Robbie George, a political science professor at Princeton, says nothing groundbreaking in his 2 and a half minute snippet from the Republican debate in South Carolina. He does, however, speak on behalf of our inalienable rights with much ignorance to what we as a nation have intentionally done to institutionally make fellow Americans unequal. Are American’s of color today given the same rights to education or even the same slate as a white American when they are born? To me, pontificating about our equality in a hagiographic manner while we face a type of apartheid in our schools and neighborhoods is a sad side effect of privileged conditioning and possessing blinders to much of our America.
But since her earliest days, America has inspired people from all over the world. Inspired them with the hope that one day their own countries would be one like this one.
And so he begins his smug parade of looking down on the rest of the world.
I know that now some say that times are so tough here at home that we can no longer afford to worry about what happens abroad. That maybe America needs to mind its own business.
Well, whether we like it or not, there is virtually no aspect of our daily lives that is not directly impacted by what happens in the world around us. We can choose to ignore global problems, but global problems will not ignore us.
Almost half a century later, America is still the only watchman on the wall of world freedom. And there is still no one to take our place.
What will the world look like if America declines?
Well, today people all over the world are forced to accept the familiar lie that the price of security is our liberty. If America declines, who will serve as living proof that liberty, security and prosperity can all exist together?
Today, radical Islam abuses and oppresses women. It has no tolerance for other faiths, and it seeks to impose its will on the whole world. If America declines, who will stand up to them and defeat them?
Today, children are used as soldiers and trafficked as slaves. Dissidents are routinely imprisoned without trial. They’re subjected to torture and forced into confessions and labor. If America declines, what nation on the earth will take these causes as their own?
And if America declines, who will do all these things and ask for nothing in return? Motivated solely by the desire to make the world a better place?
The answer is no one will. There is still no nation or institution on this planet that is willing or able to do what America has done.
Is this a call to an ongoing interventionalist streak in the world? Can we afford interventionalist wars? Can we fight these threats on our own soil? Where is the line? Larison puts this part of Rubio’s speech into perspective:
Whenever Rubio refers to American decline, we need to remember that what he means by this is that the U.S. will not attack other countries, intervene in their internal conflicts, or attempt to dictate the pace and content of political developments abroad as much as the U.S. does right now. In other words, what Rubio calls decline is what many of us would call a return to normal, or at least a reduction in the number and frequency of foreign conflicts and entanglements. What Rubio calls American decline is what many other nations around the world would refer to as being left alone.
In fact, the decline Rubio describes won’t prevent the U.S. from being that “living proof” of the co-existence of liberty, security, and prosperity. It is quite conceivable that both American liberty and security would be enhanced when our government concentrates its “defense” policies on nothing but the defense of the U.S. and those allies that America will have for limited periods of time. There are many states that already combat jihadist militants on their own soil at great cost, and because most of them are fighting largely in self-defense they are going to continue doing so no matter what the U.S. does or does not do. Something that believers in Rubio’s particular version of American exceptionalism seem to take for granted is that the rest of the world is largely hopeless without constant, direct American involvement in their affairs. If that was ever true, it isn’t any longer.
Finally, you gotta love this line from the tail end of Rubio’s speech:
You see, these nations, these new emerging nations, these new shining cities, we hope they will join us, but they can never replace us. Because their light is but a reflection of our own.
Larison claims that “it is flattering to us to believe that other successful nations have become successful only by basking in the reflected glory of American light.” Indeed.
The first point is a horse beaten to death. Get your fill in the “sermon” by Tim Pawlenty above.
As for the second point, this deals not with politics but with agricultural work. I read this article in a different lens after working on the farm the past week. I have grown up working hard with my dad (who has been a landscaper for 30 years), with my Boy Scout troop creating 13+ feet high campfires and completing maintenance tasks, and now pulling out malta flora rose bushes that are entangled with vines overgrown for the past 10 years.
