American exceptionalism

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.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in politics, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to American exceptionalism

  1. Liam Donnelly says:

    I’m probably off-topic. My ADD knows no bounds.
    But here goes.
    I think that any citizen of a country feels, or hopefully does, that their country is one of the best in the world. I’m American but have also taken up Canadian Citizenship. I’m at a point where, barring a miracle lotto win that enables me to live in the southwest USA, I’m staying in Canada. I like the health care, metric, and while there are many things that could improve, as with any country, it’s home.

    I find the USA, or at least the USA Media-driven “we’re number one, everyone else sucks.” a bit much. One the news the other day they discussed building a wall between Canada and the US. I thought, and there goes your top trade partner, but have fun with that.

    I just woke, so I’m not as well-written as you, Fletcher. Okay, not even with a lot of sleep. But I’ve noticed more and more in the last few years this Anti-Canadianism in the US that astounds me. I thought at first it was a joke. Years ago Lou Dobbs decried the loss of US jobs to Canada. I think that is where it started, or where I began to notice it.

    We can take a joke as well as any country, maybe even better, but it’s getting to the point where anti-Canadian comments on some USA news channels, even the middle of the road CNN, are frequent.
    We’re all number one, that’s how we’re supposed to think. It’s when we start antagonizing and blaming other countries for having health care that I don’t know whether to laugh or not.
    My Aunt in Mississippi, who I just gave up trying to email reasonably, said we’re socialists and we tolerate Muslims. I said “You were born here and lived here for 17 years. What happened to you??” I don’t want extreme anything here, but have lived peacefully with my new neighbours since the move in November.
    Except for the one who fire bombed an apt in here and scared us all. Some race war.
    The police caught him in 4 days. It was wonderful.

    I love the USA, am proud to carry a US Passport, but I’m most proud to be Canadian at this point. Proud is good, arrogant, trouble-stirring news people, extremists of any ilk, disturb me. Sure, we have them here, they’re all over, but since 9/11..even Canada is the enemy?
    Can anyone explain the logic to that?

    Sorry to ramble, I’ve been seeing a great deal of “let’s show those stupid Canadians whose boss, take their oil, they have no way to stop us…” and I’m getting annoyed.

    So..hey, God bless Canada, USA, Portugal, Ireland, all of us. We’re all human. I just wish we were all humane.

  2. Liam Donnelly says:

    And you’re right, Fletcher. It’s the citizens donating to shelters for animals and people, who reach out to others, who make nations like Canada and the US great. Not the media and those wanting to start wars. I said that wrong, but it really made sense until I typed it.

  3. Inge says:

    To me, a non-american, the insistence on the usa being the best, biggest, greatest is rather strange. As a belgian, a country that lives because of international trade, we constantly look outwards and see stuff we can improve in our country. We’re not the best or greatest (let’s not even start on biggest) but it’s the one i want to live in, the one that fits me best. But it still can be improved upon.

    It’s almost like… well.. .. how do you improve that which is the best? It looks like an invitation to stagnate, to close down on what you have and not look forward and/or outward.

    I hope this makes sense, because it has been a loooong day and i’m not finding my words in english today.

    • oregon expat says:

      Made sense to me, and it echoes something an American political blogger pointed out not too long ago: that exceptionalism is earned, just like respect. Neither one can simply be demanded as one’s due. And the striving to earn it must be constant, because to rest on one’s laurels is to watch the backwards slide begin.

      • Inge says:

        I so totally agree with this. But i’d also like to add that respect is a two way street.. i mean if you don’t give respect to others, you most likely won’t get it back. They might be afraid of you and your power but respect? And ultimately having no respect will always lead to a breakdown in relations. (one can not stay afraid indefinitely) And sometimes i get this impression of having little respect for the outside of the usa when i hear some of the things american politicians say.

        Because if we’re honest, the aid the usa expected in iraq from all the other countries has been very limited due to this (perceived or real?) lack of respect. People get tired of it. And consequently they ‘underperform’ when asked something when they are too afraid to show their true aversion. Oh i know several excuses have been invented for not aiding more, but in the core of it you’ll probably find resentment.

        Having to sit in several meetings with politicians, it’s amazing how much these kind of things determine. It even helped decide who the first president of Europe would become.. but that is another long story.

