What’s the best way to be? Is it: Better than everyone else? Stronger than everyone else? Smarter than everyone else? More morally pure then everyone else? Wealthier than everyone else?
The Doctrine of American Exceptionalism offers you the opportunity to be all of the above. And you don’t even have to try, you just have to be born here, or successfully immigrate and obtain citizenship and preferably white.
You may have heard of American Exceptionalism. It is a theory that the United States occupies a special role among the nations of the world in terms of its national ethos, political and religious institutions, and its being built by immigrants. The roots of the position have been dated back to 1630 with John Winthrop's "City Upon a Hill" (you may have heard that in a Reagan speech) although some scholars attribute it to a passage of Alexis de Tocqueville, who argued that the United States held a special place among nations because it was the first working representative democracy.
You may have heard conservative windbags like Sean Hannity say things like “how can Obama be an effective president, he doesn’t even believe in the Doctrine of American Exceptionalism.”
You may have heard or even believe that the United States is the greatest country in the history of the world. For me, it’s the root of the phrase “God bless America.” Sure, I want God to bless America, but not by destroying other nations at our feet. For me it’s “God bless America, and everybody else too.”
America may hold a top-of-the-pile position today, and for the last number of decades or a century or two, but it’s not because we are those things I listed in the first paragraph. It’s because for the most part, we haven’t had a war on our soil that destroyed our entire infrastructure.
If you listen to conservative talk radio or watch Fox News (I’ve decided that Fox doesn’t report the news, Fox reports the truth, see Jon Stewart’s recent interview with Chris Wallace) you’ll hear that we are so much way more awesome than Europe where socialism is. I’ve had it told to me that we are way more innovative. Our economy is way better. And we have all these “freedoms.”
But to be fair, what really happened? What is really the case? And why?
Europe has been a little slow. But if the US had been the location of two world wars in thirty years, we’d have been slow too. Much of Europe got the living cuss bombed out of it in WWII. You’ll also notice how little of our famed innovation has come out of the south where the Civil War destroyed all manner of progress. I live in Arkansas, where there appears to be only one major university. As far as I can tell, the greatest density of universities and colleges is in the North East and West Coast.
When Europe got out of WWII, they were so hosed, they had to go about things completely differently. We were the victors. Nary a bomb had dropped on our soils. Soldiers returning from war came back to the new middle class centered plan of the New Deal. Taxes on the rich were high. Unions thrived. We boomed. Europe on the other hand was hosed. Hosed hosed hosed.
They had massive casualties, fire bombed out cities, bridges destroyed, airports with holes all over them and no oil reserves. Germany had to pay reparations (again) and Britain was so gutted, they had rationing for years afterward. But they’ve come back. They have pretty robust economies now. They have low unemployment, and don’t have nearly the economic swings we capitalists have.
More and more lately, I’ve come to believe that all that stuff they used to tell us in grade school about being the greatest country on earth is a load of hooey. They tell us about all sorts of advances in technology, medicine and whatnot. Where is the first mass produced electric car coming from? Nissan. Who has the best healthcare in the world? Not us. Where was your cell phone made? Not here. Where is your job? Somewhere else.
They tell us that the constitution is a moral document, that God had his hand in its writing like he dictated the King James Version of the Bible. We got “all men are created equal” you know, except for slaves and whatnot, oh and women, don’t forget women. And it turns out that many of the founders weren’t Christians, at least not the kind we’re told they were. Blasphemy of blasphemies, the great Thomas Jefferson cut out all the miraculous stuff from the Bible and republished his own version!
How’s that racism coming along. Well, there were some of us who were against it for a long time, but we had to have a war over it, oh yeah, and after we whooped Britain in the Revolutionary War, they abolished slavery decades before we did. Now we have a black radical Christian Muslim president. Figure that one out for yourself. How surprising was it that the day after he was elected, gun sales skyrocketed? The economy is in the ash can, but you haven’t seen any gun stores closing. Just recently there are people protesting a “mosque” with a domed roof going up near a freeway in Phoenix which actually as it turns out is really a non-denominational church. Xenophobia - An exaggerated or abnormal fear of strangers or foreigners. I was listening to “Christian” radio last night. Their “news” segment consisted of a guy ranting about how important it was to cast extra suspicion upon anyone who was a Muslim for fear of terrorism.
What about on the moral front? Surely we are the center of morality pure as the driven snow in the world. Not hardly. What did we do to the Indians? We royally screwed them over. We forced them off their nice land that they had occupied for maybe thousands of years and we concentrated them out in the desert, and Oklahoma. United States military forces murdered thousands upon thousands of them outright in cold blood.
Then World War II comes along and we have vast resources that we commit to building the atomic bomb. And then we drop the most powerful bomb in the history of the world on civilians. What an cusshole thing to do. The moral high ground is to act in honor and civility no matter how provoked. Truman could have called up Hirohito and said “Hey, we got a bomb. We got a big cussing bomb, and we’re gonna drop it in the middle of Tokyo Bay, and then you got 48 hours to surrender or we’re gonna glass your little island.” But no, we didn’t drop it in Tokyo Bay. We didn’t drop it in the sparsely inhabited mountains that make up so much of Japan. We didn’t drop it anywhere where it would do a little damage but make a big point. We dropped it on civilians who were just trying to get along with their lives. If we want to be exceptional, we must always hold the moral high ground, and we are so very bad at it. But they’ve come back. They’re doing pretty good, and while they are clawing their way to the top of the Environmental Performance Index, we are screwing our way down. You wouldn’t believe the countries that are beating us now. Look it up for yourself, we suck (on that index).
Likewise is our dealing with the Middle East. Understand this. Islam is a warlike religion with a tribal history. It has a strong sense of revenge and vengeance and vendetta or whatever you want to call it. So when we go bomb the towel heads, we wind up the kind of cuss-storm we can’t truly understand. They’ll wear us down to the last man, the last dollar, the last bullet, the last bayonet because their sense of revenge is far better developed than ours is. So what are we? We’re the invaders. I’m an active advocate of non-violence, but if someone walks into my country, onto my property with violent intent, I’ll be the first one to be slinging lead around. There’s a different sort of mindset when you waltz into someone else’s country and start shooting. And we’ve been on the wrong side of that coin so many times, you’ll never see it paid back. We’d have to be invaded by two dozen different countries before we even start to get even.
And the thing that bugs me the most is when people say that God is the one behind our supposed greatness. I guess I can blame God for all the above then? Why does God get blamed? Why would God bless the good ol’ US of A? Is it because we’ve been good? Not that I can tell. Are we some sort of chosen nation? I think that one was Israel. Is it because we’re white and righteous? There’s a Mormon reference. BOOM! The truth is, our church movement is stagnated and beginning to die. We’re very nearly post-Christian. And I for one am glad. Maybe soon we can stop blaming God for how “awesome” we are.
If we’re a Christian nation, we’re cuss sure a poor example of one. But I guess that’s just hyperbole. I don’t believe it. I don’t have any evidence that shows it to be true. And I’ve looked. I’ve read the constitution, God isn’t in there. He’s in the Confederate constitution go figure, but not ours. There’s nothing exceptional about the US. We got lucky on stuff like natural resources. We killed off all the natives leaving us vast expanses of land. We haven’t been bombed. We were immigrated by people willing to work. But there’s nothing exceptional about us. We’re human like everyone else.