One of the things you hear a lot from Republicans during an election is that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Sometimes even in the history of the world! They say this to shame Democrats, who have the temerity to believe that there are things about the US that could be improved. President Obama, they sneer accusingly, doesn't even believe that the US is the best nation that has ever existed. (This, even though their entire premise is that the country needs to be "made great again.")
Just during the last debate, Senator Marco Rubio said, "One of the things my grandfather instilled in me, was that I was really blessed because I was a citizen of the greatest country in the history of our mankind." And Dr. Ben Carson said: "I thank God everyday that I was born in this country—the most exceptional country that the world has ever known."
Maybe that's true, if one is an obscenely wealthy, straight, white, cis, able-bodied white man with a suit that renders him impervious to random gun violence. So, like, if you're Iron Man.
But most of us aren't Iron Man.
If one responds to this sort of nationalistic hyperbole by gently suggesting that the US is, in fact, a pretty rough gig for lots of people from marginalized populations, the immediate pushback is invariably the invocation of a place where people in that class have it even worse.
Which is a red herring. Because just because marginalized people might have additional hurdles in other nations doesn't erase the ones they have in the US. And it ignores that there are places where they would have it better, in some or all ways.
That's the conversation that conservatives want to avoid. That there are actually places where lots of USians would be better off—safer, more financially stable, with better opportunities, more respected.
To address that reality means they would have to acknowledge that we can do better here.
Which we could. If only there was the will to do so.
Instead, there's just a lot of bellicose posturing about how we are the greatest country in the history of the world. As if merely saying it, loudly and often, will make it so.
Recently, the United Nations sent a delegation of three women who are human rights experts—Eleonora Zielinska of Poland, Alda Facio of Costa Rica, and Frances Raday of the UK—to the United States. Over ten days, they toured parts of Alabama, Texas, and Oregon to assess gender equality in the US. They evaluated "a wide range of US policies and attitudes, as well as school, health, and prison systems." And they were "appalled by the lack of gender equality in America."
They discovered that the US was "lagging far behind international human rights standards in a number of areas," including abortion access, the pay gap, livable wages, paid maternity leave, affordable childcare, the treatment of female migrants in detention centers, safety from gun violence, and parity in political representation.
Naturally, women whose identities exist along multiple axes of oppression are disproportionately affected by these failures.
Raday said: "The lack of accommodation in the workplace to women's pregnancy, birth, and post-natal needs is shocking. Unthinkable in any society, and certainly one of the richest societies in the world."
But the group told reporters that the "most telling moment" of their trip "was when they visited an abortion clinic in Alabama and experienced the hostile political climate around women's reproductive rights."
"We were harassed. There were two vigilante men waiting to insult us," said Frances Raday, the delegate from the U.K. The men repeatedly shouted, "You're murdering children!" at them as soon as they neared the clinic, even though Raday said they are clearly past childbearing age.Huh. Almost like abortion is treated as though it's basic healthcare.
"It's a kind of terrorism," added Eleonora Zielinska, the delegate from Poland. "To us, it was shocking."
In most European countries, she explained, abortions are performed at general doctors' offices and hospitals that offer all kinds of other health services, so there aren't protesters waiting to heckle the women who enter.
Abortion is discussed in the United States as something outside of basic healthcare so routinely that most US women can't even imagine that it would be treated any other way. Just like rhetoric around the US being the "greatest country in the history of the world" is designed to mask the fact that women in the US are not living in the greatest country in the world for us.
Indeed, the delegation also "discovered during their visit that women in the United States have 'missing rights' compared to the rest of the world," but aren't even aware of it.
While the delegates were shocked by many things they saw in the U.S., perhaps the biggest surprise of their trip, they said, was learning that women in the country don't seem to know what they're missing.It's not just that the Republicans—and, to a lesser extent, the Democrats, too—refuse to enact policies that would meaningfully improve life for women in the US. It's that they endeavor to convince women (and men) that those politics don't even exist, anywhere in the world.
"So many people really believe that U.S. women are way better off with respect to rights than any woman in the world," Raday said. "They would say, 'Prove it! What do you mean other people have paid maternity leave?'"
"You couldn't have it any better than this," they suggest. But we could.
Not in some radical utopian future. Just in another country, right now, with better priorities.
And it's not like countries that, say, provide paid parental leave don't still fail women, especially less privileged women, in other ways. But at least they don't have to hear a bunch of men tell them as though it's unassailable fact that they live in the greatest nation the world has ever known, before those men retreat to strategize about how to make their lives even worse.