        In short respect is indeed a verb which means you have to work on it. 🙂

  4. M. says:

    Every nation has a right to feel special. This is normal. Of course European experiences taught us to moderate this feeling. Taught us to be more humble. Obviously many of American politicians don’t know what humble means. They never had a chance to learn. Their words of supremacy or hartred never killed millions of their own citizens, never leveled their cities with the ground. Because of this one reason they live indeed in exceptional country. It looks like a good luck accompanies USA from a day one. Right me if I am wrong, but except for American Civil War no serious military conflict touched American land. Natural or economic disasters were no bigger and more tragic than these in other parts of the world. And US Nation wisely have been using every chance they got. They work hard for their success. And they are willing to share it with those less lucky. Yes, US is very exceptional nation. And there is nothing wrong in believing that, as long as you respect other nations.
    I have an impression that “God bless America” is like a charm, a wish that a good fortune always will smile to USA. When a politician doesn’t believe in science and evolution, there is no better charm indeed :D. And I hope that in these difficult times this charm will work.
    Good luck America, we need you to be wise and strong.

  5. Liam Donnelly says:

    I should add, that I am proud to have been born in the USA, and Springsteen sang in 1984. But I have lived in Canada for ages. And in Friday’s mail came my new, updated Canadian Citizenship card, with ALL information correct. Fletcher will understand my joy.
    Every country has pros and cons, let’s be honest.
    Now Canadian’s whose passports are not pristine are being refused entrance into Mexico. Okay, goodbye tourista dollars,.
    I’ll never understand why a coffee drop on a passport means no entrance.

  6. Joan says:


    America, the beautiful. The exceptional.

    The land where people tear ‘offending’ pages from books in public libraries. Where guest speakers get arrested at a conference where they point ot the stupidity of ( US American) companies trying to protect their intellectual (hah!) property, and get held for months, without any indictment. Where creationism seems to be getting the better of science. Where there’s still death penalty. Where I won’t set my foot, given the chance.

    Anti-Americanism? Not really. I have a similar (though different) list of things that can be held against the country I am living in, Germany. I would not call it ‘home’, though. Liam, I am glad you feel at home in Canada. A state where aversion between French and English seems to run rampant, from what I hear. That may be far from true, however.

    For me, home is where my friends are. It’s certainly not where borders try to separate people. German, French, US, Mexico… whatever. Talking about countries, or states, for this purpose simply misses the issue for me.

  7. xenatuba says:

    I am really enjoying the input here, especially the view from the outside looking in. I find it hard to tear off my RWB USA filter when I look at stuff, but it is getting way easier as my nation does stupid stuff so consistently.

    I have lots to say on this topic, but I am so all over the map that I’m not going to try and make a post yet. Suffice to say, I want to know how a national system that provides health care to everyone is a bad thing…

    • oregon expat says:

      RWB USA filter?

      As for the national health system — that one baffles me, too. Giving credit where it is due, I have to admire the Republican Party for its ability to convince its voters that health care is not in their best interests. Of course, part of the strategy must be to vilify nations that do have universal health care, hence the anti-Canadianism that Liam is seeing.

      • Inge says:

        From an outsiders point of view (and our media-channels), the health care-debate seems to be a debate about socialism. And that it is bad or so some american politicians claim. I for one don’t see the bad in it, as i do not in the liberal, christian,.. ideas. They all seem to have good and bad but as a rule are not ‘bad’ in general. I don’t like extremes though, so the pure capitalism or communism or.. isn’t my thing.

        I never quite got the idea of bad socialism. Why is that? Because Russia was bad? (but that was communism) Or the nazi’s? (but that was nationalism) Or????

      • Liam Donnelly says:

