Of all of the tenets of the secular pseudo-religion, Americanism, the principle dogma is that of American Exceptionalism. Put simply, the precept of ‘American Exceptionalism’ is the notion that the American people, the American way of life and the American form of Democracy are a result of holy providence and are of divine origin and inspiration. It is a most pernicious concept; one upon which most, if not all, of the other false creeds of Americanism are based and to which most if not all of America’s failings can be attributed.
On August 20, 2008, Andrew Bacevich, a conservative historian, Boston University professor and retired colonel who spent twenty-three years serving in the US Army, appeared on ‘Democracy Now!’ to discuss his new book entitled “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism”. He stated, “Well, this is not an idea that’s original with me. It’s clear that from the founding of the Anglo-American colonies, from the time that John Winthrop made his famous sermon and declared that “we shall be as a city upon a hill” a light to the world—it’s clear that, from the outset, there has been a strong sense among Americans that we are a special people with a providential mission.”
A providential mission. This is precisely where this precept becomes dangerous.
Is America exceptional? Yes, most definitely; the Republic of the United States of America is exceptional. It was exceptional at its inception and it was founded by exceptional men. There is no rationally sustained argument which can negate that. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are all exceptional documents, each with their own merit, historically, philosophically and in many ways besides.
The USA is exceptional, too, in the matter of freedom of speech and personal expression. Not only is this freedom at the core of the law of the land and boldly evident at the birth of the nation, but it has been internalized by all of its citizens for generations and occasionally even exercised by some.
America is exceptional for a whole slew of reasons. Only the most ardent ideologues would disagree in principle. It should be noted, however, that the term ‘exceptional’ does not exclude negative attributes or conditions. The canon of ‘Exceptionalism’, however, invariably connotes righteousness and imparts the odor of sanctity to all things American.
How America has shown itself by its actions to be exceptional but by no means righteous are many; exceptionally aggressive in foreign policy, exceptionally bellicose, exceptionally parochial, exceptionally arrogant and exceptionally reluctant to abolish slavery, to name a few examples. The point of this article is, however, not the failings of American policy but the debasement of America’s exceptionally high-minded principles by the sentimental attachment to the false doctrine of ‘American Exceptionalism’.
The danger of subscribing to the concept of ‘Exceptionalism’ is in the unthinking, unwitting belief that Americans and America have the sole, exclusive claim to being exceptional and thus according to the accepted precept, are righteous in all things. The danger of the wide-spread belief in such a notion by the citizens of a country should be obvious; it leads to chauvinistic, nationalistic policies such as ‘preventative war’, ‘regime change’ and empire building.
Moreover, the danger of such self-centered, imperialistic policies is compounded and exacerbated dramatically by the attendant belief that these policies and all policies of the USA stem from ‘a providential mission’. Citing ‘divine guidance’ to justify government policy nullifies rational debate and dissent, the foundation of democratic governance.
George W. Bush, a self-professed ‘man of God’, has claimed not only that his presidency is a ‘divine mission’ but that he, himself, is guided by his faith, by his God. In June 2002, for example, he sermonized to West Point graduates, “We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name.” Bush and his administration have made it abundantly clear that they do not want to hear dissent or debate on the matters of his ‘mission’. One need only recall Mr Bush’s disdainful frat-boy flippancy when faced with criticism or Mr Cheney’s rash and contemptuous disregard for the opinions of the vast majority of Americans on the matter of the occupation of Iraq to find verification for this assertion.
The resultant atmosphere of zealous, self-righteous piety smacks of the same sort of religious-based fundamentalism that is derided and anathematized when proclaimed by radical Islamists, to offer but one example. When supernatural power, other-worldly agents and mystic intuition are the basis on which governance is determined, the natural world of humanity and the means by which humans chart the course of their lives (such as logic, rational discourse, education, and empathy) are undermined and disregarded as superfluous. In the more extreme cases, disputation of the ‘providential mission’ and ‘divine guidance’ is condemned as blasphemy and subject to harsh punishment; often ostracism or death.
While an unwillingness to adhere to ‘Americanism’ and the tenet of ‘American Exceptionalism’ might not lead to immolation or decapitation, those journalists who have dared to question the ‘divine inspiration’ and wisdom of Mr Bush’s ‘mission’ have most assuredly found themselves excommunicated and barred from the hallowed sanctum of the White House press room. Furthermore, citizens voicing their dissent by silently displaying placards or slogan-emblazoned T-shirts in the presence of administration officials have been arrested and sequestered. A careful examination of the public record will, most assuredly, provide many more examples of free speech being sacrificed at the altar of ‘Exceptionalism’.
The systematic ostracism of non-believers is clearly evidenced by the well-publicized “public demonstration zones” at the upcoming conventions of the two major political parties. These euphemistically named holding pens and detention centers for dissidents have been condemned by the ACLU and other Civil Rights organizations as a violation of the First Amendment Right to Free Speech. It is tragically ironic that one of America’s rightful claims to being exceptional is at risk because of the fearful over-reaction by those of the ‘Exceptionalism’ sect.
The tautological, circumlocutory argument of American Exceptionalism can be stated thusly: “We are on a providentially inspired mission and are guided by a ‘Higher Power’, therefore whatever our actions or policies, we cannot be in the wrong.”
Or as Elwood Blues put it, “We’re on a mission from God.”
Professor Andrew Bacevich put it this way, however, “…to view international politics through this lens of good and evil leads you to vastly oversimplify and I think also leads you to make reckless decisions.” It may be added that reckless decisions lead to reckless actions from which we will not find absolution in worldly or other-worldly courts by simply ‘sticking to our guns’ and muttering the mantra of American Exceptionalism.