Is This "American Exceptionalism"?

Just how exceptional is America really? Everyone loves to talk about American exceptionalism. We constantly hear our politicians say that “America is the greatest country in the world.” But just how great are we?

In reality, when it comes to things that could really make America great, we’re lagging behind much of the developed world.

Take healthcare for example. A study earlier this year by the Commonwealth Fund found that of the top 11 developed nations, the United States ranks dead last in health care and health outcomes like infant mortality and life expectancy. A similar report from the World Health Organization ranks our healthcare system 30th in the world - although we pay more per person for our health care than any other developed country in the world.

Meanwhile, while America is at the bottom of the healthcare barrel, we’re also far behind when it comes to education and educational outcomes. Last year, the Program for International Student Assessment looked at how 15-year-old students in 65 nations across the globe performed on a variety of tests. The group found that U.S. students ranked just 17th in reading comprehension and 21st in math. And similar studies have found that among developed nations, the U.S also comes in towards the bottom in educational attainment, or the highest degree of education an individual has completed.

But as America is lagging behind in education and healthcare, we are leading the world in one thing: violence. According to a study by two New York City doctors, the United States has a staggering 88 guns for every 100 people, and has 10 gun-violence related deaths per every 100,000 people. Both of those stats are higher than any of the other 27 developed countries that the doctors looked at.

So, what’s the common denominator here? What links poor educational outcomes, poor healthcare outcomes and high levels of violence all together? It’s the inequality stupid!

Thanks to America’s 34-year-long failed experiment with Reaganomics, right now we are seeing unprecedented levels of wealth inequality. Today, the 400 wealthiest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined. Similarly, the wealthiest 1% of Americans now own more than 35% of America’s wealth, while the bottom 50% of Americans own just 2.5% of this nation’s wealth. And, over the past 15 years - the annual income of the typical American household has fallen by 9%

The wealth gap in the U.S. today is as wide as it was in 1928, just before the Great Depression. As Yale University economist Robert Schiller put it, “The most important problem that we are facing rising inequality...” Inequality alone is a huge problem, but as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in their book “The Spirit Level,” higher levels of inequality directly cause a host of other problems.

For example, they found that health and social problems are worse in more unequal countries, like the U.S., which comes in dead last in their study. Those health and social problems include things like life expectancy, infant mortality, homicides, child wellbeing, math and literacy rates, mental illness and imprisonment.

So, while jingoistic politicians might argue that America is the greatest country in the world, the facts really speak for themselves: We aren’t and inequality is to blame. Fortunately, we can change that. We can become exceptional once again, and become the “city upon the hill” for the rest of the world to emulate.

That starts by fighting income inequality by rolling back the Reagan tax cuts, giving labor better protections, and making corporations pay their fair share to support the American economy. America will only be exceptional when all Americans have an equal shot at success.


DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 23 weeks ago

If we can't care for our sick or educate our kids we might as well just close our military industrial complex. We have nothing worth defending!

DrRichard 8 years 23 weeks ago

Conservatives don't care. They blow these figures off, blame them on "the poor" and claim the data isn't true anyway. Or if they know the real situation, figure it won't affect them anyway. As for the poor benighted people who vote for Republicans and Tea Party candidates, they may accept the data, but blame it on "liberals" and say everything will be okay if we go back to the "good old days." Or, more likely, their worldview and experience are so narrow that they don't even understand how far behind other countries America is. Maybe they feel something is wrong, but as usual their fear and anger are misdirected.

johnbest's picture
johnbest 8 years 23 weeks ago

They are misdirected by Mr. Limpballs. Every day he projects what the neotards are doing to our country on to the "liberals". The same applies to hannity and the other Koch shills. They will pay the piper if and when we rise up and kick their asses..

johnbest's picture
johnbest 8 years 23 weeks ago

I am becoming increasingly negative towards our country. I should have stayed in Germany in 1962 when I was released from the U. S. Army. I had a friend who studied German the entire almost two years we were there together. Instead of coming home he stayed and attended university. He was the smart one.

Our nation has been going downhill ever since John F. Kennedy was murdered and I commented the day it happened that this is the beginning of the end of America as we know it. Sure enough my comments were true.

My family came to America in 1635 from Switzerland and Germany and I resent all these selfish, arrogant bastards who have taken over our nation.

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 23 weeks ago

American Exceptionalism = American Arrogance.

