Perhaps you’ve seen a bumper sticker with the message “Proud to be an American”.  Someone once sent me one that read “Proud to be born in America.”

I have long marveled at these bumper stickers, and wondered about the people who like them.

I take words seriously.  I’ve always thought of pride as a high opinion of something you have created or contributed to, or at least joined.  We can be proud of what we have done. We can be proud of a Boy Scout troop that we are a member of.  We can be proud of brave firemen and honest policemen. We can even be proud of some of our children.  But I’ve never thought that you should take credit for where you were born.  We did not choose our place of birth. Most of us have taken more than we have given, as evidenced by the rising national debt. Luck, on the other hand, would seem to apply to where we were born.  We might be lucky or unlucky, but I don’t think we should feel proud (or ashamed) of a birth place or anything else beyond our control.

A quick look online suggests a variety of related meanings of pride as used in a bumper sticker:

  • “An excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit.”1
  • “Inordinate self-esteem: conceit.”2
  • “A high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.”3
  • “With a negative connotation, pride refers to an inflated sense of one’s personal status or accomplishments, often used synonymously with hubris.”4

Many of the Prouds are not particularly proud of themselves, their accomplishments, or their situation in life.  And so perhaps it is handy for them to draw some self-esteem from somewhere, and to proclaim it in bumper stickers.

But their rants make me dizzy, because they stray so far from the facts.  Consider the facts, as found in the world of actual facts.

  • In “Proud to Be An American”, Lee Greenwood writes “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”  This stanza implies that freedom is a unique quality of the U.S., which is hardly the case.  Countries from Canada to South Africa are democracies, and their citizens are “free”.  Freedom has limits in all democracies, of course, including ours.
  •  Greenwood continues “And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.”  This seems wrong. I doubt that anyone singing the song can name 10 men who died, or 10 women.  It would be good if our soldiers did not die, and good if the dead were remembered, but no one remembers those who died in World War I, and we are starting to run short of anyone who can remember someone who died in World War II.

Prouds typically like to point to the greatness of the U.S.  The U.S., it is claimed, is better in everything than anywhere else.

Maybe not.  Here’s where things stand:

Demographics

  • #98: HIV/AIDS. Ninety eight countries have lower rates of HIV/AIDS, and only 64 have higher rates5.
  • #102: Murder Rate.  102 other countries have lower murder rates than we do, 104 have higher murder rates6.
  • #28: Mortality Rate. Of the world’s 28 wealthiest countries, the U.S. ranks highest in mortality rates for young people aged 10 to 247.
  • #34: Suicide Rate.  Thirty three countries have lower suicide rates8
  • #40: Health and Life Expectancy.  The U.S. ranks #40 in the world in life expectancy at birth9.
  • #36: Poverty. According to the CIA, 36 countries have lower poverty rates than the U.S.10
  • #96: Income Equality. The U.S. stands at #96 in income equality, according to the CIA11  That is, 95 countries have a smaller gap between the top incomes and the bottom incomes.
  • #146: Wealth Distribution. The U.S. ranks #146 in equality of wealth distribution.  That is, there are 145 countries where wealth is more evenly distributed between rich and poor than it is in the U.S.  Only four countries have a greater gap between rich and poor: Switzerland, Denmark, Zimbabwe, and Namibia12.

Education

  • #13-#17: Educational System. The United States places #17 in the developed world for education, according to one report13 and #13 in another.14  Finland and South Korea top the list of 40 developed countries with the best education systems. Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore follow. The rankings are calculated based on various measures, including international test scores, graduation rates between 2006 and 2010, and the prevalence of higher education seekers.
  • #17-#32: Reading, Math, and Science. The U.S. ranks #17 in reading,  #32 in math, and #23 in science15
  • #54: Education Spending. The U.S. ranks #54 in education spending as a percent of GDP16.
  • #25: Literacy. In literacy, the U.S. is tied for #2517.

