Monday, April 6, 2015
E is for Exceptionalism
The fact that politicians on the right are espousing a heartfelt belief in American exceptionalism and are bullying those on the left to prove they believe the same is, frankly, disturbing. Although my computer keeps trying to tell me that exceptionalism isn't a word, the concept has been around for a long time. Exceptionalism is a theory where one society, culture, country, etc. is extraordinary above all others, having something unique which makes it shine above the rest. That is ridiculous. Not only are we an adolescent in comparison to the nations they profess superiority over, but those who are making these demands actually behave like adolescents in regard to, and often in the presence of, those other countries.
Several years ago, the President was asked if he believed in American exceptionalism. He basically said that he believed in it the way that other countries believed that they were exceptional. That would be a pretty fair answer for an absurd question at a NATO summit, I would think. He went on to explain his answer in a thoughtful manner, full of words his detractors would have to look up before countering. Of course, they didn't need to counter his contentions, they had what they needed in that one little sound bite. So the far right had a new rallying cry against the President to say that he didn't love America. Most critical thinkers would have agreed with the President. Some might even think he was being generous. But the far right doesn't talk to critical thinkers. They are talking to people who don't want to be bothered to think for themselves. So they were given their talking points and sent on their way.
At present, we are being inundated by the right with their varied definitions of exceptionalism. Ted Cruz had a rather bizarre and, quite obviously, insincere revelation a couple weeks ago where he explained that his people, those who listen to country music, are superior because of the way that industry responded to 9/11. Before then, he explained, he had been a lover of classic rock & roll. But he was off-put by their response to the attacks on 9/11. Apparently the international fundraisers held in both September and October were not, you know, patriotic. Maybe because of his hasty conversion to country music he missed the new songs which came out about the attacks by classic rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and John Mellencamp. Even Neil Young came out with a song that honored the heroes of flight 93. Cruz's attempts to garner supporters will have certainly fallen on deaf ears. No one who wasn't already going to vote for him would ever fall for that shit.
Mike Huckabee, too, has been all over the media promoting his boo.. err umm... considering a run for President, explaining that there is something quite ideal about the way they live in the south. Apparently he believes his constituency wants or needs to be pandered to. And, apparently, he believes they are not intelligent enough to realize that's what he's doing. His contention is that their superiority is defined by virtues only southern women possess, like not using birth control because they know how to control their libidos. And those women are also too classy to ever use a curse word like those trashy northern women (we know, Mike, but fuck you for noticing). Southerners are funny, where those outside of "Bubbaville" (I can't make this shit up) are of less humor. Those red, white & blue Bubbas are God-fearing, principled folk and the over-educated city slickers have had all principle taught right out of them. He is really big on reiterating those over-educated every time you hear him speak. It really is curious. How do southerners like having been condemned to being a comical, yet ignorant, bunch who cannot even reason through rhetoric and see that they are being mocked by the man who is professing their superiority? This is an American society. It cannot be defined by someone who is telling us any exceptionalism found in the society is a narrow subset who adhere to his prescribed ideals.
There is something inherently grotesque about the right demanding a moral or patriotic high ground. It is as if their followers, collectively, have such low self-esteem that they need to be told of their supremacy. John Kerry said that the idea of American exceptionalism makes him uncomfortable. I would think most thoughtful people would agree with that assertion for reasons outlined herein. However, the right jumped all over him suggesting that he and the Liberals don't love America and those on the right are more patriotic. Why do the people on the far right need to hear that? People with actual grace and moral standing don't need to be convinced of it. Nor do they need to be told that they're superior for having attained it.
I am an actual patriot. I don't prove it by putting a flag and an eagle and the Statue of Liberty in my avatar. I prove it by loving my country and my countrymen. I prove it by voting and volunteering in my community. I prove it by sincerely supporting our troops, in wanting them to only have to fight when it is necessary and make sure they are 100% taken care of when they get home. I prove my patriotism by wanting to protect America's land and natural resources. And educate her children. And feed her poor. I prove it by not only learning and understanding my country's history, but by promoting ideas of our improving on it. America cannot be a great society just because I wish it to be so. When my daughter was an adolescent, oftentimes she behaved like an ass. At those times I didn't clap my hands together and throw them in the air to proclaim, "Voila! Perfection!" I sighed, realized I still loved her more than anything and acknowledged I had more work yet to do. I am a patriot who loves my country and wants to see her progress toward something exceptional.
As America's history is short and relatively brutal, her stories of greatness would need to be promoted and her failures denied in order to really promote exceptionalism. And we cannot rewrite our own history in order to create a more appealing chronicle. Last year the RNC resolved that the AP History tests, which had been updated to require critical thinking, as had been added to English and math, were focusing on too many negative aspects of our history. Then states began to follow with their own complaints about information that should be removed: slavery, internment camps, issues of equality, etc. Oklahoma tried to pass a bill that would stop funding of AP tests for their students because they wanted a stronger emphasis on positive aspects of history.
In Colorado, one teacher literally came out and demanded that the new testing was bashing America. As if any of the items given to prepare the students for the tests were created out of thin air or this was an attempt to make students less patriotic? The students in Colorado actually went on strike when they realized what was going on. They were, after all, the ones who would have to go to college having never learned about or been asked to consider the facts of our history. As such, these states were not even asking themselves to be accountable for the education of their children. As a mother and an American, that has to be about the most unexceptional thing I can think of. If the focus is to rewrite our own history to create our greatness, the mission has already denied the objective.
Historically, the civilizations that we exalt and remember as having been exceptional are those which have grown into something substantial and influential. Their history defines struggles and teaches a means of overcoming them. This gives all societies something to reflect on, learn from and grow toward. Those on the right who are presently trying to demand our exceptionalism are not only trying to negate the fact that we have not overcome the trials we have created and endured, but they are working very hard to go back to many of them as if they were never problems to begin with. As long as those same people continue to create a mangled present day narrative of hate, dependency, inequality and injustice, I'm not even convinced we can call ourselves a civilization. But I am quite certain that we are not exceptional.
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