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Sola '14: Is the United States the greatest country on earth?

When considering this concept, two quotations spring to mind: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism," President Obama said on his 2009 overseas presidential trip. And the second: "Every day we're told that we live in the greatest country on earth. And it's always stated as an undeniable fact. ... It's startling to realize that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are, 'We're number two!'" written by the ever-eloquent David Sedaris.

Enough of the comparative nationalisms. Where does the United States lead the world? Not in economics - the World Economic Forum downgraded us from first to fifth place in its Global Competitiveness Index. How about education? U.S. public schools are in crisis, and its children rank seventh in literacy and 27th in math. Its university education remains globally competitive, but American students who take out loans graduate owing an average of $23,000.

What of freedom, that glowing heart of American-ness? It seems to me that American civil liberties are shrinking fast. The Patriot Act puts our "enviably" free nation under surprisingly extensive surveillance. Talking to the lucky Arab recipients of American freedom dimmed my optimism in our ability to export it. But we are very good at exporting prisoners overseas for torture in secret camps. I hate to bring it up, but we do also fund the Israeli state's annexation of Palestinian land. Not to mention our historic support of repressive regimes in Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

I also see troubling trends of intolerance, hatred and religious lunacy in our society. Far-right and Christian condemnations of gay people and rape victims form part of American discourse, and homegrown terrorists attack Sikh temples and abortion clinics.

Do you remember that warm, happy feeling we got hearing Michelle Obama talk about the greatness of America? I felt that at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. French spines tingle at the Marseillaise, and my Quebecois friends confidently assert that Montreal is the capital of the world. Further east, Lebanese boast that you can ski and swim in the same day, and many Israeli Jews believe themselves to live in a uniquely blessed state. My point is that every country believes its own myths, thinks it is God's own country - that's how nation-building works. Do not trust your upsurge of warm patriotism as an indicator of America's superiority.



Katie Sola '14 is a dual citizen of the U.S. and the U.K. and loves both of her countries.



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