Willie W's picture
Willie W 8 years 23 weeks ago

How about the wealth of our politicians? Where do they rank in world status? Are we the country with the wealthiest politicians? Maybe that's the greatness they're fighting for.

ScottFromOz 8 years 23 weeks ago

Thom: When you give the statistics about American health care, you miss the point totally. Sure we may have the worst health care of the top 11 countries, but I'll bet London to a brick, we have the most PROFITABLE health insurance industry. And isn't that what we've all been voting for and accepting from our government for the past 30 odd years? Remember, we've blindly accepted that "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem." It's not that we get the government we deserve, we get the government we let the corporations control.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 23 weeks ago

The cost of unregulated prosperity for the very few always equates to austerity and poverty for the very many...... why don't we ever learn?

I hear the Kochs have started burying their wealth in clay pots....the Black Death has returned and it looks unstoppable once again. Although I think a Koch sponsored slow death of the planet is far worse than a global pandemic, but a relative few seem to care. Most will still vote against their own survival in a few weeks.

Hell, Obama may as well OK the next free trade agreement and the Kochstone pipeline ...who gives a crap now anyway. The Corpse media has fffddd up so many heads with their god damn lies, representative govt has totally flatlined....and Obama still refuses to speak out ......wonder why???...not really!

tomcalwriter1's picture
tomcalwriter1 8 years 23 weeks ago


The military-industrial complex isn't defending us -- it's defending their bottomline.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 23 weeks ago

Yep! American exceptionalism all right. We're exceptionally stupid, exceptionally backward and exceptionally mediocre. Thanks Obama, thanks Bush #2, thanks Clinton, thanks Bush #1, thanks Reagan, for running this country right into the ditch. - AIW

Legend 8 years 23 weeks ago

Just got my Ballot for the 2014 Elections today. Will fill it out in the morning and mail it. I hope that we win. many Americans will vote against me. Why?

SHFabian's picture
SHFabian 8 years 23 weeks ago

One reason for hopelessness is that virtually all of today's lib media has restricted the discussion of inequality to the gap between the better off and the very well off, workers and the rich. Our truly poor -- those for whom there are no jobs, and many of the unemployable -- were "disappeared" from lib media during the Clinton administration. Indeed, today's liberals have less regard for our desperately poor than they have for stray dogs.

SHFabian's picture
SHFabian 8 years 23 weeks ago

No one has believed it was protecting us since President Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex back in the 1950s.

dianhow 8 years 23 weeks ago

The common denominator is GOP anti middle class - wealth favoring policies and laws, deregulation, trickle down, Bushs massive hidden war debt , anti labor union GOP stance that keep wages lower, anti middle class trade policies, pushed by Alan Greenspan & cohorts ,then signed by Bill Clinton NAFTA CAFTA SHAFTA GATT etc

dianhow 8 years 23 weeks ago

Fact is Media is no longer liberal Fox reaches multi millions does Rush , Drudge and 100 's of con radio talk shows that outnumber liberal shows many times over. Get with the times !

dianhow 8 years 23 weeks ago

t Obama did NOT create nor start 2 long wars that wasted lives , trillions, made more enemies than ever . Obama did not pass deregulation in 1981 , incure massive un funded war debt or led to worst crash since 1929 ( TARP ) bust labor unions which led to lower wages & benefits Reagan gave total ambnesty in 1986 that brought tons of slave labor to USA to keep powerful greedy corps and billionaires happy.

Stanman's picture
Stanman 8 years 23 weeks ago

Besides the "un-American" truth you factually state, we have ISIS/L and Ebola. The media take our attention away from the real problems here in our country, which I used to called "beloved". Not any more. I am outraged by the way this country works. The inequality discrepancy is more than one can take. And with Citizens United, it will be a long time, if ever, for any move toward equality by this government. Of course, it willhave to be a grass roots effort. Yes, a grass roots effort...and Americans won't even go to vote! I am a fan of Russell Brand, who is being tabbed a "kooky socialist", so his voice is now mud. What a world...naw, what a country!

ekendrick's picture
ekendrick 8 years 23 weeks ago

It seems to me that countries whose main goal is the pursuit of world power don't do so well by their citizens. This would apply to the US, China, also seems that since only 18% of Americans have a passport, the vast majority of us have never left the US. We have nothing to compare our country to, so it's easy to believe in this myth that we are "the greatest." Just going across the border into Canada, you're in a different world. They're so far ahead of us, it's really eye-opening. Same with many European countries, in terms of spending their money on caring for their people. If we didn't spend so much on military domination & wars, we could spend it on education, housing, transportation, the arts, etc. By the way, we are also one of, I think, 3 countries that don't guarantee any paid vacation or sick time to workers. THat's another "exceptional" American trait, the belief that work comes before everything & we have no right to a balanced life.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 8 years 23 weeks ago