I take back my part about politics being out of this topic. It is at the center of it. Barack Obama is taking action by requiring all ag workers to be cleared as U.S. citizens before they can work. This sounds pragmatic, but troubling for a few sectors. 80% of the labor force in the ag field is made up of illegal immigrants. An easy response to that glaring labor need is to hire Americans. The ironic point in all of this is that for as exceptional and great America is, how far advanced, smug, and pompous we are, we (to some large degree) refuse to do this kind of available work:
“We are headed toward a train wreck,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat whose district includes agriculture-rich areas. “The stepped up (workplace) enforcement has brought this to a head.”
Lofgren said farmers are worried that their work force is about to disappear. They say they want to hire legal workers and U.S. citizens, but that it’s nearly impossible, given the relatively low wages and back-breaking work.
“Few citizens express interest, in large part because this is hard, tough work,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak said this past week. “Our broken immigration system offers little hope for producers to do the right thing.”
Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers, said migrant farm workers are exposed to blistering heat with little or no shade and few water breaks. It’s skilled work, he said, requiring produce pickers to be exact and quick. While the best mushroom pickers can earn about $35,000 to $40,000 a year for piece work, there’s little chance for a good living and American workers don’t seem interested in farm jobs.
“It is extremely difficult, hard, dangerous work,” Rodriguez said.
Last year Rodriguez’s group started the “Take Our Jobs” campaign to entice American workers to take the fields. He said of about 86,000 inquiries the group got about the offer, only 11 workers took jobs.
“That really was thought up by farm workers trying to figure out what is it we needed to do to show that we are not trying to take away anyone’s job,” Rodriguez said.
Several times in those sections Americans are hinted to be unwilling to take some of these available jobs. If such a glaring gap in inquiry and taking a job (86,000 inquiries the group got about the offer, only 11 workers took jobs) is present, can anyone then blame the President and the crummy economy and not their own unemployed self?
Straying away from open jobs has pushed our country to strongly desire comfy, cozy work and benefits that are unsustainable in the long term.Yes, this may be a larger problem in the educational sector than many other jobs, but much of our IT work has too been outsourced.
Richard Cohen has an interesting take that is worth reading in full:
What God prefers should not be monkeyed with. But certain kinds of exceptionalism raise certain kinds of question. For an industrialized nation, the United States has a very high murder rate and, no surprise, a very high execution rate. We have a health-care system cleverly designed to bankrupt the average person and a political system so dysfunctional that we may go into national bankruptcy, blaming one another for spending too much or taxing too little, but not both. God indeed works in mysterious ways.
And yet clearly America must change fundamentally or continue to decline. It could begin by junking a phase that reeks of arrogance and discourages compromise. American exceptionalism ought to be called American narcissism. We look perfect only to ourselves.
Andrew Sullivan explains it well:
When the likes of Marco Rubio, the new Republican senator from Florida, say this is the greatest country ever, sophisticated opinion-makers cluck and roll their eyes. What a noxious tea-party nostrum. How chauvinistic. What hubris.
Yet, what other countries deserve this designation?
His conclusion: “Our greatness is simply a fact.”
Somehow Lowry fails to grasp why this kind of assertion is so, well, fatuous and irritating. Imagine that once a month or so, Michael Jordan called a press conference, confidently listed his achievements as a basketball player, and insisted, “My greatness is simply a fact.” He’d be correct: he was a spectacular basketball player, arguably the best in history. Same with Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, we’re put off when people announce their own greatness – experience has taught that they’re usually doing so because they’re a braggart, or a narcissist, or a bully. (In Rich Lowry’s case, it’s intellectual bullying – wielding the collective club of nationalism against genuine worries about America’s fiscal bankruptcy, academic decline, and economic stagnation).
Yes, enough with the over flowering and over complicating intellectual bullying.
- Is Harry Potter in cahoots with hell?
- More on the effects of American Exceptionalism.
- Sharon Angle is still hanging around; she is quoted as saying that she wishes she would of had a more positive campaign (what a load of steaming bullshit).
- Joe Scarbough wants the GOP to confront Sarah Palin.
- “Pentagon Study Confirms Discrimination in the Military is Harmful and Unnecessary”, so says the study.
