America: finding greatness in all the wrong places

by Kenneth Leonard


merica is the greatest country in the world. You’ve heard this before and if you’re like me, you grew up believing America was perched atop the global ladder with nary a challenger in sight. However, it’s hard to argue in favor of American exceptionalism nowadays, and the very idea of a single nation being the greatest in the world seems like a downright juvenile notion.

There are many areas where we just aren’t at the top of the global food chain anymore. Finland is kicking our heinies all over the place when it comes to education, so we aren’t No. 1 in that category. Japan has the world’s highest life expectancy. According to the World Health Organization, France has the best health care. Singapore is the most business-friendly nation in the world and the U.S. doesn’t even rank among the top five nations when measuring economic freedom. The Cold War mentality that America is a place where extraordinary opportunity and freedom abound is certainly a way of thinking that has proven dangerous when it comes to spurring growth and competitiveness.

Take heart, fellow Americans. There are still plenty of areas where we are indisputably at the top of global rankings. For example, the U.S. still leads the world in categories such as illegal drug use, obesity, total crime and hours spent in front of the television. We are leading the world in teen pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality. Americans are No. 1 in the world when it comes to spending money on health care, too. According to, we spend an average of $8,600 a year per person on health care, which is more than double what any other developed nation spends, including nations such as France and Sweden with their socialized universal health care systems.

America has the highest divorce rate, the largest defense budget, the most assaults with rifles and shotguns, the biggest prison population and the highest amount of incarcerated people per capita on the planet.

To top it all off, we have the most foreign debt of any nation on Earth.

It is time to stop pretending we are, as Ronald Reagan once said, “a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” It’s a nice idea, but in 2013, it’s just not true anymore. It might not have been entirely true back in the ‘80s, either.

America is still a great nation, but has lost sight of the attributes which once made it the definitive global leader in virtually every major category. We still have the capacity to rise above all our problems, but in order to do so we must recognize the problems we are currently facing instead of closing our eyes, sticking our fingers in our ears and telling ourselves we are better than the other countries that are consistently outperforming us.

Honest self-assessment and an attitude conducive to improvement can carry individuals a long way, and the same principles apply to our country. Those of us who love America should be fiercely critical of her stagnation because it is the only way to figure out what must be done to move forward. Don’t get me wrong, we should certainly celebrate our successes, but our focus shouldn’t necessarily be on the areas where we are already doing well if we hope to remain competitive as a nation.

Alexis de Tocqueville said “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

America is not immune to weakness, and we haven’t truly begun to lose our greatness and fail as a nation until we lose the ability to fix our flaws. It’s time to learn from the successes of other nations and climb the ladder back up to the top.