What does ‘American Exceptionalism’ really mean?
Sometime in the past few months I first heard the term “American Exceptionalism” and immediately dismissed it as another inane phrase spewed out by some right-wing fringe group. When it was used a few weeks ago by a local Tea Party (TP) activist I decided to check it out.
First, what does American Exceptionalism really mean? Well, a writer for the Washington Post had the same question when he wrote on 11-29-2010, “’American Exceptionalism’ is a phrase that, until recently, was rarely heard outside the confines of think tanks, opinion journals and university history departments. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.”
Okay, on to Wikipedia, where it stated, “’American Exceptionalism’ itself was first used by members of the American Communist Party in the 1920s, (Whoa! Does that mean all these Republicans are closet Commies?) in reference to their belief that “thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions, America might for a long while avoid the crisis that must eventually befall every capitalist society.”
Let’s get real – the “long while” quoted above has come to pass. It is now. Our natural resources are largely depleted; we’ve lost six million manufacturing jobs over the last 10 years or so, many the result of “free” trade agreements, insuring that much of our industrial capacity sits idle; and while the Bush-Cheney years produced the greatest transfer of wealth in American history (from the middle-class to the already rich) Bush famously remarked that the haves and have-mores were his political base. Millionaire politicians creating laws that largely benefit only themselves and their millionaire supporters – is that not a “rigid class distinction?”
Wikipedia continues with 11 pages of pros, cons and historical references, and seven pages of footnotes and additional reading suggestions – far too much to discuss here. Nevertheless, my favorite quote from those pages is from a 2005 New York Times article that called America “an empire enthralled with its own power and unaware that it is fading.”
But why would Republican presidential hopefuls (and TP activists) invoke a Communist coined phrase? Let’s give them some credit: it sounds good, regardless of where it came from. Mostly though, it is confusing, it has no definitive meaning that is universally accepted. That makes it a diversion. A diversion from the truth, that Republican political dominance for most of the past 30 years has overseen the “fading” of a once-great nation.
If that isn’t enough to ponder, consider this: how many democratically elected foreign governments has the US overthrown, or assisted in the overthrow, since say 1950 (because they didn’t suck up to us)? How many brutal dictators has the US supported (because they did suck up to us)? How many millions of people have died at the whims of those dictators while the US supplied them with the guns and bullets? (And please don’t tell me we did those things because it was our God-given right to do so.)
Those who choose to give honest answers to those questions just might concede that we occupy no moral high ground on the world stage. Since World War II we have only been the biggest bully on the playground. And we have gotten old, fat, weak and corrupt while consuming our spoils. Attempting to maintain an illusion that we are exceptional will only delay any hope of truly implementing all those lofty ideals established by our forefathers in 1776.
Story filed under: West Texas Talk