Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 04, 2008

Exceptionalism

by Juan Moment
(lifted from a comment)

It is exactly this semi-religious belief in Exceptionalism which time and time again brings suffering to mankind. From ancient cultures such as Rome, through the British empire, to Nazi-Germany, the last thing this world needs is delusional mortals with a conviction that they are somewhat superior. Largely unnoticed by those narcists, busy wallowing in self-admiration, the world laughs at people who claim to be part of the Ueber-race/nation. Coz besides bigger and more guns, tools of mindless war, they have nothing which sets them apart from the rest. Certainly not brains.

To watch one administration after another roam the international circuit like Ming the Merciless, makes the average universal punter wish for Flash Gordon to rocket by to show Ming where the hammer hangs. This has lead to a rise in popularity of regimes who stand up against the machine known as US foreign policy. Large numbers of world citizens cheer at news that the US has problems of sort, creating an environment in which the country's superpower status can not survive.

If the USA wants to regain popularity points it lost over the decades, it must address foremost and first of all the hypocrisy it has become to personify. She is certainly not the only nation which says one thing and does another, but to do so in such blatant a fashion as the US does, factually asks for worldwide condemnation. There is hardly one facet of US foreign policy which isn’t a contradiction to another. Proclaiming that democratic elections in Palestine are a great step forward, and then refusing to deal with the party that got fair & square elected, makes for one bad joke.

The rules at the table are mostly straight forward. If you want to spread democracy, don’t support dictators. If you don’t want other countries to have nuclear weapons, have none yourself. If you want to lift Africa out of poverty, give more aid. Should peace on earth be your desire, start no wars. If the appearance of being god’s nation is important to you, act as Jesus would have. Don’t want foreign countries meddle with your affairs, don't meddle in other countries. Can’t get much easier than that. Don’t do upon others what you don’t want to have done to yourself.

To have the courts stacked by daddy, allowing thus sonny to win a rigged election, is just not democracy. Thinking about it, to have first the father, and a few years later the son run a country doesn’t sound like democracy. Or first the husband then his wife, out of a quarter of a billion people, is democracy the right word? Dynasty more likely, with many of the past 40 odd presidents having somehow or another been of the same house. The incestuous relationships within the parliamentary scene, lead to a congress where one crow won’t pick on the other. Preaching democracy to other nations becomes then that much harder, if oneself has a system which allows its president to unashamedly commit war crimes without ever being held accountable for it by congress.

To be seen as a nation one should aspire to, it also pays to have affordable health care for everyone, a social net able to catch the falling before they hit the ground. The missing funds to do that are actually not missing at all, just misspend on items needed to project fabricated power. A rethink in that direction might help the US’s role on the global stage, allowing for more people across the world to feel more comfortable when the US under-secretary of state visits the neighboring country, whilst at the same time reversing the trend of slipping down the global rankings whenever social & domestic indicators are measured. What a chance to be the beacon.

And although I believe that large sections in the “elite” are beyond hope, I have faith in the US electorate. The watermark of American Exceptionalism on the pages chosen to record US history, and this is not the last act, many chapters still to come, will be barely visible once the full story has been written. Humble pie, paid in gold and blood. There is only so many imperial wars one can wage before the karmic wheel catches up. Nevermind the stock market. Once the sad truth of “guilty through indifference” hits home, the realization that what is going down is largely happening because of one's own complacency, that’s when I guess the proverbial pitchforks will come out. It will not be soon, but come it will. As predictable as a flush in the toilet.

The end of the old SU empire, if one can call it that, was partly due to its imperial overstretch, hence overspending on military expenses and underspending on the domestic front. In order to keep the inevitable critics under control, increasing efforts were needed to create more and more elaborate means of spying on the own population. Not that different from what the US is doing today. Eventually the public will wake up in droves to this impending repetition of history to put someone in power who’ll pull the lever on the imperialometer into reverse.

Except that nowhere in the original concept of exceptionalism is the patented need or desire to export it.

So true. Looking at the long list of ideologists who have asserted their tribe/nation’s right to exceptionalism, to be the one out, with true claim to be exceptional, would be the one nation who didn’t end up lecturing the “inferior” nations about how to go about their business. The invention of a new technology is certainly not exceptional, but for the first time in history to not consider its use for military purpose would be. It’s hard to see how a nation could be exceptional on all fronts, but to be truly outstanding on the ones that matter, human rights and environmental concerns being just two, a good dose of self-criticism is needed. Leading by example rather than the sword should be the motto, a point so totally lost on many on Capitol Hill. Not dictating changes to others, invite imitations instead.

