Nov 27 2012

Der Spiegel nails it

There’s an excellent, must-read bit over at Der Spiegel today, a very sober analysis of the decline of American Exceptionalism:

But today’s crisis is far more comprehensive, extending to the social, political and spiritual realms. The worst thing about it is that the country still refuses to engage in any debate over the reasons for its decline. It seems as if many Americans today no longer want to talk about how they can strengthen their union. Criticism is seen as a betrayal of America’s greatness.

Americans don’t do self-reflection very well. We just love slogans and politicians who tell us how great we are, just like the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons – an utter dolt whose whole persona is a bunch of contrived superiority.

That, and oh yeah, teabaggers.

Apr 17 2011

A sober, must-read look at American Exceptionalism

Hunter over at Kos has written, hands-down, one of the best critiques of the myth of American Exceptionalism that I’ve ever read. “No, We Can’t”. It’s about the sheer negativity that is the essence of the conservative vision. Instead of affirming this so-called “exceptionalism,” it reaffirms our rapid descent into mediocrity that the rise of the modern cons have exacerbated:

Other industrialized nations can provide their citizens with better access to healthcare; we simply cannot, and you are a fool for even bringing it up. Other nations can, say, establish warning systems for tsunamis, or volcanos, or hurricanes; America must tighten its belt, and that meager, economically trivial ounce of prevention is considered fat that should obviously be trimmed, so that America-the-entity can get back to its fighting weight. Past-America could provide at least some modest layer of security to prevent its citizens from descending into destitution in old age; we in this day cannot. Past-America could pursue scientific discoveries as a matter of national pride, even land mankind on an entirely other world; we cannot. Past-America was a haven of invention and technology that shook the world and changed the course of history countless times: whatever attributes made it such a place we cannot quite determine now, much less replicate. Public art is decadent. Public education is an infringement. Public works are for other times, never now.

You’ve heard it before – the modern conservative movement really is about repealing the 20th century.

It is a staggeringly bleak vision. The notion that other free countries can do hosts of things that America, as blanket presumption, can no longer do should be the stuff of nightmares for any believer in American exceptionalism. Today believers in American exceptionalism seem to believe America is exceptional in the inverse way: America is the only country that cannot succeed at what other nations might be able to do. Healthcare, again, seems the most pressing example, though it seems Social Security is the next front on the war on past-America

So proud of our can’t-do spirit. Thanks, teabaggers.

Apr 5 2011

When facts get in the way

I’m sure this isn’t current, but it’s undoubtedly one of Maher’s best rants ever, about that silly American Exceptionalism® that so many are still hung up on. And apparently insecure about, too, as they continuously need their politicians to remind them how awesome! America is.

I guess it’d be nice if we actually were “#1” at something besides bombing the shit out of people and things, but we’d need to start living up to what that means, and with know-nothings, Randians and the pasty teahadist brigade running the show right now, that ain’t too likely, is it?

Jan 31 2011

Another hole in the myth of American exceptionalism

… in which our very own CIA fact book shows that there’s more inequality in the U S of A than in Egypt, Yemen, or Tunisa.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 45.

In contrast:

  • Tunisia is ranked the 62nd most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of 40.
  • Yemen is ranked 76th most unequal, with a Gini Coefficient of 37.7.
  • And Egypt is ranked as the 90th most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of around 34.4.

Yay! We’re # 42!!! Of course, I’m not expecting any sort of popular uprising here in the U.S., as long as there’s still too much stuff to watch on tv.

Nov 18 2010

We’re numbah 4!

Matt Miller at the WaPo asks…

Does anyone else think there’s something a little insecure about a country that requires its politicians to constantly declare how exceptional it is? A populace in need of this much reassurance may be the surest sign of looming national decline…

Real men – real Americans – know America is the greatest country ever invented. And they shout it from the rooftops. Don’t they?

Even at a young age, I never really got or bought into American exceptionalism, as I had to hear about it all the time from a certain ex-Marine family member. When I asked “why?”, I always heard the same ol’ freedomfreedomfreedom garbage, which never made much sense, considering how many other countries had plenty of freedom, and better food, to boot. That textbook patriotism (more accurately, nationalism) was summed up real well by Al Franken a few years ago, when speaking about the difference of how libs and cons love their country:

We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America like a 4-year-old loves his mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow. Love takes attention and work and is the best thing in the world. That’s why we liberals want America to do the right thing. We know America is the hope of the world, and we love it and want it to do well.

I don’t necessarily buy into the “hope of the world” bit, nor is it necessarily a “liberal” thing – more so a “critical thinker” thing, regardless of political persuasion, but overall I think you get the gist. I’ve never really had what I’d call “love” of country, as I don’t think it’s necessary, and the people that seem to profess this “love” the loudest have some pretty authoritarian(and one might say,” un-American ideal”) viewpoints on some things. More accurately, I think America’s a decent place to live (for me) but I don’t doubt there’s other places that’d be more decent, if I had the resources to go and find out. I have “like” of country. That’ll have to be good enough.

The Constitution looks good on paper, but the realities of how America actually operates seem to be often pretty far removed from it.

Then there’s the whole problem of the quantification… what is the “best” country in the world and, pertaining to what Miller’s arguments is, why is it so important to say it over and over? So we can believe it? Cognitive dissonance? It’s almost like some guy bragging about how big his dick is, but the guys on the football team who’ve seen it know it’s the opposite, so he has to brag even more.

If we want to talk about numbers and rankings, let’s just have a quick look at this recent CBS News article, Which Country Has the Best Quality of Life?, about a recent U.N. report, the Human Development Report, which looks not only at income, but health and education:

Among the 169 nations whose development was surveyed, Norway came in first on the annual Human Development Index and Zimbabwe was listed last. The United States was fourth.

Now, of course, I’m not basing my thoughts on one survey, but there’s plenty of similar data out there that correlates in the same way. Lowest infant mortality? Slovenia, Singapore and 45 other countries do better,  Access to health care? In one survey of six industrialized nations, we’re number six. Internet access? Number 28. And so on. So this mythical “number one” I always hear about must be based on some intangible, synaptically-based criteria. Close again with Miller:

The conservative use of American exceptionalism as a political sword today is perversely revealing. There’s something off when the first generation of Americans that is less educated than its parents feels a deep need to be told how unique it is. Or that a generation that’s handing off epic debts and a chronically dysfunctional political process (among other woes) demands that its leaders keep toasting its fabulousness. Especially when other nations now offer more upward mobility, and a better blend of growth with equity, than we do – arguably the best measures of America’s once-exceptional national performance.

Wouldn’t it bolster Americans more to be told that we can meet the challenges of this moment? Wouldn’t we be better off striving to be exceptional at solving our common problems?

No, because that would leave politicians nothing to exploit and leave Sarah Palin without a career.