Choosing Exceptionalism

Considering our history, it was probably inevitable that a significant part of the public would be so vehement in their declarations of our purported greatness.

This nation is certainly great in its extent, covering as it does some 3,796,742 square miles. Of that total exactly 2.3 percent has been set aside for the descendants of the original inhabitants to call their own. Most of the rest was taken from them by force, chicanery, or both.

No matter what one may think when contemplating these numbers, and regardless of how they might make one feel, “that’s the way it is,” as Walter Cronkite used to say.

Someone out there may be blustering about the absence of European-style development. That was John Wayne’s argument: “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

Besides, recent studies have shown that a huge part of the development thus used to justify the land grab—far more than was ever acknowledged previously—was accomplished through the use of forced labor performed by enslaved Africans and their descendants.

Today’s Americans—or USAians, if you would rather not pretend that the rest of the hemisphere is unoccupied—have a choice. We can accept that we live in a nation that was built by stolen labor on stolen land, or we can pretend otherwise.

Choosing the latter is made much easier by means of one simple trick: revert to vague, abstract language, i.e., “American exceptionalism.”

A large but insignificant portion of the public is either hostile or indifferent to that phrase. They understand that it’s a bit of hollow rhetoric, the appearance of which tends to signify a discussion in which little is actually being said. Perhaps because they are largely unarmed and generally coherent, no one cares what these people think.

On the other hand—you know which one—the term “American exceptionalism” may literally constitute fighting words. A certain school of journalism finds these people to be objects of endless fascination. Early intervention, in the form of a few years spent in the enlisted ranks of the armed forces, or performing unskilled manual labor, might have prevented this, but alas, it is too late.

What American politics need right now is some sort of Holy Grail that could bring these camps together. No, not in some cataclysmic Grand Guignol, you nihilist. We mean in harmony.

Dream on, we hear you saying, thanks to our magical ear trumpet. We mean it, though. Recent events have shown that the old forms and customs are breaking down—being ripped apart—everywhere you look.

There was a time when Senators risked ostracization if they questioned the legitimacy of that grandiose institution. Last week, though, Senator Chris Van Hollen [D-Md.] tweeted, “Under our current rules, 41 Senators representing 11% of the American people can block the vote of 50 senators representing 80% of the country. Think about that…and they don’t even have to show up to do it. How crazy is that?”

Meanwhile, those forms and customs which do remain are being put to increasingly perverse uses. For example, take Mitch McConnell—please.

Everyone’s heard this by now, but we need to put it on record:

Q—Reporter: “Senator McConnell, what’s your message for voters of color who are concerned that without the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Act, they’re not going to be able to vote in the midterms?”

A—Sen. McConnell [R–Ky.]: “The concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

McConnell—an ostentatiously deliberate speaker—later claimed that he misspoke. We say sell us another bridge; we know what dog whistles sound like. [That ear trumpet does work wonders.]

Mitch’s little shout-out to his racist base was bad enough. What’s worse, it served as camouflage for his latest Big Lie.

The Brennan Center for Justice reported last August that, while voters of color turned out in unprecedented numbers in 2020, a significant racial disparity remained:

“70.9 percent of white voters cast ballots while only 58.4 percent of nonwhite voters did. As the graph below shows, 62.6 percent of Black American voters, 53.7 percent of Latino American voters, and 59.7 percent of Asian American voters cast ballots in 2020.”

McConnell’s not the only one turning the racism dial up to 11—or 12. The former guy held a coronafest in Florence, Arizona two weeks ago tomorrow. Here’s what he said about getting treatment for Covid: “…if you’re white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical help. If you’re white, you go right to the back of the line.” It’s a wonder he didn’t slip and come right out with “back of the bus.”

How, in the face of this grotesque travesty of government, can we possibly think there’s a way to move this country forward?

Through an alternative form of American Exceptionalism, that’s how. If the government worked for the people, wouldn’t that be an exception to the current rule?

Consider the horde of wonks who maintain lists of policies that have broad bipartisan support. Pick one that provides some substantial material benefit across the board, in red states and in blue. There’s gotta be something that fills the bill. There’s no point in depending on much help from Republicans, but no point either in turning it away.

Then hammer on that one thing as if the world depends on it—because, at this point, it does. Do not, by any means, allow the Democratic Party to indulge its impulse to complicate, means test, and tax rebate whatever it is to death.

So many people in this country are so hard up that if they were to see the government do something right for once, they might be so surprised that they’d actually lift a finger to see it if might happen again.

2 thoughts on “Choosing Exceptionalism”

  1. No matter how our political system may evolve, following the money will forever be essential.

    We don’t see term limits on the horizon; few Members of Congress are likely to support legislation that limits their ability to run for re-election.

    That’s no great loss in our book. Term limits have proven to be useless for years.

    Clausewitz said war is the continuation of politics by other means. The Pentagon set term limits—calling them “tours of duty”—for commanders since Vietnam. They didn’t work there, or in Afghanistan, or Iraq.

    Glad you like the paper—thanks.

    You wouldn’t be David Hamrick from VueScan, would you? If so, a tip of the hat—we depend on it!

  2. My friend told me one answer is to impose “term limits” on congress so we don’t have professional politicians. The way things are now, just follow the money.
    I love your paper!

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