My Turn: What do people mean when they say America is the greatest country?

For the Monitor
Published: 8/2/2020 7:00:18 AM

The anger many Americans feel about the state of affairs in our country rivals that of the late 1960s. It is profoundly sad. I write this as an observer of American politics from abroad, as I am a retired New Hampshire educator living with my wife in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Often, we hear the assertion from many Americans, abroad and at home, that “America is the greatest country on the face of the Earth.” I wonder why so many Americans are so caught up in the false piety that “America is the best” or “keep America great.”

Is it our overt nationalistic spirit at work here? Is it due to our unflinching loyalty to our country that at times colors our view? Is it embedded in our culture that anything less than the best is not good? Is this false pretense of greatness just an excuse to keep things as they once were? Or is it that those who assert such superlatives are fundamentally insecure, defensive, or just ill-informed?

By what criteria does one consider to conclude that “America is the best”? Is it GNP? If so, when China surpasses America, does that make China the best? Or is it how happy and harmonious people are, in which case Denmark or Bhutan may be at the top. If it’s confidence in government, then perhaps New Zealand wins the prize? How about literacy rate? If so, would North Korea be the greatest? North Korea?

One could argue that the “best country on the planet” is the one that takes the best care of its people in terms of health, education, and elder care. Does that make Norway or Denmark the best countries on Earth? How about having an excellent public educational system? Then perhaps the top country may be Singapore or Finland? Would the richest country be the best in the world? Subsequently the award goes to Qatar.

Is having equal opportunity among all people regardless of race, gender, gender preference, or creed an important indicator of greatness? If that’s the case, does America successfully achieve that standard?

The measures of a country’s greatness are varied and dependent upon how people rate the importance of the criteria – something on which Americans would have difficulty achieving consensus.

While most Americans have not visited other countries, I am fortunate to have lived and worked in countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa – for over 20 years. I see America and other countries differently because of my experiences and work. I am not saying I have clearer vision, just a different perspective.

Having worked extensively in China, Egypt, South America, India, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, etc., with ministries and boards of education, I can certainly appreciate what is good about America as well as what could be better. Like America, each country has its unique strengths as well as its weaknesses and, to be honest, I just couldn’t rank-order best to worst. It is not that simple. Many tend to seek simplistic, understandable solutions to complex matters, which accounts in part perhaps for the cliche “America is the greatest country.”

This is why I find it idiosyncratic that American nationalists, regardless of working and living in or even visiting other countries, champion America’s greatness over all others.

As stated earlier, my wife, Linda, and I live in Thailand, where she receives very good, affordable care as she is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease. We live in a house together as I have chosen not to send her to a care home – something that is fundamentally unaffordable in the United States.

We researched the very best care options for my wife of 49 years and decided to move to Thailand some three years ago so that she may receive in-home services. We have qualified nurses, a caregiver, a cook, and a housekeeper who come to our home almost daily, all of whom, along with our sons, attend to Linda’s unique needs as well as provide me some rest. Because of the flawed U.S. health care and insurance systems, we couldn’t possibly do this back home.

Does that make Thailand the greatest country on the face of the planet? Arguably not.

My point is that like any other country, America has imperfections but that doesn’t mean I don’t care deeply for my country. That is why it is so painful to see the U.S. president and his appointees tear our country down – causing racial unrest in virtually every large U.S. city, widening the income gap, creating an America of the haves and have nots, causing untold and needless deaths by mishandling the COVID-19 crisis, disrespecting immigrants who have sought safe haven from oppression in their countries, just to be oppressed in America. It is painfully sad.

Is America the greatest country on the face of the planet? Perhaps not, but I just don’t know where America ranks among the 200-plus countries in the world. People who believe that are not bad people; they are not communists, extremists, leftists, revolutionaries, or anti-American. They simply want things to improve in America for Americans and for those who wish to become American – just as our parents and grandparents sought (remember from where we all came). People want to be proud of our country and want equal opportunities for all who live in and come to America.

Sadly, the U.S. president is incapable – for whatever reasons – of leading America forward. We all need to cast votes in November and make our voices clearly heard – so that we may achieve meaningful, lasting changes and improvements to our country. With that, perhaps America may realize the greatness we all hope for.

(Paul DeMinico of Sanbornton is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He formerly served as the superintendent of schools in SAU 53 (Allenstown, Chichester Deerfield, Epsom and Pembroke) and with the Gilford School District. He also served as head of school in Bangkok and the Netherlands, as well as school principal in Norway and Cairo, Egypt, and at Winnisquam Regional Middle School.)

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