Kyle Strobel sees the labeling of “this” or “that” as biblical as more influenced by our backgrounds than being solely Biblical:
When I hear people use the word “biblical” today, more often than not it is a placeholder for: “what I find comfortable in light of my background.”
It is usually easy to point this out, in light of the fact that these people’s claim to “be biblical in all things” is, itself, extra-biblical. The call to be biblical itself is based on theologizing. That is not to say that the inclination is somehow unbiblical, but that the content of what it means to be biblical is based on a theological development (the Bible never states, for instance, sola scriptura – Scripture alone). I say this because I find that the term biblical is usually used in an unbiblical manner. It is an elitist tendency to write off other people who stand under God’s word and to, instead, apply God’s sovereignty to themselves. Rather than standing under the judgment of Christ, they stand at his side, pointing out people they think deserve his wrath. They often mimic, in other terms, the Pharisees.
Sadly, this happens in many contemporary cases. Judging others based off a bullshit bravado that “you aren’t a Christian unless you put it out in the public and subsequently make it divisive” or believing in a conservative God and country narrative is in some circles growing more common. I can’t tell you how tired I am of American hubris. This American exceptionalism is a nationalism that doesn’t imbue a sense of humbleness, as many Christians wish to gravitate towards, but rather conflates superiority and the American flag.
For a timeless example of Biblical values being rooted in one’s American values, look no further.
The NY Times’s Ross Douthat, an avowed conservative writer, is interviewed:
RS: If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?
Douthat: I suppose I would just create a stronger interest in actual policymaking, among elites and the grassroots alike. American conservatives have a popular mission statement — limited government, low taxes, strong defense, strong families — but they tend to just coast on its popularity instead of doing the harder work of figuring out, okay, *how* do we keep government from growing? What are our policies on health care and energy and education and everything else? How much defense spending do we really need? How can we make sure our tax cuts don’t explode the deficit? What public policies lead to stronger families? And the G.O.P.’s base, whether it’s Christian conservatives or Tea Partiers or whomever, often doesn’t do a good enough job of holding the leadership’s feet to the fire and demanding that they get specific. At the moment, this a particular problem with the spending issue: The Republicans just won an election promising to cut government without having to tell people what they’d cut. But it tends to be a problem across every public policy issue: Republicans just don’t think as hard as they should about what the actual work of governing entails, and Republican voters too often reward politicians for mouthing slogans rather than substance. It’s great that Marco Rubio can give a stirring speech about American exceptionalism, for instance — but in the long run, actual American exceptionalism will stand or fall on whether Rubio and others like him can figure out a way to bring the budget back into balance. And that requires policy specifics, and hard work, and probably some messy compromises. Rhetoric is necessary, but insufficient.
Michael Kinsley questions the core ideology within our American textbooks:
A recent Yahoo poll (and I resist the obvious joke here) found that 75 percent of Americans believe that the United States is “the greatest country in the world.” Does any other electorate demand such constant reassurance about how wonderful it is — and how wise?
But my colleague Joe Scarborough got it right in these pages last week when he argued that the 2010 elections, for all their passion and vitriol, are basically irrelevant. Some people are voting Tuesday for calorie-free chocolate cake, and some are voting for fat-free ice cream. Neither option is actually available. Neither party’s candidates seriously addressed the national debt, except with proposals to make it even worse. Scarborough might have added that neither party’s candidates had much to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (except that they “support our troops,” a flabby formulation that leaves Americans killing and dying in faraway wars that politicians won’t defend explicitly). Politicians are silent on both these issues for the same reason: There is no solution that American voters will tolerate. Why can’t we have calorie-free chocolate cake? We’re Americans!
So you are a politician and want to tell your electorate that the wars in the Middle East are long, messy processes? They won’t want to hear it. You want to make hard choices in budget cuts? You will be demonized for doing too much or not doing enough. This is the life of an American politician and we as Americans have created this faux reality that we are holier than thou, God’s last great hope on earth, and is below no one, inferior to no other, and almost invincible. Our textbooks, propaganda in the form of excessive American flag memorabilia (divine gear?), and artificially created American history built by oppression, stealing, and suppression but credited to the white guys can be thanked for this. John B. Judis ponders how we will come out of this economic mess:
What this election suggests to me is that the United States may have finally lost its ability to adapt politically to the systemic crises that it has periodically faced. America emerged from the Civil War, the depression of the 1890s, World War I, and the Great Depression and World War II stronger than ever—with a more buoyant economy and greater international standing. A large part of the reason was the political system’s ability to provide the leadership the country needed. But what this election suggests to me is that this may no longer be the case.