        Oh, I have watched and listened to the Repundits going on about socialist Canada. First, we’re technically a Monarchy just because it sounds nice, but really a democracy, whereas the USA is a Republic. I have to type that to get it straight myself. I have all my life been so proud to be American but the love is less intense.
        America is the best, every other country wants to be them. Lock the borders, they all want to storm the gates and come to tha land of milk and honey. That gets old. I talked to friends after church today and said “It might cost more, but we could trade with other commonwealth countries if the US wants to keep demanding Tar Sand oil and arctic drilling and for our water.
        Health care was mentioned. I wanted to slap Michael Moore (okay, in fairness I often want to do this to the point it’s a form of tourettes) when he did his video SICK, saying “everything is FREE in Canada.” A lot is, we’re privileged, but my brother wasn’t diagnosed with leukemia until it was just to late. He couldn’t find a doctor. It’s not the land of milk and honey.
        I hate outting myself, but I’m a trans man. Don’t get me started on Chaz Bono, I act like I’ve been possessed by Satan over him. Anyway, as thrilled as I was to get a US passport in male..they hassled me, then looked at me and said they’d do it..I’m losing the love overall. There are hate crimes and such here, we’re very close to the US border and have US television. I’m not saying things clearly, and I apologize, the methotrexate, low dose chemo, is not great for streamlining thoughts.
        If I were in the USA, it would have cost hundreds and possibly thousands to get a psychiatrist letter o even consider starting male hormones, or testosterone. And I was tested and found out I was born intersexed, something Mom only recently let slip. I’m 48. Anyway, then the wait for hormones, the cost in America is 3x the Canadian price. So, as I’m legally male now, it’s free as it’s for low testosterone. I know, I find it amusing also. I had a hysterectomy paid for free, chest reduction, free. Now finally hoping to have them removed, free. It’s taken 5 years here for that, another 5 for the rest of the surgery.
        In the US they will say, as some do here, that to cover SRS surgeries would cost a fortune. Well, smokers cost more, and after the initial backlog is cleared, it isn’t like a hundred people a day are going to want to go under the knife to change as I am.I’m doing great now, all the doctors love me. I’m the guy who rode 200 miles in 2 days on a bike for cancer with a stomach leaking blood and causing very low red cells, with three forms of arthritis, etc. They use me for an example to lazy patients. I don’t bike now. It was stolen.I dislike getting into the trans debate, but it’s one Americans use to say “if we covered everything like Canada and other “socialist” countries, then we’d be bankrupt.” Uh, war for 10 years costs more, continues to. They don’t hand out srs like gummie bears. I had to see my doctor, go to an endocrinologist, then was monitored forever, and now am on my own for shots. But they test the hell out of you. And so they should. We don’t pay for that.

        And it’s not a common procedure, whichever direction one is going. When I struggled in a body I hated and was suicidal and in and out of ER, I cost way more to the government. Thank God I found a good doctor last year and she helped with several health issues. She found the blood leak and very literally saved my life. The rheumatologist reports he is disgusted that I’ve been suffering for 25 years with nothing but tylenol. I’m on better meds and the chemo stuff.

        health care. It’s a hot button. My cousin got very angry. “I don’t think we should have to pay for your surgery.” and I pointed out I’d gfive her the 1 cent it would cost her family in particular. She thinks it’s unnecessary. Yet I bite my tongue when her daddy pays $500 a visit for botox in her forehead for migraines. They’re very well off. I say nothing. Between family and Republicans, and I’m a member of the conservatives her in Canada seriously considering heading to the NDP, democrats.

        I know what I want to say and I’m rambling. I will say my brother spent just about a year in hospital during treatment, all told. That work insurance covered a $30K procedure that Canada didn’t cover. We cover less and less. Now, he was over 400 pounds and that didn’t help, but be went on a diet, diid what they asked of him, but without helath care and work insurance that man would be homeless if he’d lived. I’m always shocked when I hear of Americans losing the home and car, living in shelters becaue a breadwinner or child grew very ill. How? How can a country calling it’self the greatest in the world allow that to happen? I mean, everyone dies. Chances are that the way people eat, I’m not on a health kick myself right now, there are heart attacks and the like. If I lived in the US, I wouldn’t smoke (I don’t anyway), I’d eat healthy and hike or bike for exercise and hope the health providers gave you consideration for this.

        to sum up…thankfully I am doing that, no country is better than another in totality. They all have great features and really lousy ones. I don’t know what health care is like in Portugal. I know in Atlanta I had all meds FREE. I waited all day, but didn’t mind. America’s problem, aside from economic doomsday approaching is the schoolyard bully reputation, earned well. Yes, America is great. And Canadians cheer we’re great, as do Britains, Africans, Portuguese, etc. As well they should. The problem is when you keep hearing the US say it’s the best country in the world no matter what fresh hell they cause or are in the midst of. Some humility would go a long way.

