Time To Rethink American Exceptionalism?

By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed
Published in Truthout and excerpted here.

Each country thinks that it’s exceptional, and, truth be told, each country really is exceptional in its own special ways.

But there’s a difference between celebrating your own unique way of life and thinking that you can do whatever you want and force your way of life onto everyone else. And if we as Americans want to move forward both as a people and as members of the international community, we need to understand this fact and start basing our foreign policy around it.

“American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is different or better than other countries, has meant a lot of different things over the years.

Abu Graeb

On the one hand, we’ve used the idea that we’re better than everyone else to justify bullying around countries much smaller than ours. And we’ve also used it to justify invading countries like Mexico and Iraq that were largely minding their own business. This is the bad side of American exceptionalism

But there’s also a good side to American exceptionalism. For over 200 years, everyday people have used the idea that America is different and special for a lot of noble purposes, like ending slavery and enfranchising women. The idea that everyone should enjoy the “exceptional” core values of American society – “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – has guided activists and revolutionaries since colonial days, and it will continue to do so well into the future.

In America, like in pretty much every country, it’s a political necessity to say that you love your country and that it’s the best place in the world. This can be a healthy thing, but it can also turn into something toxic when used to assert uniqueness and superiority over other groups.

There’s an important parallel here with tribalism and racism. To say, “I’m of Turkish or Norwegian or African ancestry, and proud of it,” is an entirely different thing from saying that your ancestry makes you superior to other people, and then to go out and assert that supposed superiority by discriminating against or exploiting people who don’t have the same background as you. Feeling awareness and even pride in your country is different than oppressing or asserting power over other countries.

Captain America

This kind of exceptionalism – the kind that makes people believe that because they’re German, American, or Chinese that they’re better than everyone else – leads to bad behavior and even fascism, as we saw in the years leading up to the Second World War.

It also leads to the Bush theory of international relations, the idea that the United States can run around the world blowing things up and spreading “American values” regardless of whatever anyone else thinks.

As pretty much everyone except for a few neocons acknowledges, the foreign policy of the Bush years was a total disaster. If America really wants to be a responsible and “exceptional” superpower, it needs to lead by example, not by force of arms. …

Meanwhile, it’s time for the rest of us to get talking about what really makes America special, because only then will we be able to truly rejoin the family of nations around the world that embrace peace and the rule of law.

Read the entire article online at Truthout: there’s lots more and it’s important.

2 thoughts on “Time To Rethink American Exceptionalism?

  1. Funny, I’m also follower of the blog ‘What comes to my mind’ (http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/44947191/) and his post on Deuteronomy 20:10-14, a passage that seems to suggest you can do what you like as an invading force with god’s blessing, appeared in my Reader right before your one on American Exceptionalism… wonder if there is a connection?


    1. Whose god? Deuteronomy is a codification of Hebrew laws and as such was presumably left behind when Christianity developed the myth of Jesus. I am reasonably sure that American Exceptionalism is not based on Hebrew law (is Hebrew law even legal in, say, Oklahoma?).

      In the United States god is most often a cover-word for violence and greed. I sometimes get the impression that this is a universal aspect of a god … no matter which god or which country or which people.

      Is it the fate of man to subjugate, exploit, and even kill other men for the sake of greed … greed for power as well as wealth?

      Is the strength of the United States its ability to leave other countries cowering in the face of selfish demands and the threat of violence? If you listen to many politicians, the reputation of the United States around the world depends on our blowing up things and creating the most dead adversaries.

      And this is to let the rest of the world know about American Exceptionalism?


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