Sometimes I wonder—more frequently in the last four years than at any time since the Vietnam War. Here are two provocative sets of statistics. Set 1: With just 4.25% of the world’s population (updated 12/3/2020 by worldometers.info), the United States has 21.2% of the world’s documented Covid cases, including 18% of Covid deaths (updated 12/3/2020 by the World Health Organization: covid19.who.int). Set 2: With just 4.25% of the world’s population (reference above), the United States has 20% of the world’s prison population (as of 1/16/2020 per prisonpolicy.org). How parallel these two datasets are! I should also mention that people of color are much more likely to be incarcerated than white people. (This is especially true of Black men.) According to the NAACP, African Americans are more than five times more likely than whites to be imprisoned (naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/).
If I had the time and space, I could research and report on lots of other indices concerning the U.S.’ standing in a global context. In fact, I have done just that in an earlier blog or two. In matters like education, medical care, and happiness, for example, our self-described “greatest country on earth” falls significantly below the leading nations in every single case. We Americans who boost our nation despite its poor standing in these areas remind me of high-school students who insist their team is the best despite its abysmal season record. Why? Well, because it’s ours. As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said to someone whose opinion was based on incorrect data, “You are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.” Our outgoing President is like those high-school students and Senator Moynihan’s interlocutor. During his term in office, Mr. Trump has offered dozens of opinions based on hundreds, actually thousands, of false facts. Wikipedia reports that “by September 3, 2020, The Washington Post's Fact Checker database had counted 22,510 false or misleading statements” during his nearly four years in office
So, what’s the bottom line here? Back in the Vietnam-War days, some Americans would piously intone the slogan “Right or wrong, my country.” In other words, the mere fact of it being our country trumped whether a particular policy was right or wrong, and that it was our job as good Americans to support the policy in question, above all, the war in Vietnam. Others of us—a number that included me—said instead, “My country, if right, support it; if wrong, correct it.” True patriotism for me thus includes helping our town, state, country, and—yes—the world to live up to its highest, most humane ideals. What do you think?