The Priorities We’re Not Talking About

Campaign rallies like football stadia usually echo with the chants of “we’re number 1!” But, according to the social progress index, the United States does not rate well in a global comparison. Out of 163 countries assessed, the U.S. ranks:

  • 42nd in deaths from infectious diseases
  • 45th in child mortality
  • 45th in media censorship
  • 57th in property rights for women
  • 64th in political rights
  • 73rd in maternal mortality
  • 76th in traffic deaths
  • 84th in equality of political power by socioeconomic position
  • 91st in access to quality education
  • 95th in the homicide rate
  • 97th in access to quality health care and
  • 100th in discrimination and violence against minorities
  • 119th in environmental quality

There are, of course, areas where the United States excels. I am an optimist by heart. Out of those 163 countries, the U.S. ranks:

  • 1st in combating undernourishment
  • 1st in gender parity in secondary education
  • 1st in access to online government
  • 1st in mobile telephone subscriptions
  • 1st in usage of clean fuels and technology for cooking
  • 1st in access to electricity
  • 1st in quality universities

The U.S., of course, has the world’s biggest economy.

Despite our wealth, the U.S. ranks 28th out of 163 countries based on a review of our nation’s handling of basic human needs, ensuring the foundations of well-being and providing opportunity for all of its citizens. That hurts, because as Americans we believe in opportunity. That is the foundation of the American dream.

The Social Progress Index is not an outlier in assessing U.S. strengths and weaknesses. The Rule of Law Index produced by the World Justice Project also shows America has room for improvement. The index measures factors such as constraints on government power, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. Here, the U.S. ranks 21st out of 128 countries surveyed, one notch above Uruguay. Our worst score comes in the area of civil justice, where the U.S. comes in at number thirty-six worldwide, rating us worse the Malaysia or Mauritius. Subfactors indicate that the U.S. ranks 109th in the ability of Americans to access and afford civil justice and 115th in terms of our system being free of discrimination. In other rankings that should concern us, the U.S. places:

  • 34th in providing a prison and correctional system that reduces criminal behavior
  • 72nd in guaranteeing fundamental labor rights
  • 88th in ensuring a criminal justice system is impartial
  • 96th in terms of equal treatment and absence of discrimination

Sixty percent of Americans believe we are viewed favorably in the world according to a recent Gallup poll. Our closest allies view America unfavorably, according to a September 2020 Pew Research Center. Only 41% in the UK and Japan hold favorable views toward us; Canadians come in at 35%; Australians at 33%; the French at 31%; Germans at 26%. Public opinion of America has plummeted in the past three years.

As a nation that likes to believe we are the best on Earth, we have some catching up to do.

Contrast these rankings with the top issues being debated in the current election cycle. The top voter issues, receiving more than a 50% response, according to Pew Research Center are the economy, health care, Supreme court appointments, coronavirus, violent crime, foreign policy, gun policy, race and ethnic inequality and immigration. Gallup found a similar list of priorities, and both polls found sharp partisan divides on how to address many of those issues. The problem with both of these polls, as well as the issues the campaigns surface, is that they are too high level to find common cause.

In this article, I wrote about how vast majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree on a variety of proposals that address health care, crime, immigration, international security and the economy. The agreements emerge when we get past soundbites and tribalism, thanks to a deliberative polling process advanced by Voice of the People. Now, imagine a world where we tackle the meta problems from Gallup and the more detailed deficiencies identified in the social indices, through bipartisan deliberation. That would be something.

If we turn the corner in 2021, we will do so by coming together. Politicians should commit to compromise. Media should uplift bipartisan solutions. Corporations should value society over profit, because the latter is ephemeral if the former collapses. I am deeply worried about the collapse of constitutional and democratic norms our nation is currently facing. I am an optimist, though, and I yearn to hear “We’re number 1” in the arenas of sport and politics.

C. Dixon Osburn is a noted advocate for domestic and international human rights and security.

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