Stephen Gottlieb: Not If We Rest On Our Laurels | WAMC

Stephen Gottlieb: Not If We Rest On Our Laurels

May 12, 2020

Americans like to say we’re no. 1, we’re the greatest, the world’s only superpower. So this is for the America greatsters. Not if we rest on our laurels, we’re not. Our genes came from all over the world. The science that’s been our glory, had many stages of development off our shores. The world doesn’t sit still waiting for the U.S. to create the next big thing. Several Asian countries have nuclear weapons. Several are challenging our digital developments, invading our privacy and platforms in ways that threaten the utility of what gets designed here.

Americans like to say we’re the richest country in the world but seldom want to do more than say it. If one examines the data, some Americans are extremely wealthy, but most of us aren’t and don’t live as well as average people in many industrialized countries. That’s in the data.

We like to say we have the world’s best health care system but it didn’t outperform everyone else in the Covid-19 crisis, and our life expectancy is not so high among westernized countries.

We developed the best education the world had known but we have largely abandoned it, abandoned the grade schools and abandoned the state colleges and universities.

We’re not the greatest if we rest on our laurels. We’re not the greatest if we treat scientific prowess as established, abandon science education from kindergarten through graduate schools and stop investing in scientific research. We’re not the greatest if we ideologically assume that government has been hamstringing our scientific prowess when in fact much American technological prowess was the result of government investment – in nuclear physics, in getting to the moon, in the initial development of the internet – programs which spawned modern broadcast and digital technology and virtually everything we use in modern life. American technological progress didn’t end with Thomas Edison; modern progress developed in tandem with government investment. Most of the important drugs we rely on depended on government investment and it’s crucial for vaccines.

We’re not the best if we assume everyone will still come to American universities while great universities develop abroad. We’re not the best if we insult everyone with our boasting and then expect them to continue coming here to study, live and work. We’re not the greatest if we continue to disparage people from eastern countries while failing to notice that they are closing the gap and even outstripping us in technological development.

We’re not the best if the method people adopt so that we are great again, let alone the best, is by dividing us against each other, blocking half the country from contributing to the extent of their abilities. Our sports teams were not at their best when we had a color line. And no field of activity will continue to rank at the top by excluding people with obvious talent. That’s just deadweight loss, using our energies to fight one another instead of building up our abilities.

No, America cannot be the best, or number 1, or great again if we rest on our laurels.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

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