptable to tell African-American actors, directors, and producers to shut up and sit down and remain in their place; with all this it would seem that along with improving our physical and social infrastructure, we have also to educate a whole lot of folks on the realities on ongoing white supremacy.
There is also the gender gap in pay; the depth and extent of rape culture; and the ongoing denigration of women in various professions that make it clear that we still have a lot of work to do to regarding gender economic and social equality. Everything from providing paid parental leave for both parents, universal day care, to more flexible work scheduling to passing equal pay laws would go a long way toward decreasing the ongoing second-class socio-economic status of women. I wonder if a President Trump would support or propose these real, concrete steps to make America great?
I’m really quite curious about all you folks who shout and carry on about how horrible it is to live in the United States right now. Are you referring to all the ways America actually represents a crumbling formerly-developing nation? Are you willing to support candidates who will work to make the changes necessary to improve our standing in the world in real, measurable terms? Or does carrying on about “Making America Great Again” mean something else to you?