Time to End American Exceptionalism

I’m beginning to think the underlying flaw in the United States is a kind of schismogenesis rooted in American Exceptionalism. Schismogenesis is a term for the way groups – including countries – define themselves against other similar groups or countries. The classic example is Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece.

The United States has always defined itself as different from every other country in the world. So when someone looking at our current political mess mentions, say, Weimer Germany, the response is “we’re different,” followed by a list of differences.

We’re “special,” which is just another way to say “it can’t happen here.”

Sinclair Lewis’s novel of that name got at the heart of the very real fascist dangers of the 1930s. The book’s still relevant, for all that it is rooted in the world of the 1930s.

Because we’re not different or special here in the United States. We’re very much like other countries. Our big advantage has always been wealth but we’re far from the first country to become powerful because we had a stranglehold on a lot of resources.

We put a lot of faith in the rule of law, in our institutions, and in our Constitution. But the Constitution is not the perfect document we’re taught to revere, especially in the legal profession, and our institutions have been severely weakened.

The rule of law seems to be hanging by a thread.

And let’s not forget we had a very nasty civil war and left many issues from it unresolved.

Right now in the United States we have an upcoming presidential election in which a candidate from one of our two major political parties — the only ones that matter — is under multiple indictments for things related to the security of the country and the undermining of our political system and has also been found liable civilly for financial grifting and sexual assault.

This person — this grifter now selling bibles as well as sneakers — has declared he intends to be a dictator, and his enablers are plotting an authoritarian government that, among many other things, intends to put women and Black people “in their place.” (Not just women and Black people, but given the history of the country, that’s at the core of the right wing extremist planning.)

The odds that this grifter is beholden to oligarchs from other parts of the world are also pretty high.

But the assumption underlying this election is that the American people have the “right” to choose a president who intends to destroy our country.

In a better world, the Republican Party would not have nominated such a person. They could have stopped him. Instead, even the Republicans who hate him are kowtowing.

In a better world, the Democrats would have secured the country sufficiently after they were elected in 2000 so that such a person could not be taken seriously as a candidate ever again. Brazil has done this with the very similar Bolsanaro, but of course, we define the U.S. as very different from Brazil.

Instead, they’re telling us to “vote,” even though voter suppression is part of the problem trailing in the grifter’s wake along with attacks on women’s reproductive rights, particularly abortion, pulling books out of libraries, and diversity and affirmative action.

After all, there are mini-fascists on the state level in a large number of states, some of them hoping they’ll get the call to be vice-president with the grifter who, after all, is old and might not make it another four years.

There are still people who believe that letting that grifter — with his extremist supporters, some of whom are smart, despite the image we have from the insurrection at the Capitol — back in the White House will not destroy this country. They think we’re exceptional, that we can survive this kind of threat.

They are wrong. The threat here is existential. We’ve been on shaky ground for a long time and letting this man back into office is likely to destroy all the vestiges of the rule of law.

Yet we’re counting on the undermined institutions to protect us from it.

I mean, of course I’ll vote. (I always vote.) Everyone needs to vote. But we shouldn’t be voting on our very existence. The authors of the 14th Amendment were very clear about that.

We need to be able to vote on how best to address the multiple crises of the 21st Century – climate change, wealth inequality, misogyny, racism, how to build a sustainable system – not on the very existential question of whether our country should survive as an imperfect-but-striving-to-be-better example of government by and for the people.

Democracy should be a given, not something on the ballot.

4 thoughts on “Time to End American Exceptionalism

  1. This is one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject. Simple, concise, and to the point. Thank you.

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