Ta-Nehisi Coates says that taking up a populism mantle places America off the hook for its blemishes:
I think I’m deeply uncomfortable with any sort of populism. No matter the target–bankers or the poor–it seems to require its leaders to say, “There’s nothing wrong with you America.”
I was trying to get at some of this in the Jon Stewart thread, but the notion that Americans are pure, and what’s really wrong with this country, has everything to do with aliens–the media, the Muslim, the poor, the illegal, the rich, the elites–but nothing to do with the natives strikes me as comfort food.
It can seem to me that populism is almost right down the block from American exceptionalism. America has built itself to be a very mighty and strong nation. This has occurred over the course of a few centuries and was built up by slavery, slave owners who felt it was their duty to own slaves because the Bible says so, mass amounts of immigrants from all corners of the earth, raping the American land, killing those (Native American Indians) who taught us much of what we know, and many hard working belts of America who built our cars, our steel, our airplanes, housed our manufacturing plants, fields of corn, and nuclear waste under their mountains and in their deserts.
It just so happens to be patriotic to admit your wrongs, to admit your faults, and to admit your weaknesses. Patriotism was loosely formed long before George W. Bush or any Texas politician lived and was certainly not meant to be worshiped or bowed down to.
The dirt I see in politics is this: for politicians to enter the political arena, their religious story must be checked as OK and they must see it as direly necessary to compete and be the top nation in the world in everything. I believe Barack Obama has been cleared on both of the above and does have our nations interests in mind and heart. His timing may be on a longer scale than we may expect, but he is practical alright.
I see this in Glenn Beck. I hear it from people who don’t fully even understand the document (myself included in my lack of comprehension but not with its worship). But it is real. And the below picture captures my thoughts to a T.
Lexington at the Economist describes this semi-religious practice:
The Declaration of Independence and the constitution have been venerated for two centuries. But thanks to the tea-party movement they are enjoying a dramatic revival. The day after this September’s constitution-day anniversary, people all over the country congregated to read every word together aloud, a “profoundly moving exercise that will take less than one hour”, according to the gatherings’ organisers. At almost any tea-party meeting you can expect to see some patriot brandishing a copy of the hallowed texts and calling, with trembling voice, for a prodigal America to redeem itself by returning to its “founding principles”. The Washington Post reports that Colonial Williamsburg has been crowded with tea-partiers, asking the actors who play George Washington and his fellow founders for advice on how to cast off a tyrannical government.
Sure, we all see bits and pieces of that in the videos we see (which indeed in part are bias), the stories we hear, and in the political arena in our midsts. The contemporary “Leviathan”, known as the big large monster of America’s overarching government, is in the Tea Party’s cross hairs. Lexington notes the paradox amongst the Tea Party, which whether you align yourself with them or not, can be fuel for secession:
But many of the tea-partiers have invented a strangely ahistorical version of it. For example, they say that the framers’ aim was to check the central government and protect the rights of the states. In fact the constitution of 1787 set out to do the opposite: to bolster the centre and weaken the power the states had briefly enjoyed under the new republic’s Articles of Confederation of 1777.
American Exceptionalism lives on the notion that our founders were 1) all Christians (which has been debunked) and 2) were almost above the normal man 3) set on a special mission by God and 4) were some of the most exceptional men on this earth, meant to establish a very exceptional country. You can see this in Sarah Palin’s rhetoric, in pockets of the TP, and in many churches. I don’t intend this at all to brand the TP as all American exceptionalists, but the very philosophy is AE is dangerous, arrogant, and at best not fully aligned with truth and history.