Posted by b on February 4, 2008 at 09:12 AM | Permalink

Comments

*clapping*
*clapping*
Bravo!
*clapping*

Posted by: Jake | Feb 4, 2008 9:48:36 AM | 1

I, for one, can't agree with the author's faith in the US electorate. A populace reaching for the proverbial pitchforks is the exception, not the rule. I expect a large part of the nation's middle class to embrace authoritarianism, as it will appear to be the only way they can preserve the profligate exurban sprawl that has come to signify the American Way of Life.

Posted by: aubanel | Feb 4, 2008 10:35:57 AM | 2

Good post. “To be seen as a nation one should aspire to” (quoting Juan) it is necessary to behave better, and imperialism based on funny money, weapons, coercion and more..Iraq...; internal politics ..well Juan said it, doesn’t hack it.

However, it is also mandatory abjure *weakness.* The US war on drugs was a cover, but it was ostensibly nonetheless a ‘war’ against some ‘thing’ much of humanity considers harmful. The ‘war’ on terror is a clear manifestation of paranoid hysteria, a leaf borrowed straight from the Israeli book. The war on terror relates to people of specific ethnicity, religion, thus nationalities (territories). The US never really entered that terrain before, in modern times; the hypocrisy of the mismatch between its ‘values’ (democracy, equality, women’s rights, etc. etc.) and what it promulgates abroad has become so stark nobody with two brain cells can miss it. Fantastic hypocrisy - that was present before - is now in-your-face, accompanied by hysterical discourse few human beings would countenance in ppl close to them.

Partly because the US (like others) has descended to a system of Gvmt. that is based on personal opinion, modelled on, and exploiting, what people may think, say, do, in their daily lives, while setting aside social organization, the common -now world- good, and the rule of law. Nations have become baddies in TV spectaculars; wars have become a matter of personal prejudice (sand niggers, hajis, mini ali-babas, etc.), civic action has become a matter of waving flags for a pop star, or getting your neighbors to move out, or ripping off the Gvmt. etc.

All this is quite obvious. And it runs counter to what most in the world aspire to. It is a sign of weakness, of the deliquescence and future implosion of the US (and Israel).

Posted by: Tangerine | Feb 4, 2008 10:59:47 AM | 3

I don't share his confidence in the electorate either. I would have to say they are pretty stupid, and fed a constant stream of lies. So they can believe we are spreading freedom and democracy around the world, while they complain about having to be the world's police. I guess they think we drop our bombs with loving kindness or something.

I wrote a piece on American Exceptionalism on Daily Kos once, and someone commented that all countries are like this, it is just that we are better at it.

Just this week I heard H.Clinton claim Saddam kicked the UN weapons inpsectors out in 1998 and heard some Iowa National Guard say that we have to stay in Iraq because we don't want another 9/11.

yes, they are that stupid and more. The Iowa Guard was headed to Iraq, and a large number of them have relatives in the same Guard unit - brothers, sisters, cousins, fathers, uncles. I kid you not.

Posted by: Susan | Feb 4, 2008 12:24:06 PM | 4

Terminal hubris.

Posted by: beq | Feb 4, 2008 12:28:31 PM | 5

us, I mean.

Posted by: beq | Feb 4, 2008 12:29:22 PM | 6

i am without optimism

the fall of this empire is going to be very ugly

& the movements, & the multiplicities while learning & perhaps taking decisive action - will suffer enormously

the soft anhilation by any means will continue - as it is happenign in iraq - fully hidden in plain sight

we must come to terms with the moral horror of an age such as ours - every human being in iraq who is murdered by the u s occupation & all its ancillary forces - we are responsible

the british were clowns
the french pompous

what the roman & american empires have in common is their crudeness & savagery. the empire makes men less than animals & so that is what they become

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 4, 2008 1:04:00 PM | 7

I wrote a piece on American Exceptionalism on Daily Kos once, and someone commented that all countries are like this, it is just that we are better at it.

Priceless.

