Sunday, January 19, 2014

On American Exceptionalism

The first week of classes is under the belt.
All the syllabi have been distributed, so we know what we're up against.
A shit-load of reading, mostly.

This week in Political Science (the class is called American Political Thought), and no doubt this coming week, it's all about "American Exceptionalism", or more apt, "Why America Thinks It's Special". [The guy who coined the phrase and theory of "American Exceptionalism" was a French politician and historian named Alexis de Tocqueville, in the 1800's]

Sure, America is special. Every country is in its own way. But this is the exploration of the why, not just a bold overreaching declaration of America's divine uniqueness.
Okay, there will also be no declaration of its divinity in this.

We didn't need to read the "stacks" of articles, to know that America thinks it has some pious self ascribed role in the world - or, as the PoliSci teacher describes it, "A mission to remake the world in its image."
Sounds like a God complex of the nth degree.
We didn't need to read a backlog of essays (though we had to for the class) to know why America isn't as special as it thinks it is either, or that it is inherently fearful of its decline. All it takes to understand that is some reading and rational analysis. And acceptance.

Many of our family members are so very fond of proclaiming that the United States is the best country in the world. Most of them haven't been farther than a few states over, so it's hard to say what they are basing it on. Surely America is "pleasant" enough. It's home. It's large in landmass, it's varied in geography, even though it takes awhile, sometimes, to get to a change in topography. It's got diverse culinary offerings. It still has diverse cultures...for now. It's got some...qualities, for sure.

But, America unique...

Freedom of Speech? That's our favorite one.
However, other countries have it. For example, the freedom of speech for citizens of Japan is protected under Chapter III, Article 21, of their constitution, not to mention the forty-seven countries "granted" Freedom of Expression via Article 19 of the European Convention on Human Rights(1). Albeit, Europe's is set forth with consideration of a balancing of freedoms, i.e. you are free to express your opinions, but not to harass and thereby alienate a person or people(s). Some might argue that its definition is restrictive and lacks the wild-eyed unabashed freedom afforded Americans under the First Amendment (and if you truly believe in unrestricted expressive freedom under the First Amendment, then maybe you should lower the dose on those medications, dear). Others might argue that the protections afforded by Article 19 are more sophisticated, mindful of protecting the rights of people to live happily, free of torment and ridicule.
P.S. If you think torment and ridicule should be protected...may we suggest you back away from this blog.

So, it's not really exceptional because of free speech rights then.

Religion? Well, sure, America has religion. A lot of it. Of course the religious people think it's pretty long as you're part of "the right one". Plus, if you pay attention, religion doesn't really play in the same sandbox as actual freedom. Can't really be that then.

Some might say individualism and personal freedom, then, is why America is so awesome - but what about the pressure to deny gay people the right to marriage, or women the right to choose, or the attempts at continued repression of women and other groups, and the staunch hatred for people of different ethnic backgrounds, with non-Anglo-Saxon religions, whose first language isn't English. (Ya'll gotta speak English, ya hear, this is 'Murica!). And, actually, the intolerance of anyone not like "you".

So far, America is Exceptional, if you're white, male, straight and Christian...and don't forget upper-middle class or higher...and born in America...and speak fluent English [exceptions for Southerners, of course].

What else is there.

It's certainly not the education system(2), bloated military spending(3), financially inflated healthcare industry [third most expensive in the world(4)] with the complex systems that have always governed it (*cough* manipulative capitalism).
It's not the increasingly corrupt and convoluted political system, or increasingly corporate controlled...everything.
It's not the high homicide rates and rates of imprisonment(5) [for a developed First World country], or relatively high infant mortality rate(6) and plentiful poor people for such a big impressive developed country...
Or maybe it is.
One might say that the level of suck-dome when it comes to those key factors certainly makes America "unique".

Sadly, the things that really make the United States/America special are things that many attempt to take away, to overturn, to prevent, as mentioned previously - separation of church and state, the veritable cornucopia of ethnic groups and diversity, all of the human rights that have been amassed over so many years, like advancements in overall civil rights, and a woman's right to make decisions about her own body; and personal freedoms on the precipice of national inclusion - like the rights to gay marriage. Yeah, sure, and the loosening of marijuana laws too...

Instead those people wanting to restrict actual personal freedoms, the things that make a person an individual and free, desire to crawl back under the quilt of a repressive history.
Freedom and repression do not go hand in hand. If it is freedom that makes America "exceptional", then the perceived exceptionalism declines through freedoms being systematically stripped away, and the country's uniqueness will become naught.

These things mentioned are rights, and are attributed to an evolution of humanity where people can make choices about their life - they are an alignment with compassion and tolerance, falling in step with the collective freedom to be human, and be happy, and be oneself. By restricting these things, claims of freedom and equality become a lie

Ugh. Let's see...what else...

Guns. America is unique because GUNS*! Fantastic.

You get it...(hopefully).

The point is, the more a country screams about it's greatness, waving giant flags, the more they wrap themselves in it, clinging to idealistic and blind patriotism, denying truths, and proclaim they are infallible and demand everyone love them, the more it seems like they are trying to prove something, the weaker they appear, and the weaker they become. And the emptier their claims look.

If anything, America is relatively average on most counts - all countries have their inherent flaws; and there's nothing wrong with admitting it. At this point, maybe being able to accept the bad things, and appreciate the good things, and be open to criticism, is what would really make America "Exceptional".

*though citizens in several other countries are allowed guns, but the gun control is just a little better [and there are a lot less gun deaths per capita because of it (7)]

1. European Court of Human Rights, Convention on Human Rights, Article 10, and
2. U.S. Education Slipping in Ranks Worldwide, Earns Poor Grades on CFR Scorecard, Council on Foreign Relations, June 17, 2013
3. The U.S. Spent More on Defense in 2012 Than Did the Countries With the Next 10 Highest Defense Budgets CombinedPeter G. Peterson Foundation, April 12, 2013
4. The World Fact Book: Country Comparisons - Health Expenditures, 2011,
5. Five things everyone should know about US incarceration, Heather Schoenfeld, Aljazeera, March 26, 2013,
6. The World Fact Book: Country Comparisons - Infant Mortality Rate, 2013,
7. How Australia And Other Developed Nations Have Put A Stop To Gun Violence, Walter Hickey, Business Insider, January 15, 20123,

1 comment:

  1. I've grown so tired of the "America the Beautiful" rhetoric. Yeah, we have the American Dream, but most people don't realize it's 50 years out of date and no longer applies.
    The more people roar about how great our country is, the more I think there's a collective fear our Florida is smaller than anyone elses.