The framers were giants, visionaries and polymaths. But they were also aristocrats, creatures of their time fearful of what they considered the excessive democracy taking hold in the states in the 1780s. They did not believe that poor men, or any women, let alone slaves, should have the vote. Many of their decisions, such as giving every state two senators regardless of population, were the product not of Olympian sagacity but of grubby power-struggles and compromises—exactly the sort of backroom dealmaking, in fact, in which today’s Congress excels and which is now so much out of favour with the tea-partiers.
Hard core followers of the right loath Thomas Jefferson – see the Texas school board. We have to remember the founders were humans, made by a perfect G-D but drifted towards an imperfect existence. The same goes for the disciples of Christ. I see humans first in their original good nature but unfortunately later tainted by our decisions.
As for the constitution worshipers, this goes past the document written in the 18th century to the one written in the Middle Ages. AE is born out of a view that G-D providentially ordained our founders to form a Christian nation. As much as that may be common thought when one sees the brandishing of the 10 Commandments (law) above court houses and “Under God” in our schools pledges, such a notion is, again, poppycock at best and dangerous towards our nation and our worldwide neighbors in its worst moments.
So said Sarah Palin. Much more below from her appearance at Rand Paul’s fundraiser and the National Quartet Convention. Supposedly, no media was allowed in. Gotta love camera phones.
This one above is a kicker. I finally wonder if she has a learning disability or if she simply is an extreme right wing cook. She throws heavy laden and toxic words and phrases around and somehow plays them into one sentence (“exceptionalism”, “mosaic of patriots”, “ordinary Americans like, myself, *flaps hand*, like all of you”, “peace and freedom loving”, “united under God”, “all wrapped up under our Constitution”, “under the hand of providence”, and my favorite, “WE (America, an exceptional nation under the providence of God) HAVE NOTHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR”.) This is who wants to possibly run for president in 2012. Imagine the ideology of “not having to apologize for anything” playing out in foreign policy.
Watch the videos for yourself. Don’t pay a ton of attention to the descriptions by the blogger because they are not fully accurate or fair. I wonder if Barack Obama openly prayed in elevators and behind the scenes at conventions would there be less doubt related to him being a Christian? In the end, I don’t doubt that he is a Christian and if he was in fact not a Christian, I wouldn’t be let down either. I respect the man.
Timothy B. Lee delves into the irony of living in the woods to get away from the long arm of the government:
The question of whether the advantages of freedom (in the “leave me alone” sense) outweigh the benefits of living in large urban areas is not a theoretical one. If all you care about is avoiding the long arm of the law, that’s actually pretty easy to do. Buy a cabin in the woods in Wyoming and the government will pretty much leave you alone. Pick a job that allows you to deal in cash and you can probably get away without filing a tax return. In reality, hardly anyone does this. To the contrary, people have been leaving rural areas for high-tax, high-regulation cities for decades.
Almost no one’s goal in life is to maximize their liberty in this abstract sense. Rather, liberty is valuable because it enables us to achieve other goals, like raising a family, having a successful career, making friends, and so forth. To achieve those kinds of goals, you pretty much have to live near other people, conform to social norms, and make long-term investments. And people who live close together for long periods of time need a system of mechanisms for resolving disputes, which is to say they need a government.
This reminds me of Andrew Jackson and can be found in many Conservative ideologies. First off, it is important to note that it is folly to think that rural denizens are free from the long arm of Washington. I talked to a dairy farmer while on vacation in Maine and he mentioned that he may have to go out of businesses because of the milk industry is almost dead. This is obviously an effect of supply and demand economics mixed with fuel changes (see ethanol). Politics is leavened all within that quagmire.
The irony comes out in seeing this ideology come full circle. Possessing freedom and the ability to make any decision you want is not full freedom. Making choices that free you, as opposed to bind you up, marks true freedom. The “log cabin in the wood” ideology is relatively similar.
Freedom and liberty are fully enjoyed when with others. Community forms together individuals and their own traits. As Lee mentions, our goals cannot be fully achieved on our own. Few families are able to grow up in a log cabin completely cut off from the world. It is not wrong to want to ditch the world and hide out in a cabin for a few weeks. That is what vacation spots and summer getaways are for. But I feel that the inner desire underneath this is a desire to get beyond this world.