I do agree that all countries are like that. seems to come down to some kind of clan behavior that is wired into our cortex or something.

Posted by: dan of steele | Feb 4, 2008 3:06:41 PM | 8

winter in america

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 4, 2008 3:08:38 PM | 9

The thing thats missing in the policy conversation is that American exceptionalism has always been built on cheap resources. This includes slave labor, pillaging populations, taking lands, cheap Chinese and Irish labor for the railroads. Cheap metals such as steel, gold, silver, etc.

The anglo saxon protestant is like the space aliens in Independence Day that go around from planet to planet and strip resources and leave the planets shells of themselves taking all resources and distinguishing all life. America and other western nations do it with countries and it steadily feeds the capitalist machine.

We are exceptional at strip mining, thats all, democracy has no place in resource capitalism. Always remember, in the marketplace, labor is a commodity just like oil.

Posted by: jdp | Feb 4, 2008 4:26:27 PM | 10

Maybe the superordinate entity implied in many comments, analysis - the Nation State -ugly US, cool Canada, suffering Nigeria, stumbling France, Iraq as a country, etc. is totally outdated?

Posted by: Tangerine | Feb 5, 2008 2:16:34 PM | 11

Maybe the superordinate entity implied in many comments, analysis - the Nation State -ugly US, cool Canada, suffering Nigeria, stumbling France, Iraq as a country, etc. is totally outdated?

I am thinking about that for a while, but find it unconvincing. What followed it? What would follow it? In practise we still have it determing our daily life. Taxes, services, laws, soccer etc ...

Not that I would like it to be replaced. I am a stauch believer in the Westphalian principles of statehood.

Posted by: b | Feb 5, 2008 2:59:16 PM | 12

me too. (westphalia)

Many supra-state organisms, their financial weight, their ideological grip, buy, coerce, people; create events, standards;

these are just *examples*:

a) ‘corporations’ eg. Halliburton, Nestlé, Schlumberger, Exxon, to mention a mix

b) international banking, finance, is a creepy web off laid over the rest, still it has tremendous influence and control

c) the military, not just those fighting at present, but the potential power of those who hold the guns, nukes, etc.

d) international bodies, military and regulatory - NATO come to mind. IMF. World Bank, UN Security council. International courts.

e) money recycling and laundering - offshore banking, occult finance, etc. see b).

f) ‘criminal’ circuits, the black economy - the usual, drugs, low level arms, human trafficking, slaves, prostitution, 'terrorists'... Also active in garbage, real estate, agriculture, tourism, international shipping, extraction of resources, money manipulations, see b) again.

g) Lobbies, poorly circumscribed groups who have clout; e.g. Israel lobby, the medical community, bankers, agriculture, etc. etc.

All interact in multiple ways are are supra-national. Either as outgrowths or symptoms, or as more or less independent strands...

Posted by: Tangerine | Feb 5, 2008 4:30:47 PM | 13

If you think of American exceptionalism first as a quasi tribal creation myth as defined in the constitution and the bill of rights by the "founding fathers", its easy to see how American exceptionalism is both different and the same as typical or tribal ethnic exceptionalisms.

While democracy is not an American invention, the particular structure of American democracy is, to the extent that various checks and balances are applied to maintain individual liberties from being consumed by a consolidation of state power. This system is exceptional only in the sense that it is academically different from other, mostly European, models of governance - in that its essential difference is the primacy of the individual, and the maintenance of a level (judicial, economic, and social) playing field in which individual initiative replaces state initiative and is allowed to flourish.

And as such, the American system is exceptional or DIFFERENT compared to European monarchy, socialism, communism, or fascism. The fact that, as some would argue, it has been more successful, gives rise to the potent cultural notion (or hubris) of it's being exceptional, in the sense of it being somehow BETTER. And thats where the trouble starts.

