As we celebrate the 236th anniversary of America’s independence, it’s a good time to reflect on all the things that make the United States the greatest country in the world. Like, for instance … well … hmm.
We’re billed as the land of the free, but we’re actually 47th in press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders, behind Botswana and El Salvador. We’re 10th in economic freedom, according to the Heritage Foundation—not bad, but not quite on the level of Canada or Mauritius. We’re 51st in math and science education, according to the World Economic Forum. We spend by far the most on health care, but can’t crack the top 20 in life expectancy. And while we remain the richest country in terms of gross domestic product, we’re anywhere from sixth to 19th in per-capita income, depending on how you count. (Plus, no one expects us to hold off China for long when it comes to GDP.)
So what do we lead the world in? If you believe Will McAvoy, the news anchor on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, the United States is tops in just three things: "number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending." Actually, McAvoy is forgetting a litany of other horrible metrics in which the United States ranks first. There’s also obesity, divorce, illegal drug use, pornography, student loan debt—the list goes on.
But come on—don’t we lead the world in anything we can be proud of? Indeed, we do! To celebrate July 4, here is a list of some rather obvious, some surprising, and some genuinely inspiring achievements that put the “exceptional” in “American exceptionalism.”