Every new year offers a fresh opportunity to think and act in generative new ways. If that is true for individuals, perhaps it might also be true for nations. A few weeks ago I outlined one version of what it might mean to be a great nation. I indicated that there were those leaders, including President-elect Trump who defined the greatness he promised to recover as follows:
Military superiority, even if our military might is already greater than the rest of the world’s nations’ put together. And now the restart of the nuclear arms race. The ability of the nation to dominate the world’s economy by the use of deals, tariffs, trade policies and boycotts. The absolute control of borders and the elimination from the nation of those believed to be undesirable. Religious tests for entry. The reinstitution of torture in the hope of gaining information. National interests first. Tax policies that benefit the already affluent. ”Law and Order.” The disavowal of scientific opinions that might compromise national economic interests. Subtle versions of racism, sexism, etc. The proliferation of firearms in civilian hands. All this and much more, under the direction of a strong dictatorial national leader, namely Trump himself.
I want to offer a very different version of what makes a great nation. I begin by examining today’s world and observing what great nations currently look like. US News and World Report—hardly a left-wing publication—from time to time offers a well-researched listing of what are considered to be the world’s present greatest nations. The most recent report lists the following: Germany, Canada, Great Britain, US, Sweden, Australia, Japan, France, Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand.
What are the commonalities that make these nations great? Each of these nations (except for ours) has long since adopted a mixed economy, with a heavy investment in both capitalism and socialism. They are essentially social democracies. All of the ten offer universal government-sponsored health insurance and health care. Each provides the right to a free education, adequate care for infants, women, the aged and the differently abled. Their first concern is the well-being of ordinary citizens. People first!
In these nations, other than persons on drugs, there seems to be no significant slums or the debilitating poverty approximating that which can be found in any sizeable American city, or in even our much smaller communities. Firearm violence is extremely rare, because few if any guns are spread around the population.
All of these nations are governed by some form of democracy, mostly dedicated to parliamentary systems. In these critical days each of these nations has found ways to receive its appropriate share of the world’s refugees from the series of wars begun when the United States intervened in Iraq on the false accusation that the nation both possessed and were preparing to use weapons of mass destruction.
In each of these nations the economic goal was to generate a substantial middle class without dramatically limiting the avenues for the creation of wealth by entrepreneurs and investors. In every case that goal has been faithfully met.
America again finds itself at a crossroad. Which fork will it take? Mr. Trump and the generals and billionaires he will bring with him, hold that the way to make America great again—as if it no longer were—would be to move in the direction of military and economic domination overseas and a plutocracy at home. Many of the rest of us believe America’s continued greatness lies in a very different direction. At present we seem to have lost that struggle. But as the historian Charles Beard once quipped,
The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.
Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.