Local View: We want to be a great nation, but we're falling short

From the column: "The future is ours to choose. Will we choose greatness or the destruction of our democracy?"

Christopher Weyant / Cagle Cartoons

Most Americans, even with all the division in this country, are still very proud to be Americans and appreciate what we have. I know I do. Because of this great sense of pride, we often tout ourselves as the greatest country on earth.

James Collins, in his book, ”Good to Great,” says the enemy of “great” is “good.” All too often when we believe we are really good, we have a tendency to turn a blind eye to our many shortcomings. This is what keeps us from becoming great.

I would suggest that’s the case with America.

Let’s take a look at how we stack up with other countries on a few key issues that are critical measurements of being a great country.

On health care, according to research by the Commonwealth, the U.S. ranks last among 11 of the wealthiest countries, including France, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Australia. That’s even though the U.S. spends the highest proportion of its GDP on health care. The U.S. also has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy of the 11 countries in the survey.


On rates of poverty, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks last here, too. Rates of poverty in the U.S. are substantially higher and more extreme than in 25 other nations. The U.S. is arguably the wealthiest nation in the world, and although the U.S. has the highest standard of living at the middle and upper ends of the income-distribution scale, at the lower end our standard of living falls well behind most other industrialized nations. The social safety net in the U.S. is also much weaker than in virtually every other wealthy nation in the study.

On infrastructure development, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, which compiles a regular report card on the state of the U.S. infrastructure, including roads, electricity, airports, telecommunication, rail, water, ports, and broadband, the average grade in the U.S. for all infrastructure is a C-. The ASCE estimates there is a $2.6 trillion infrastructure investment gap over the next 10 years. The U.S. generally lags behind its peers in infrastructure investment as a percentage of the GDP and ranks ninth out of 11 wealthier countries.

On gun violence, according to the Global Health Exchange, of 250,227 gun-related deaths worldwide in 2019, 56.9% occurred in just six countries: Brazil, the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, India, and Colombia. Of the countries with the highest rates of gun deaths per 100,000 residents in 2019, the United States ranked 10th with 12.21. By comparison, our neighbors to the north in Canada had only 2.05 gun deaths per 100,000 residents, and most of Europe was similar to or lower than Canada. Although most don’t like to admit it, the United States is a very violent country.

There are many other key areas we could continue to address, but I think you get the picture. So, where do we go from here? If we are truly a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, and if you look at polls and how the majority of Americans feel about immigration, social injustice, education, gun violence, and infrastructure, you can conclude that we the people are not being represented by the politicians we send to either Washington, D.C., or to our various state capitals.

The political process is no longer about working across the aisle to find solutions to the challenges that plague this country. It’s strictly about staying in power at all costs. Politicians are putting their thirst for power above the American people and humanity. This division is the reason we are completely incapable of getting things done in the best interest of all Americans.

In recent years, this division has gotten much worse and has started tearing away at the social fabric of our country. This has us on a collision course with the destruction of our democracy. Once this happens, we will never get it back — and any thought of being a great nation will be lost forever.

I believe most Americans want us to be a great nation. I know I do. We know in our hearts we have issues, but we also believe they are solvable if we are willing to work together in the best interest of all Americans and not for our own self-interest — especially our elected officials.

The future is ours to choose. Will we choose greatness or the destruction of our democracy?


J. Doug Pruitt of Knife River is a writer and contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

Doug Pruitt.jpg
J. Doug Pruitt

Related Topics: HEALTHCARE
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