A couple of comments on yesterday’s post got me thinking about American exceptionalism. It’s true that when you grow up in the United States, you’re bombarded with the message that the US is the best nation in the world. Politicians all say it because anything else is political suicide. Mainstream media dutifully echoes it. Most people around you believe it without question, and without evidence to back the claim. Of course there’s a word for this: dogma.
Like any dogma, it is defended not with facts but with emotional certitude, usually accompanied by disdain or anger toward anyone who questions it. You won’t have to spend much time reading newspaper comment sections before you’ll see the standard response to anyone questioning American exceptionalism: “You don’t like it, go live somewhere else. And don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”
I’m one of those who did go to live somewhere else. And outside the borders of the US, I learned two things:
1) The United States really is an exceptional nation, BUT
2) It is not the only one.
The second fact is what many Americans don’t realize. They’re not taught to think that way, and unless they travel abroad or read international news, they won’t learn it on their own. (Despite the fact that another exceptional nation sits just to the north of them!) Meanwhile, any politician like Obama who gives off the faintest whiff of acknowledging the exceptionalism of other nations is immediately pilloried as unpatriotic and someone who “hates America.” What utter crap. That’s third-grade playground politics. Unfortunately, third grade is just about the level that our national political system is currently hovering at.
As for the “god bless the US” part, that dates back to the Cold War, when Senator Joseph McCarthy and his cronies decided that the opposite of Soviet communism wasn’t just democracy, but Christian democracy. The push to rewrite the original, secular Pledge of Allegiance had been going on for decades, but it wasn’t until this time period (1954) that it actually succeeded and the words “under God” were inserted. From that moment to this, failure to end a national political speech with “God bless America,” or at least incorporate that sentiment somewhere, has also been political suicide.
But don’t judge the rest of us by our political class. They’re idiots. It is the citizens of America, the ones who do the actual work, engineer amazing technology, donate to causes all over the world, and volunteer their time for everything from no-kill animal shelters to clearing hiking trails, who make it exceptional.
Which, of course, is true of all exceptional nations.