        Canada is a great country, despite it’s freezing part of the time and I live in a really polluted city. I’m too old to relocate all alone and my pension ties me to the Province of Ontario. I have always longed for America, but over the last several years the comments after news stories, on Fox, CNN or MSNBC and others, the largely,<> attitude and worse, belief, sickens me.
        It’s becoming more common to read it online or hear it in discussions on US shows. Add that I’m 48 with health issues and I know where I have to stay. Unless I win a lotto, I’m here.
        the anger towards Canada frightens me.

        I don’t know why I mentioned trans stuff in here. I guess the costs. Right, the number of hoops in America is worrisome. Once they tested me and saw male dna, it’s going to all happen for me, I can’t imagine being in America for this. It’ll be covered here, eventually.

        I’ll stay out of this topic now like a good boy.

        It is ironic. I have spent all my life here in Canada taking crap for being American, or hearing about the Evil Americans. It’s all maddening.
        Now, lurking for a while.

        Then again, that’s true for individuals as well as nations.
        sorry for the rant Fletcher. Usually I do so much better at lining up thoughts as I write. I’d blame the ADD, but it’s the chemo pills.As I said, feel free to delete unless you can edit.

      • xenatuba says:

        Red, White and Blue Filter…

    • Liam Donnelly says:

      This will be short! Really. In Canada, every citizen, landed Immigrant, refugee with some papers gets the provincial health cards. In Ontario, OHIP, Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan. Get hurt and go to ER? It’s free. Though, ambulance ride is $53. Crutches and slings and such, not free. I recently had the indignity of an endoscopy and colonoscopy on the same morning (that wasn’t my best day) but it was free. And for those of us on assistance, I’m disabled, prescriptions are free. Those that are covered. Every single medication for migraines and my fibromyalgia? Not covered, not even generic. But, I know how blessed/fortunate I am to be here. I have basic dental and they give something for glasses, like 20% of what mine cost, but overall, it’s good.
      You’re right, xenatuba, how can a country giving healthcare to its people be evil?
      Trivia. Tommy Douglas introduced socialized health care to Canada and took a lot of flack for it. Man had death threats. I believe he was a minister. He’s the grandfather, well, was, of Kiefer Sutherland. His Mom’s big on protecting that legacy. At every rally for health coverage, speaking for what her father did and would want to continue. nd now, back to your day.

  8. Ana_ñ says:

    Jbrandao getting sick of so much US propaganda let the cat out the bag, and this and the previous posts are full of interesting and varied ideas.
    – The concept of dogma and the difference made by citizens’ actions.
    – The risk of stagnation mentioned by Inge (or, as we say, dying of success)
    – Learning to be humble the hard way (I am thinking, M., that Romney might be afraid of Poland because you are getting around the crisis better than others in Europe :-))
    – Promotion of xenophobia and ultranationalism to maintain the privileges of the powerful. There are always the others, some foreign, evil ones to blame, we are never responsible, and as a consequence we don’t have to be ethical with them, we don’t have to respect them. Provoke an anti-Canadian sentiment and then obtain some benefit (economic, political or other). Is that, Liam? Also, you may have a point here, Joan. Why is the nation (patriotism) above other values as social justice or equality, for instance? Of course, I am not talking about the USA only here.
    – Not only politicians taken citizens for idiots, Lilaine, but the increasing rift between political class and ordinary, usually hard-working, people, as well as the increasing rift between the immensely wealthy and the vast majority of us, common mortals. As other points, this one is also applicable to many places.
    – Mention God to avoid political suicide, and as a charm to attract good luck (LOL!), the less science the better.
    – You are so right about the topic of health care, Xenatuba, and there are so many things to say about it. Liam pointed some of them.

    After so many passionate comments, I suggest a little celebration.

    Let’s drink a toast and hum together 🙂

    • Lilaine says:

      Humming and toasting along with you, Ana_ñ! 😀

      USA will be a Great Country as long as they can provide a safe, accessible and educative enough background environment to allow citizen like this particularly brilliant Oregon Expat to grow up and freely build up their open-mindedness. Cheers to you, and yours, wherever they live! 🙂

    • oregon expat says:

      A toast! I am clinking my glass right now. Thank you for reminding me, and what a perfect video to accompany it! (And Lilaine, you made me blush.)

  9. las artes says:

    You remind me of that line froma movie “god bless America and no place else!.” LOL!

  10. USA is only best in the national parks, TV Series and Movies, the rest i’m afraid they aren’t Number 1.
    Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, Switzerland and New Zealand have the best standard of living and quality of life,
    France has the best health care system.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s