But first, if we back up a bit and look at it from its inception, the American system was conceived with an unresolved internal contradiction parlayed by the original framers personalities and political views of how this system of government (national vs federal) should actually function. To which since its conception, has left the door of interpretation open wide enough to accommodate both opposing templates of exceptionalism, as personified in traditional north/south differential. In a nutshell, the federalist honor and shame cultures of the old south,and the industrialist liberal nationalists of the north bothconsider themselves representative of (what is) exceptional, to the point of going to war over it. And not that the civil war resolved the issue, but is indicative more importantly, of the range of tribal affiliation American exceptionalism can assume, both in terms identity and policy. Creating in course, a unique culture quite capable of consciously manifesting itself (outwardly) as an inexplicit and unaccountable ball of contradictions, that we see played out repeatedly in its many foreign policy blunders. Most significantly in its so called roll of a "benign" empire. After all, when George Bush talks the "tyranny of low expectations", "bringing freedom", or "kicking ass" in regards to the occupation of Iraq, he is making an argument simultaneously from the militant right and the liberal left. Its the exceptionalism that binds the two arguments together, into one, common purpose.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 5, 2008 6:51:20 PM | 14

I’ve never actually been to the US, so opinions I express on how its population does and will act should please be seen in that light. The picture of Mr & Mrs Smith with their 1.7 children living the American Way of Life is that of a spoiled kid which grew up with too much money around, a bit like Augustus Gloop meets Veruca Salt meets Mike Teavee. Don’t get me wrong, a similar pampered attitude and world of expectations exists also in other western nations, although to various degrees in a milder form. Disproportionate consumerism is not unique to the US, just more accentuated.

The excessive American Way is however heavily reliant on favourable economic times, economic times less and less controlled by the US. One side effect of assumed Exceptionalism is that after initially getting away with ignoring international rules and laws, such thinkers tend to start believe that basic rules of economics don’t apply to them either. But far from it. To be as glutenous in its manner as the AmWay is, requires a lot of cheap imports. The steadfast decline of the US dollar, whilst marginally offsetting the enormous debt burden the Empire built up to finance its imperial wars, is spelling the end of those cheap imports, oil and food to name just two. And as jdp points out, a cheap resource pool was the prime driver on this highway to US riches, and the lack of it will spell its end. This pool, finite by nature, is drying up at a rate determined by the accelerating consumption an increasing number of competing snouts in the trough is causing.

For large numbers of US Americans subscribing to this idea of Exceptionalism it will not be a matter of choice when it comes to adjusting their world view, the rest of the world will do it for them. As the debt bubble will burst (it seems we are about to see the early days of this phase), consumer strength will evaporate and the US’s status as the holy cow of marketplaces right with it. The US has I believe by far the most multi-millionaires per capita, a fact which won’t change quickly, but the vast numbers making up the middle class, the mortgage and maxed out credit card belt, increasingly faced with unemployment, foreclosure, repossession, will not escape the lawn mower.

With the reference to pitchforks I was not trying to suggest a mob of angry citizens storming the halls of power lynching their senators. I was thinking more along the lines of a thoroughly disillusioned electorate across the nation choosing not to return the sitting members, farewelling the archaic two party system, the primary cause of the political misery the US citizenry, and by extension, the world finds itself in. Since self-criticism is really nobody’s favourite past time, the electorate will look for someone to blame, their politicians. It doesn’t take a science degree to see the worms in a can full of them, and independent candidates armed with credibility might get a foot in the door.

To me it seems that 30 years ago it would have been still unthinkable for an African-American to be a serious contender in the US presidential race. Or a woman for that matter. Give it another 30 years and a gay politician might make the cut. Attitudes change over the years (at least in the cities  ), sometimes even radically. Once gender and race equality as national milestones have been dealt with, maybe parting from the idea of Exceptionalism will have to be next on the agenda. The cost of maintaining the Empire, let alone expanding it, is not sustainable, not anymore.

The world-wide goodwill needed for operation Global Leader to succeed is gone, replaced with feelings ranging from scepticism to outright hate. The only people who can try to reverse this trend, is the US electorate. Choosing politicians with delusions of grandeur will eventually get out of fashion and the concept of being satisfied with being part of a group of leaders instead of the leader itself will grab hold. It did so in Rome, Istanbul, London or Berlin. And just like it’s European cousins and the brothers & sisters to the north, the US will slip into something more comfortable, probably more akin to the social democratic systems in other anglo-saxon countries.

That this tectonic shift in the political formation won’t happen in the 08 elections is already certain. Won’t be next time either, but every nation’s path has twist and turns, and there sure as hell is one coming up for the US.

