One might be forgiven for believing that the Donald wrote the book on dog whistle sloganeering. “Lock ‘er up!” “Fake news!” “Stop the steal!” “Crooked Hillary!” His litany of slurs goes on ad nauseam.

However Trump may have made schoolyard name calling the centerpiece of his campaigns, the coining of political catchphrases is hardly new. It is to one of these buzzwords that I’d like to draw attention: “American Exceptionalism.”

First used by Ronald Reagan in 1980 as a cudgel to bludgeon Jimmy Carter who had the singular bad fortune to inherit the corrupt and brutal Shah of Iran, and suffer the hostile takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Thus was reawakened the notion that we are a “shining city on the hill” and the model of civic virtue before which the whole world stands in awe.

This seductive notion is alive and well today. You won’t find a Republican candidate anywhere without an American flag lapel pin and few eyebrows were raised when Trump himself took indecent liberties with Old Glory on stage.

Even Obama, in an effort to show America that — his suspicious name notwithstanding — he was a true, blue patriot, pandered to jingoism: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”

Despite the fact that the mythology of our greatness is drilled into every young person’s head from the moment they learn to speak, there is a true story behind all the balderdash. As loathsome as “facts” are to Trumpists and their fellow travelers, there is a world of definable, proven evidence which puts American exceptionialism in a different light.

Forget for a moment that our country was made possible only by the vicious devastation of an indigenous people. Forget that our economy — North and South — was built on the backs of slave labor. Forget that workers’ rights and womens’ rights were never part of the American dream of 1787.

Literacy rate? We come in at 28th out of 214 nations ranked … behind Cuba, Poland, Russia — even Armenia. Rankings of overall health? Sri Lanka 22, Mexico 24 Canada 26 USA 31. In this regard, the United States is one of a small handful of nations that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave and those other countries are small, developing nations. Infant mortality? Japan has the lowest rate at 2 percent. The U.S. ranks 23rd at 5 percent and is bested again by virtually every Western European nation.

How much do Americans pay for a not-so-stellar health care system? As a percentage of national GDP, the United States tops the list at 16.9 percent followed by Switzerland at 12.2 percent, then by eight Western nations — all with some form of “socialized medicine.” No. 10 is New Zealand at 9.3 percent.

How about the world happiness index which ranks countries by how happy their citizens are with their lives? The top three have remained consistent for many years: Finland, Iceland and Denmark. The USA? No. 14, up four places from 2020, the year Trump lost.

If we score so low on standards which impact daily living like education and health care, where do we as a nation channel our resources?

We love weapons. As reported last year, the USA “defense” expenditure of $778 billion was 39 percent of all global military spending and this figure represents 3.7 percent of our GDP. Next in line is China which spent 1.7 percent of its GDP on guns which accounted for 13 percent of the world’s spending.

Not to be outdone by the military-industrial complex, private American citizens own between 265 and 310 million guns, or almost a firearm for every man, woman, and child. Needless to say, these figures dwarf gun ownership anywhere else in the world.

So, does owning such an impressive arsenal of firearms make us any safer? Actually, no. Gun homicides in the United States are 25 times higher than in any other developed nation.

With these kinds of numbers, we have to expect the USA to divert large resources from childcare, education and preventive medicine to the construction of prisons. It’s no surprise we lead the world in numbers of citizens incarcerated. Per 100,000, we top the list at 715, followed by Russia at 584 and Belarus at 544.

What do all the statistics tell us about the priorities we, as Americans, cherish? Perhaps we should pause before beating our chests about American exceptionalism.

McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.

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