I really liked the movie "Beloved" of my favorites. I also have been seeing a lot of Russell Brand on TV. Looks like the main stream press is trying to trash him. What else is new.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 23 weeks ago
Quote Aliceinwonderland:Yep! American exceptionalism all right. We're exceptionally stupid, exceptionally backward and exceptionally mediocre. Thanks Obama, thanks Bush #2, thanks Clinton, thanks Bush #1, thanks Reagan, for running this country right into the ditch. - AIW

Aliceinwonderland ~ Well said!! I might just add we are also exceptionally DANGEROUS!! Out of all the other countries in the world combined, who owns the most nukes, the most war equipment, the most missiles, the most guns, the most bullets, the most biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. We even export more than anyone else. Just imagine, the most stupid, backwards, and mediocre nation in the world by far is also the most DANGEROUS nation in the world. Now that's what I call American exceptionalism!!

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 23 weeks ago

I think something things about America should be pointed out. America is exceptional for a lot of reasons. These are not the reasons pointed out by right wing radio and TV commentators, mindlessly rambling about jingoistic flag saluting establishment propaganda. Their collective heads are so far up the own hind ends they can’t bare the idea of any critical commentary against the policies and practices of the U.S. of America, unless those practices fall out of line with their horribly ultrapatriotic establishment centered ideology of American exceptionalism.

America is exceptional by its diversity alone. The US is far from perfect and has a horrible history of suppression against race, ethnicity, political opposition, labor and non-Christian beliefs, but the American people have managed to exist and thrive despite all these different points of view. American government is limited in its representation of all minorities, but its elected officials are much more diverse than any other country in the world.

Our freedom of the press, regardless of what you might think of it, is the freest in all the world. We are far from perfect when it comes to a completely free press, but the U.S. is far in the lead compared to any other government’s willingness to allow open dissent by its journalist. Europe is no exception, their liable laws are notorious for crushing dissent.

The American people’s access to government documents is unprecedented. I’m not saying that the U.S. does not keep secrets, and does unspeakable terrible things without the public knowledge, however, the American people have certain processes and channels they can pursue in order to get access to secret government documents, that can’t even be considered in other countries. I know the government documents are mostly redacted and years after the fact, but there isn’t another country that even comes close to the openness to the U.S. government.

The things that truly make America exceptional are starting to fade and be replaced by fascist ideology of corporate domination, anti-democratic institutions and mindless unquestioning jingoism that leads to justifying state violence foreign and domestic.

The worst of America is in its establishment propaganda that gives a sense of nothing America does is wrong, because of a warp sense of American righteousness, a religious faith, like Stalinism or Maoism. The best of American is the people’s hope for a better society based in democratic principles, regardless of whether the US is a democracy or autocratic top down business run society. The American people still have an internal belief that democracy can move us forward.

I’m suspect of democracy every being considered in the US without a fundamental change in society, but I am not completely apathetic and can’t allow apathy dominate my spirit, because in a strange way, I believe in some of the founding fathers rhetoric, regardless of how serious I take them; I still believe America could be the model for all other countries in the world, not because U.S. government is exceptional, but our ability to coexist as a diverse people despite our difference, our continual societal struggles, belief in democracy and real sense of justice makes us an exceptional country with no other examples in written human history on this scale and size of the U.S. of America.

tom kauser 8 years 23 weeks ago

our money supply is a fountain of youth for the insolvent nation states of Europe which makes Americans famously poor and willing to give up in silence

douglaslee's picture
douglaslee 8 years 23 weeks ago

As for the poor benighted people who vote for Republicans and Tea Party candidates,

You mean these people?

douglaslee's picture
douglaslee 8 years 23 weeks ago

Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine would bring an awareness to this exceptional debacle. Once reinstated the hearings in congress would be a hoot as some defend fox. To challenge their position one could point out the need and benefit of an educated public. Then present the recent results of the Christian Science Monitor quiz showing 90% of fox viewers wrong on one question, 80% of fox fans wrong on another, 65% of fox fans wrong on another, so anyone against the fairness doctrine wants Americans to be stupid. Most likely only stupid people will vote for them.

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