And for that very reason, that the USA is no exception to the rest of us, I have faith in the country’s people to eventually rid themselves of the pigs on the animal farm. The American Way of Life is not set in concrete, it’s as adaptable to harsh realities as any nation’s way of life. Might just be a bit more bruising as the http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hlkG9t2Z4m8UfIya6iQ3-TfTPhRwD8UJON580”> national ego is deflated:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The record $3.1 trillion budget proposed by President Bush on Monday would produce eyepopping federal deficits, despite his attempts to impose politically wrenching curbs on Medicare and eliminate scores of popular domestic programs.

The Pentagon would receive a $36 billion, 8 percent boost for the 2009 budget year beginning Oct. 1, even as programs aimed at the poor would be cut back or eliminated. Half of domestic Cabinet departments would see their budgets cut outright…


Just watched a segment on Foreign Corespondent about Hillary Clinton’s election campaign, showing a snippet of her addressing a crowd of supporters. Her goal number 1, she stated, is “to restore the USA again as the leading nation on the globe”. Now if a presidential candidate who is considered to be on the left, is naming renewed world domination as her primary goal, there is no reason to believe the country is gonna wake up any time soon, but it will, as it crashes head on into the sign post saying “Where there are no followers, there is no leader.”

Just as life is a struggle for survival with the certain knowledge of defeat, so does in my eyes Exceptionalism soldier on until its bitter end. There will always be people who think their nation is superior to others, just as there always will be people who could swear that their football team is the greatest on earth. You can’t change that. They can scream as loud as they want tho, what counts is the position on the ladder.

American Exceptionalism is a fantasy, which to entertain costs shit loads of money. Money gone, fantasy gone. Just like Disney World, a man made construct to create an illusion, and just like its counterpart, it closes when it gets dark.

Posted by: Juan Moment | Feb 5, 2008 9:45:28 PM | 15

Juan,

I think American exceptionalism, springing as it were from its own creation myth, will not die so easily. Not at least before its eternal internal engine of civil war finally plays itself out. Until then it will continue to generate empire faster than Elmer Gantry did revivals.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 5, 2008 10:42:10 PM | 16

Creating in course, a unique culture quite capable of consciously manifesting itself (outwardly) as an inexplicit and unaccountable ball of contradictions, that we see played out repeatedly in its many foreign policy blunders.
Couldn’t agree more. To watch the US doing the full split required to be both the global champion of ‘Big eat small Capitalism’ and the world's foremost country representing Christian values, is painful. It appears to me as an outsider that the nation is caught up in having to reconcile two philosophies intrinsically so contraire to each other, that in order to achieve this Exceptionalism had to be declared. In one hand the bible, in the other a gun, a formula doomed to fail. Since the early days of brutal settlement to yesterday’s bombing of an Iraqi city, the US population is from Mon to Sat engaged in feeling superior, only to nod along when on Sunday the priest tells them how Jesus said before god we are all equal. Not that I am an expert or something, but I call that deranged.

The institutional set up of democracy in the US, once at the base of its claim to be exceptional, has produced a rampant oligarchy bathed in nepotism, in other words the exact opposite its founders had intentioned. For a country to operate in such a contradictory political environment, the masses have to be kept addicted to the American Dream of finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and/or sedated with mindless infotainment. How much longer this charade will last is anyone’s guess, mine is a few more decades.

Until then it will continue to generate empire faster than Elmer Gantry did revivals.
To generate empire more than personal will is needed, and many of the other main ingredients are unavailable as of lately. Without the necessary Cash and Friends, no empire will see out a decade.

For American exceptionalism to exist as the man made idea it is, it requires non-American people to believe in it. The emperor can walk around pretending to wear exceptionally nice clothes as long as he wants, once the people come to realise he’s naked, that’s it, he might as well pack up and go home. And I get the impression that the notion of there being justification for American exceptionalism is seen as outdated by a vast majority of the today’s world population. With many former allies alienated, and in debt up to its eyeballs, the enthusiast for generating empire will meet the brick wall it can bang his/her head against. Much to the amusement of planet earth.

Posted by: Juan Moment | Feb 5, 2008 11:24:44 PM | 17

Only during the depths of the depression did Americans seriously question exceptionalism with consideration and interest in other political models. Even when, like the C.I.O. gains for the interests of labor, few would ever acknowledge the positive effects/influence (of socialism). But you're probably right that it will again take a complete collapse, in order to change direction.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 6, 2008 12:07:19 AM | 18

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