Americans expect to be number one. First lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.” Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness. He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload. “We’re going to win so much,” he told supporters. “You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President… don’t win so much’… . And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again.… We’re gonna keep winning.’”
As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously. Look no further than the US gold-medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next-highest total? Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the 18th century, the nation’s ur-victory. The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the 20th century.
In the intervening years, the United States built up a gaudy military record—slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain—but the best was yet to come. “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”