Large government programs, huge amounts of wealth, or even being a superpower are not what make America great. America was great before it ever was wealthy, powerful, or had instituted large social welfare programs. America does not rise above other nations because of what she accomplishes collectively.
America distinguishes itself because it is the only nation to believe, and to still believe just barely, that the individual is more important than society or the government that rules over a society. The Founding Fathers saw that the best government was one that served the individual and not the other way around where the individual exist for the benefit of the government. The United States is based on faith and hope in the transcendent ideas of individual freedom, individual compassion and virtue, and the right of each person to pursue happiness, compassion, mercy and truth through belief and action. From these ideas come the two most important individual rights: the freedom of religion (thought or conscience) and the freedom of speech. These two rights put the “human” into humanity and fuel the torchlight of what America symbolizes to the rest of the world craving the light of individual freedom.
America’s greatness and compassion cannot be measured by making comparisons to other nations because it comes about by providing hope to individuals and by providing opportunity for individuals to maximize their potential. That is the genius of the American experiment. Greatness and genius, however, do not equate to perfection. Much like the myriad ways that individuals can be imperfect, the nation as whole does reflect that and as its many angry critics point out does fall short. However, it must be said an imperfect America striving to fulfill lofty and transcendent ideas is head and shoulders preferable to all other flawed and fallible nations ruled by more conventional and human ideas of governing and power.