Monday, July 7, 2014

American Exceptionalism



American Exceptionalism is inherently an egotistical idea.  The phrase was not given to this nation by our founding fathers, but imposed upon them by later generations. 

The meaning of the phrase has changed much over the years (so confusing...like so many other very confusing/important words: genically modified, sustainability, Liberal, Republican...why must it be so?) 

At first the US was seen as exceptional for its fight for liberty and equality.

"The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. "  Thomas Paine 1776
"Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, and measure in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of Nations."  John Adams 1776
"It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own."  Ben Franklin 1777

Then, the US was seen as exceptional because, having abundant space and resources, it did not have to contend with the societal pressure of socialism.  It was thought to be immune- special in that sense. 

As Nation States became more prevalent in the early 1900's, the USA was a still a 'shining light on the hill,' respected as a moral leader for its representative government and economic opportunity.  An international social experiment that seemed to be the key to the pursuit of happiness.  

Further along in history, and more recently, America was thought exceptional for being a leader in market capitalism and militarism.  The single power in a uni-polar world.  The World Police, with a special interest in spreading Democracy abroad.

“I do not believe that Barack Obama believes that the U.S. is an exceptional nation, and the whole concept that the world is a safer place, a more peaceful place, when the U.S. is powerful, able to in fact project its will in various places around the world,” -Dick Cheney 2013
Dick Cheney's quote is a great synthesis of what has most recently transpired from the term American Exceptionalism.  From a term to guide our international force, to a term to divide the country by coding the 'others' (that is not in the new conservative camp) a new kind of liberal and those liberals as anti-American and anti-christian.

A recent facebook argument I had with a new conservative precipitated this definition of liberal:  "A new morality and social order based totally on a sect of society's own pragmatism informed by it's own custom-made definition of 'good'. And as such, is diametrically opposed to the Judeo-Christian ethic of principle as a whole."

The new American Exceptionalism is espoused by neo-conservatives (or neo-liberal, or neo-realists...the next post will explore these confusing terms.)  Chief among them, Dick Cheney, Mit Romney, Fox News, and on down the New Republican line.

There is a big difference between our founding fathers feeling as though their own struggle for independence, liberty and hence freedom was a fight that could benefit others in the world; to 'our struggle entitles us to be the dominant force in the world' to 'our dominance is based on a gift from God, and those who do not appreciate this are anti-American and our enemies'.  

In any case, as the US has moved away from its original intention of supporting a common good through Public Virtue, education and economic opportunity, to a shrieking cacophony difficult to make sense of-
The world has moved on in a global process of prosperity and self-determination.   We are no longer the only wealthy, industrious, freedom seeking nation.  Many other nations have joined the journey.

Some have done quite well following the example of a people's struggle to become and build up a United States of America.  Some others have been crushed by the self-important idea of American Exceptionalism, and the US's inherent and indefinite role as the leader. Nations in the Middle East and South America especially, in my opinion, by means of 'regime change'; and nations subject to IMF rules, like Structural Adjustment Policies.(a perspective from Africa)

Maybe we could have stayed exceptional if we had acted on US ideals based in liberty, justice and morality.

Maybe if individual citizens had an idea of what it means to be a citizen of such a nation:  to value diversity, to separate church and state, to maintain an intrepid truth-seeking media, to demand integrity from our leaders, through paying attention to public matters and involving ones self in the process.

In many cases, the US, as a nation, and as individuals have dropped the ball- with serious consequences for ourselves.  Other nations do not necessarily do worse when we fall behind.

As we loosen our grip, others may gain room to move with more liberty. 

Should we root for other countries to not reach their potential if that means being 'better' than us or equal to us?  Must US citizens and the USA be the best?...or else what?

...that is what American Exceptionalism, as referenced today, demands.  I don't think other Nation's like that kind of attitude on the international playground. We must be willing to accept other nation's strengths, without wanting to steal it, capitalize off of it, suppress or destroy it. 

I want to link this to my recent post on Middle East Liberty by sharing an excerpt from the 1997 book, Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East,
"Historically, the Middle East has been a crossroads linking Empires, dynasties, cultures and armies in both peace and war, and those who controlled access to its vital land and water trade routes wielded great power and frequently amassed huge fortunes...The United States continues to have vital interests in the Middle East, including the survival of allies, especially Israel, and the denial of the control of Persian Gulf resources to hostile powers."
If we were to be faithful to an idea that America is exceptional based on our values of independence, liberty and freedom, we would be able to let others grow and flourish according to their abilities and capabilities.  We would lead the world, not through might, but as an example of what a nation under such principles can be.  

It is a tragedy that American leaders, like Cheney, who espouse American Exceptionalism, have destroyed its validity, through debacles such as the Iraq War, dogmatic loyalty to Israel, theocratic tendencies, abandonment of the common good, and betrayal of Public Virtue; and that international institutions we largely control, such as the IMF and World Bank, have exploited emerging nations, suppressing their capabilities for our own financial gains.   

Isn't it good enough to let go the reigns of colonialism and imperialism and to allow others their own path, their own fight for self-determination (which may be a monarchy or other form of gov't), as we continue to fight for ours?

American Exceptionalism, in our time, has become an -ism that might foster evil- by encouraging some underlying factors: poverty, discrimination, and elitism- that foster such negative outcomes.  See my previous post on a cure

There is no shortcut to freedom.  


Make a great day!
-Kathryn