Many of us get sick with different aspects of life. Sick of paying for high car or health insurance premiums that you most likely never actually use unless in an emergency? Sick of the acquaintances, friendships, and relationships in your life being only on the surface level and not authentic? Sick of hypocritical and illogical institutions (greedy corporations, unloving churches, messy politics, et al)? The list of things we are all sick of in the world could go on forever.
Some see their desire to get away from the world as rooted in a “don’t tread on me” approach, bitter usually over ballooning bureaucracy and losing your money to the IRS. Whatever your reason, it comes down to ultimately the world’s inability to fully satisfy us. C.S. Lewis sums this up quite well, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Is that ever a question that is asked? One ideological side may respond that there is much work to be done to change our world, to bring it up too speed and help humanity. The other side may say that the world too needs to change, but that will come through us reverting back to our roots (usually constitutional roots of 18th century America). It too is folly to think solely in an American exceptionalism frame of mind, that our founding fathers were perfect and the best men on earth, hence we should emulate them. I wonder if that includes riding horses, wearing wigs, and having sex with our female slaves?
The answer to all of this is that there are no easy or clear answers. That is not what the media wants to report to you because you may think after all of this that that was a waste of time. I insert the third way approach to this situation: we have work to do that can take us forward all the while looking back. We need to see our limits in what can be done on earth but letting our consciences remain a strong voice in our lives to yearn for change, for reconciliation, even if that may be called naive. That little voice inside you saying how fed up you are with life may in fact be a call for you to seek a type of redemption that should always begin with love.
A reader writes:
Nice. I’ll be honest I fairly often check out the blog you got going there during my daily facebook stalking session. Good points and kudos to you for making it through an entire piece of National Review connected literature. Braver man than I.
I just finished reading ‘An Exceptional Debate‘ by Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review. The topic of American Exceptionalism from a religious or patriotic root intrigues me, so I checked this past issue out of the local library. Here are some quotes that stood out to me:
Our country has always been exceptional. It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth. These qualities are the bequest of our Founding and of our cultural heritage. They have always marked America as special, with a unique role and mission in the world: as a model of ordered liberty and self-government and as an exemplar of freedom and a vindicator of it, through persuasion when possible and force of arms when absolutely necessary.
I see a stark difference between being cut from a different cloth and being better than others. We are different in the way our country and leaders operate, the way we interact with our government, the way our lives are up for our taking, and how we have a choice – whether this is good in the end or not – to be independent. To see this as making us better than other nations – either in terms of white Judeo-Christian religion that we prop up to make us seem predestined or the hubris of manifest destiny – is ignorant and cocky.
But it is blindness to ignore that American exceptionalism has homegrown enemies — people who misunderstand the sources of American greatness or think them outdated. If they succeed, we will be less free, less innovative, less rich, less self-governing, and less secure. We will be less.
The continued ignorance that we need to be more, that we are destined, meant to be, and deserve to be more is sickening. I love the kicker of being less rich. Why must we be more? Is being less a shot at our pride? Your identity is not based on wrapping yourself in an American flag and flaunting around.
Wow, I am really not in a good mood and I feel my writing is suffering.
Americans find some of soccer’s features culturally off-putting, and that, too, limits its popularity. Living in the land of plenty, they like scoring—baseball, football and basketball have all changed their rules several times to promote more of it—but in soccer, goals are scarce. Soccer matches often end in ties, and Americans dislike ties, which are impossible under the rules of baseball, basketball, and the collegiate version of American football, and extremely rare in professional football.
Soccer, and the World Cup, have a final appeal to others that is missing in the United States—again not to the detriment of Americans. They are vehicles for nationalism. The historian Eric Hobsbawm made this point when he wrote that “the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named people.” The World Cup provides, for hundreds of millions of people, the occasion for intense emotional identification with the countries in which they live. Americans can be nationalistic too, but evidently do not require a sporting event to feel or express this sentiment, which recalls a story from another sport.