Maybe President Trump was right that we needed a "Salute to America" last week, because apparently some Americans have lost sight of the greatness of our country. Case in point: To mark Independence Day, The New York Times posted a video op-ed challenging what it called the "mythology" of American greatness. "America may once have been the greatest," the Times video declares, "but today, America, we're just OK."
The video is like a caricature of how conservatives think the left sees America - except it isn't a caricature; it's real. As evidence we're just OK, the video cites statistics showing other developed countries have lower poverty rates or better education and health care outcomes. As for our "kick-ass democracy," the Times says, it's not that big a deal because "a lot of countries have freedoms."
Put aside all the misleading data the video uses. The fact is, all the freedom and progress those other countries enjoy today would not be possible without the U.S. The reason "a lot of countries have freedoms" is because our Founding Fathers pioneered the principle of popular sovereignty, where governments answer to the people instead of the other way around. At the time of our founding, the rest of the world was ruled by monarchs. Our founders established the first country in human history that was built on an idea - the idea of human liberty.
For most of our history, American democracy was a global outlier. In 1938, on the eve of World War II, there were just 17 democracies. It was not until 1998 that there were more democracies than autocracies. That explosion of freedom was the direct result of the rise of the U.S. as a superpower. The U.S.-powered victory over Nazi tyranny in World War II and our triumph over Soviet tyranny in the Cold War defeated the hateful ideologies of fascism and communism, and unleashed a wave of freedom that has spread across the world. Today, 4.1 billion people live in democracies. (Of those who do not, four out of five live in China.)
The expansion of liberty has produced prosperity. Last September, the Brookings Institution reported that "for the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind ... some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered 'middle class' or 'rich.'" None of that would be possible without the Pax Americana guaranteed by U.S. military. Americans liberated a continent, rebuilt it from the rubble of war, and stood watch on freedom's frontier and prevented a Soviet tank invasion across the Fulda Gap. Today, the only thing that stops North Korea from invading South Korea or China from invading Taiwan is American military might.
Today, for all its flaws, America remains the freest, most innovative, most prosperous country in the history of the world. We invented the lightbulb and the iPhone. We put a man on the moon and a rover on Mars. We are a nation of unparalleled military power and unlimited opportunity.
There's a reason we have a crisis on our southern border; millions want to come here so that they can share in the abundance of American prosperity.
The men and women who flew those fighters and bombers over the Mall last week make it all possible. They provide the critical foundation of peace and security upon which our freedom, and the freedom of all the world's democracies, is built. Maybe Luxembourg scores better on some measures, but no one is counting on Luxembourg to secure the peace of the world. Trump was right to shine a spotlight on our men and women in uniform and to remind those who have lost sight of it that the United States is not simply the greatest nation on Earth; we are indispensable. Without us, the world would be mired in the darkness of totalitarianism rather than the light of liberty.
That is better than "just OK."
Marc A. Thiessen writes for the Washington Post.