Economy

  • #146: Per Capita Growth Rate. The per capita growth rate in the U.S. for 2006-2010 was 0.07%, making this country rank #146.  In 2006, the U.S. ranked #133 in growth per capita.18
  • #16: Employment Rate. Fifteen countries have higher employment rates19.
  • #1: External Debt. No country in the world owes more money to nonresidents than the U.S.20
  • #19: Development Assistance to other Nations. Many Prouds believe the U.S. is the most generous country in the world, and supports the world financially.  While the U.S. does provide more developmental assistance in absolute terms, it is #19 in development assistance as a percentage of gross national income21

Environment

  • #201: Carbon Dioxide Emissions Per Capita, #180 in Greenhouse Gasses. In 2007, there were 10 countries that produced more emissions per person than the U.S., and 200 that produced fewer emissions per capita. In 2005, there were 6 countries that produced more greenhouse gas emissions per capita, and 180 that produced less22.

Consumption

  • #1: Daily Dietary Energy Consumption Per Capita. The U.S. leads the world here23
  •  #169: Total Freshwater Withdrawal. 168 countries withdraw less water from the ground.  Only 2 withdraw more24, and only 8 withdraw more per capita.

Military

  • #1: Military spending. The U.S. spends over four times as much on its military as the next highest spender — China. 41% of the world’s military expenditures are made by the U.S., only 8.2% by China, and 4.1% by Russia25
  • #88: Global Peace Index. The Institute for Economics and Peace ranks countries for their peacefulness.  The U.S. is ranked 88, with 87 being ranked more peaceful, and 70 ranked as less peaceful26.

Politics

  • #5: Executions.  China (2000 in 2011),  Iran (360+),Saudi Arabia (82+), and Iraq(68+) lead the world in the number of executions per year. The U.S. (43 executions in 2011) trails in fifth place27.

Sure we can brag.  But we don’t have as much to brag about as the Prouds claim.

Love it or Leave it

For those who thought that the U.S. was “the best” country, this news should be upsetting. Perhaps that is why so many Prouds have chosen to put their heads in the sand.  By denying the unpleasant truth, and blaming the “liberal media” for any attempt to present it, and by exposing themselves only to talk radio and FOX News, they assure themselves of rarely encountering dissent.  Wouldn’t they be surprised that those who only watch FOX news scored lower in correct deomestic and international questions than those who watched no news show at all28

Ignorance must be comforting in the face of all the facts that suggest that the U.S. is not the best country in the world, by any stretch, on any measure.  I’m glad to be an American, but I’m not proud.

Patriotism should not be allowed to become the private property of those with their heads in the sand.  Our country, even in its mediocrity, deserves better.  Love is sometimes blind, but love of country should not be.

Notes

Show 28 footnotes

  1. The Free Dictionary.
  2. Merriam-Webster.
  3. Dictionary.Reference.com
  4. Wikipedia.
  5. List of countries by HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate. Wikipedia.
  6. List of countries by intentional homicide rate. Wikipedia.
  7. Death Rates of Young People — Country Rankings 2011. Photius.com
  8. List of countries by suicide rate. Wikipedia.
  9. List of countries by life expectancy. Wikipedia.
  10. List of countries by percentage of population living in poverty. Wikipedia.
  11. List of countries by income equality. Wikipedia.
  12. List of countries by distribution of wealth. Wikipedia.
  13. Pearson.com.
  14.  Education Index. Wikipedia.
  15. World education rankings: which country does best at reading, maths and science. The Guardian
  16. List of countries by spending on education. Wikipedia.
  17. List of countries by literacy rate. Wikipedia
  18. List of countries by GDP (real) per capita growth rate. Wikipedia.
  19. List of countries by employment rate. Wikipedia.
  20. List of countries by external debt. Wikipedia.
  21. List of governments by development aid. Wikipedia.
  22. List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Wikipedia.
  23. List of countries by food energy intake. Wikipedia.
  24. List of countries by freshwater withdrawal. Wikipedia.
  25. List of countries by military expenditures. Wikipedia.
  26. Global Peace Index. Wikipedia.
  27. Use of capital punishment by country. Wikipedia.
  28. Survey: NPR’s listeners best-informed, Fox viewers worst-informed. Poynter.org.