Is America the greatest country in the world?

Is America the greatest country in the world?

Is America the greatest country in the world?

If I say yes, does that make me ethnocentric?

If I say no, does that make me un-patriotic?

When I was a candidate for United States Congress, one of the things that frustrated me most about political discourse was that it was geared toward the lowest common denominator.  There really wasn’t serious discussion of any topic.

It’s easier to say, “America is the greatest country the world has ever seen!” than it is to have a serious discussion about the topic.

For me, the question of America’s greatness comes with a backstory.  I was the kid who grew up draped in the America flag.  My formative years weren’t Vietnam and Janis Joplin but instead were Desert Storm and Lee Greenwood.  I embraced the words of Abraham Lincoln and later expanded by Ronald Reagan that America was “the last best hope of man on Earth.”

Lately, I’ve been finding there’s an awful lot I hate about America.

This isn’t about George W. Bush or Barack Obama or whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the White House.  This transcends political affiliation.  I’m talking about who we are as a nation.  We live in a country where parents who opt for a second opinion for their baby’s medical care can have their baby taken away from them.  We live in a country where people who grow tomatoes in their home can have their home invaded by SWAT teams and pinned to the ground for hours.  We live in a country where a 16-year-old can be charged with a felony for making a mistake on her science project.

America is a country where a cop can threaten a mom and her three-year-old son with a ticket for and “points” toward sex-offender status because the kid went pee next to the family car in a parking lot.  In America, kids can have their lemonade stands shut down for not getting proper permits.

In America, big business is in constant collusion with government.  Tax codes are established to get people to do what the government wants and people spend thousands of dollars out of fear that they could mess something up and get in trouble.

I hate that stuff.

And that’s just the politics.

A few years ago I was in a public park for an event.  There was a tricky little spot next to the pathway where it’d be easy to trip if you were not paying attention.  Someone in our group noted, “That’s a liability.”

A few weeks later, I was in Nicaragua with my family.  A little footbridge at the hotel where we were staying became extremely slippery whenever it was wet.  My wife, just making conversation, mentioned this to a staff member at the hotel.  He said, “I know, you have to be careful.”

I hate the litigious thinking of America in the first story.

I love the common-sense of Nicaragua in the second story.

Whenever I fly into a Central America, one of my favorite moments is just after we leave the airport.  It never takes long before you see a pickup truck drive by with people sitting in the back.  And the police aren’t chasing them down to start handing out tickets like they are in the United States.  For me, those people in the back of that pickup truck are symbolic of freedom.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck in Central America

I love that when you’re driving in Ireland, if you stop in the middle of the road, instead of the people behind you honking their horn and giving you the finger…. the person just goes around you.  (See how easy that was?)

Yet other countries have their problems too.

And there’s also stuff I love about America.

During our recent travels in Central America, I thought about how much I love that the “leave no trace” principle is so engrained in our culture when adventuring in the great outdoors.  In Central America, it was difficult to go anywhere without there being trash.  We’d go to remote islands and on remote mountain hikes and there’d be trash everywhere.  It was sad.  And in those moments I appreciated the thinking of my home country.

I hate that America is the land of red-tape, yet enjoy the sense of security (perhaps false) that I have in going to the top of the St. Louis Arch, believing that a small army of engineers have ensured that the safety is up to code.

I hate that America is increasingly a police state.  In Central America, when I see cops on the street, I feel like they’re there for my protection.  In the United States, when I see a cop, I feel like they’re there to catch me doing something wrong and to harass me.  Yet to what extent does the police state mentality contribute to my overall enjoyment of the United States?

As I consider my country, I have to deal with the fact that my country is not perfect.  My country, though, also has triumphant moments.  My country has a history of sacrifice and goodwill.  My country has a history, even if not perfect, of malice toward none and charity for all.

Uncle Sam

There are lots of things I hate about America and lots of things I love,  just like there are lots of things I love about the countries I visit and lots of things I hate.

America is a great country.

The greatest?

I’m not sure I’m wiling to give that title to anyone.

We’re taught from a young age not to think of ourselves personally as better than anyone else, yet at the same time we’re taught we ought to think of ourselves as a nation as better than everyone else.  We’d frown upon a child that said, “I’m better than everyone else!” but we embrace the idea that as a nation we would say, “We’re better than everyone else!”

We’d admire the child who was given to self-reflection and improving herself.  This is why there’s nothing wrong with criticizing your home country.  Theoretically, we have the ability to change and improve our own country.  There are things I want to change about myself just like there are things I want to change about my country.  It does me no good, though, to worry about the things I think about person ought to do with their own life.  That’s why I don’t worry about the things I hate about other countries.  That’s their deal.  That’s who they are.  Not going to try to change them.

Then there’s the problem with the child who things too little of himself.  We’d think it was a bad thing if a child can only see the faults in herself while only seeing the good in those around her.  This is often the thinking myself and many of my American friends fall into when looking at our own country.

When I travel to other countries, I am open.  I don’t expect that country to look and feel like America.  I embrace its’ uniqueness.  I take the good with the bad, the things I love with the things I hate.  Perhaps this is more the attitude I need to have with my home country.

Is America the greatest country in the world?

We’re a great country.

I’ll leave it at that.


