President Biden likes to exclaim that "America is back," but Nicholas Kristof begs to differ in his latest New York Times column. He ticks off example after example of how the US is lagging other nations in crucial ways. "Greeks have higher high school graduation rates," he writes. "Chileans live longer. Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia, and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts—perhaps a metric for where nations will stand in a generation or two." We similarly lag in reading, and in international comparisons on health, safety, well-being, and the economy. "It's great that we again have a president respected by the world," writes Kristof. "But we are not 'back,' and we must face the reality that our greatest vulnerability is not what other countries do to us but what we have done to ourselves."
In Kristof's view, the way to improve things revolves around social progress, particularly through investments in children. White House proposals for a national pre-K program, a refundable child credit, and better internet access would do more to strengthen the nation than the $1.2 trillion plan being floated to improve the nuclear arsenal, he writes. "We can't control whether China builds more aircraft carriers," writes Kristof as he wraps up the column and repeats a theme. "We can't deter every Russian hacker. But to truly bring America back, we should worry less about what others do and more about what we do to ourselves." Read the full column, which warns of an American slide "toward mediocrity." (Read more America stories.)