U.S. is the ‘exceptional society’
Shortly after the presidential election, ABC news carried a story on Canadian reaction to the election results. One person interviewed commented that “it really is America that is the exceptional society.” He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but as an indication that the United States is very different from most of the developed world in its cultural and social values. Some examples:
1. The U.S. is the only large democracy without a national health system that guarantees health care for all. All the countries of Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and even Mexico offer a legal right to medical care. The U.S. is the only country that ties health insurance to employment, thereby assuring that those without jobs may lose their health insurance.
2. America is the only large industrialized nation that has refused to endorse the Kyoto protocols for reducing global warming from carbon dioxide emissions. Even Russia has signed on to this modest effort to at least maintain emissions at their current levels while allowing some leeway for underdeveloped nations to improve their economies.
3. The U.S. is the only country in the world where the metric system of measurement is not generally used. Foreigners cannot fathom why we cling to our outmoded system of inches, feet, quarts and several types of ounces. Studies show that students waste months of education time learning the complexities of our archaic system.
4. We are the only democracy that allows our president to be chosen by an Electoral College system that does not ensure that the most popular candidate is elected.
5. Increasingly, America seems to be driven by religious-motivated politics. There is one area of the world that exceeds our devotion in this respect, of course, and that is the set of Islamic “republics” dominated by Muslim zealots.
6. The U.S. is one of the few developed nations that still imposes the death penalty. The process of execution is far more costly to taxpayers than life imprisonment and does not seem to be doing much to resolve the problem of violence and crime.
7. Conversely, the U.S. is a leader in violent crimes and legal access to handguns. The gun culture here is matched mainly by countries such as Yemen, Colombia and Afghanistan.
8. We are the only sizable nation that does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba, a harmless country that could benefit from interaction with us.
9. Americans are notably uninformed about world affairs, geography, languages, and different cultures. This is partly due to the geographic isolation of North America and the size of our country, but observers throughout the world have commented on the “ugly American” for decades.
The United States is a leader in some fields, including certain environmental areas, science, and finance, but mostly we are on a different track than the rest of the world. The Euro is becoming the world’s most accepted currency, the dollar is losing value, and American leadership and influence are steadily dwindling. Need we wonder why?
Harry Wyeth lives in Grass Valley. He is a retired public agency attorney.
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