In towns and cities everywhere, Americans are generous, thoughtful, empathetic. Individuals send money to a stranger’s GoFundMe; neighbors bring meals to seniors; volunteers tutor schoolchildren. Voters turn out in record numbers; small groups of activists unite in the struggle against self-serving politicians, and states like Michigan are changed for the better because individuals marched, made phone calls, got signatures on petitions. At the local level, the arc of history slowly tends toward justice.
Most of us grew up believing in American exceptionalism. It’s touted from pulpit to football stadium, from songs to political campaigns; it paints a rose-tinted image of our land; we all grew up singing the national anthem. It’s a deeply embedded ego-stroking America First faith in ourselves.
Yet in many ways, it’s a cruel illusion.
We do indeed outshine other nations in ways that make us stand out – not as better, but rather as an uncaring, emotionally and socially underdeveloped nation.
Violence is a daily occurrence no longer making shocking headlines. Our gun laws are the weakest and we have more guns than any comparable nation. The leading cause of child death is gun violence; guns account for 35% of suicides.
We also lead in incarceration: 1.68 million individuals in 2022 — 3% of our population. Only China imprisons more. Some of our prisons are private, for-profit organizations; many are overcrowded and violent. Prejudice fills them predominately with people of color.
As an exceptional nation, our voting laws should be exemplary; voting should be easy for the elderly or handicapped. Yet armed gunmen threaten voters at drop boxes, and states work to gerrymander districts and limit access to the ballot.
And health care? 'Health spending per person in the U.S. was $12,914 in 2021 — over $5,000 more than any other high-income nation. The average amount spent on health per person in comparable countries ($6,125) is less than half of that.' Our life expectancy lags behind several other nations; infant mortality ranks 33 out of 38 countries. Some conservative politicians are busily taking away essential health care from women, from LGBTQ community, from veterans, from those suffering addiction, and from persons in gender transition.
Poverty here is higher than in 25 similar nations. With greater wealth than most, this country still ignores the homelessness, hunger, sickness, despair, and addiction that dominate many lives. https://confrontingpoverty.org/ Childcare, preschool, and parental support for working parents are equally insufficient, and lower than in comparable nations.
America’s egotistical manifest destiny not only decimated Native Americans, it continues to disregard our indigenous population; it continues to give prominence to statues of men who massacred Native American villagers; to disregard the plight of modern Native Americans. It justified chattel slavery and the Jim Crow South, red-line practices in the North. It erected statues of slave holders. Manifest destiny defended our expansion and land-grabbing; our current attitudes toward United States territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was used by the former president to justify discrimination against those seeking refuge here and along the Southern Border.
The generation now crossing the threshold between teens and twenties were about fifteen when the most destructive Presidency in history began. They were even younger when gun violence turned schools into fortresses. The recent pandemic sent them home from school.
Then they watched climate change alter everything.
Now they bring both pragmatism and idealism to the adult lives for which they prepared during the worst of times. Their activism and political involvement are inspiring. President Biden has recognized this, supporting college loan relief, supporting Dreamers, supporting gun regulation.
Young Americans are indeed exceptional: volunteering in their neighborhoods, joining the fight to correct the broken society in which they grew to adulthood. And they do what concerned neighbors of all ages do everywhere: they work for the betterment of all through persistent activism.
The irrepressible, exceptional voice of the people is the voice that expresses the fundamental generous heart of our nation.
— Sharon Kourous is a member of Stronger Together Huddle, a group engaged in supporting and promoting the common good. She resides in Monroe and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.