Hi, I’m Clark.  If we’ve not met before, let me introduce myself.  One minute I was hot.  I had a great career, was a rising “political star” and even a candidate for United States Congress and then ended up moving into my in-laws garage. That’s when my wife and I began the exciting process of reinventing our lives.  As J.K. Rolwing said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation from which I re-built my life.”  We’re now living a life of our own design, which includes our quest to work less, live more, and travel the world with our family.  We have 3 kids and when we’re not traveling we call Tahoe home, where I ski 50+ days a year.  You can check us out on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

  • Well Done! Good way to take on a tough topic!

    I don’t think I have an ability to make judgements on countries I don’t live in. A tourist is not the same as a citizen. As travelers, we are not held to the same standards as citizens of the countries we visit. How can we make a judgement as tourists? These problems you discuss are horrible, but no doubt similar things happen in nearly every country in the world every day.

    I enjoyed living in China, but I also saw a family have there baby aborted by the government at 8 months! TRUE! Neighbor ratted them out.

    Ireland seems wonderful, but then my Irish buddies tell me stories about growing up and how they had to be inside before 8 or they would get their kneecaps broken.

    Stories of homeschooling families in well-to-do European countries losing their children because they want to learn differently.

    In Canada, which is a wonderful country, I have always been amazed that they can randomly stop you to see if you have been drinking.

    We could go on all day, right? I don’t think there is a best country. We all have issues, and those who live in each country know them best.

    Certainly the US and it’s litigious nature can drive us all insane. It’s our own fault! We blame everything on everyone else. We over-react! Of course it is not all of us, but the few kill us.

    Solutions? What can we do? Close to home always hurts a bit more, I think.

    I think taking a neutral stance as you have here is a very good place to start!

    • I think you’re absolutely right that as travelers are experiences are different than actually being a resident of a country. Even if you’re stationed in a country for an extended period of time your experience is different. Everyone has their issues, and the issues often aren’t known until you get way below the surface. It’s the same with as with a family. There’s what you see when you go over to another family’s house for dinner but actually being a member of that family is a totally different experience.

      • Good point with the family!

        I think it is also important to note that as travelers some much gets lost in translation. Speak to the locals, and most will have much to complain about.

        What makes one thing great for you, may make it horrible for me. How can we know what is great? It’s opinion, right? Just like a movie, or a travel destination, or a person. Horrible is universal, but greatness is so debatable. Utopia would be great, but it doesn’t exist on a large scale. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

  • Lonnie Vandeventer

    Great posting by a young man who just happens to be my son! As I started to read the article I was reminded that I feel the very same way. I remember so well riding in the back of my Dad’s old green Chevrolet pick-up on the county roads, the wind blowing throw my hair (back when I had hair) and just the joy of being free. I miss those freedoms. I also miss Mom’s being able to hold their newborn coming home from the hospital-understand why, but still don’t agree that we should regulate everything. Well written Clark Vandeventer; well written indeed.

    Since reading the article earlier, a newsclip happened to come my way that spells out the direction we are headed. We won’t even let children by children:

    • Totally agree that what has happened in this article is ridiculous. I think it is also important to consider that 20 years ago we would have never heard of this. We would have never had a news article about kids getting suspended. Years ago, a 7-year-olds suspension just wasn’t news.

      It is ridiculous, but in no way does it indicate that EVERYONE responds like this. It is rare, and that’s why it is news. Unfortunately, we here this absurd cases and chalk it up to the whole.

      If we heard of every small, absurd case from every country, we would surely think every country in the world is nuts!

  • Interesting write up. We struggle with this concept too – not sure I’ve ever felt “We are the greatest” or “We are the worst” country and I get that every country, every culture has nuances that make them unique. I am patriotic and appreciate the liberties we have, and the entrepreneurial spirit that is (somewhat) still appreciated in America.

    I do, however, get so frustrated in the US with many things – for example, our kids go to a “prize winning” public school. This school hosted 3 recent fundraisers: Cookie Dough sales, McTeacher Night at McDonald’s, and a Marble Slab Creamery fundraising night. Fundraising has recently purchased playground equipment (first spot of irony). The new “GeoDome” arrived over Spring Break in March. It wasn’t until last week that my 10 year old’s class was allowed to play on it. Why? Because the class hadn’t had the “orientation” yet. Goodness gracious. (we are homeschooling next year, by the way, for this and many other reasons. So, not just complaining – taking action and accountability to change).

    In addition, the zero tolerance nonsense has gotten out of control. I know your parent posted a link above, and I thought the one I was going to share was the same. Um, unfortunately, it’s a different story of a 7 year old being suspended for shaping his PopTart into a gun. Goodbye sweet America.

    • Sigh…. thanks for your comment, Tiffany.

      Orientation for new playground equipment. Double sigh….

      America has so many great things to offer, but “perfect” or “greatest” just aren’t labels I’d place on the US — or, as I say in this post, any country for that matter.

      It’s sad to me though that the things I hate about America are becoming more the norm in America. Triple sigh….

  • Great post. I too was raised “wrapped in the American flag.” It wasn’t until I traveled outside (not at all extensively) the US that I began to question the belief that the US was the best. I have learned so much since then. I hope to give my kids a global perspective at a much younger age than I had it. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

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