American Exceptionalism Is Killing Us!
By Mike Ferner
POCLAD supporters require little convincing to appreciate how our government’s deadly international swagger has made the U.S., as Dr. Martin Luther King put it, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” America’s supposed exceptional nature permits our government to invade and lay waste to nations while hiding behind the myth that what we do is, by definition, for the good of others. One might almost conclude that our purpose in the world is to export a surplus of democracy and freedom the gods have given us.
This American Exceptionalism takes a heavy toll on the targets of our foreign policy, but what about the Empire’s citizens, right here at home? In addition to the fact that we’re spending our way to ruin and fueling the flames of a very violent culture, how else does belief in this exceptional America come back to bite us?
Here’s a good example.
Among the endless sound bites and barks emanating from the Affordable Care Act implementation, you may have heard the same comment from a member of the U.S. Senate that just floored me: “Obamacare could well destroy the greatest health care system in the world!”
No doubt the Senator from the State of Delusion meant our very own system here in the U.S. – the one that’s “not broken, it’s fixed;” the one that abandons tens of millions of people to no health insurance whatsoever; the system that pays corporate executives obscene amounts of money to deny care to as many of the insured as possible; the system that consumes a greater share of the economy than any other industrialized nation’s; the system that makes the ER an important source of primary care; the system that causes people in other countries to shake their heads and wonder what exactly is wrong with those crazy Americans?
Even if you don’t really believe we’ve got the best health care system in the world, pretending to revere it is a good way to keep H.L. Mencken’s “boobeoisie” in line, by creating the fear we may replace something precious with a frightening, unknown form of socialism.
The sad thing is such misplaced civic pride in our exceptionalism can be very convincing. How many times have you been in a political discussion with someone who tried to be diplomatic by ending the dialogue with the worn out chestnut, “…sure, America’s (pick one) health care system/form of government/foreign policy has problems but it’s the best there is in the world?”
The sadder thing is that particular boob is not alone.
In a Gallup poll from late 2010, 73% of those polled believed that U.S. history and our Constitution make us “the greatest country in the world.”
A Pew Research Center poll from 2011 found that 91% of respondents believed the U.S. stands above all other countries, or is one of the greatest along with some others. Fully two-thirds of the self-identified “staunch conservatives” believed the U.S. stands above all other countries.
Seventy-seven percent of those responding to a Gallup poll published in January of this year, said individual freedoms in the U.S. were the best in the world or above average and 65% said the same was true for our quality of life.
To them I can only recommend this riff from the great comic mind of Lewis Black: “What really gets me is when people say this is the greatest country in the world when they’ve never been anywhere else. If you’ve never been anywhere else, how do you know this is the best country? For all you know, there could be countries giving shit away every day! Canada is one of those countries. You know what Canada’s giving away? HEALTH INSURANCE!!!”
On POCLAD’s central issue, democracy, for the life of me I could find no polling on whether our fellow citizens think their country has too much, too little or just the right amount; or whether we think we’re the most democratic nation in the world. My guess is that in response to a pollster’s phone call, people would respond along the lines of the January Gallup poll cited above. But I can tell you anecdotally that every POCLAD member who has done any public speaking can report that a significant majority of people they’ve been in front of – from large towns or small – genuinely believe the U.S. is not a democracy.
A decade ago I was shocked to see that response. Now it is routinely encouraging. We have apparently taken the first step towards fixing a huge problem – we recognize there is one. And considering how thoroughly every institution of society repeats “America” and “Democracy” in the same breath, it’s a tribute to the good sense of people that they don’t buy it – at least as part of a discussion in a thoughtful setting.
When people are asked to be thoughtful the good news continues:
- Gallup found that 65% of people thought the U.S. quality of life was the best in the world or above average. But when pressed on the specific of health care, only 29% felt the same way.
- A more recent Gallup poll found overwhelming support for voting “on key issues as well as candidates (like) a law that would put a limit on the amount of money candidates for the U.S.
- And an even tougher question, banning all campaign contributions from individuals and private groups in favor of complete federal funding garnered support from 50% of respondents.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Belief in American Exceptionalism is roughly a mile wide and an inch deep.
The “We’re Number One!” syndrome fostered by so many of our cultural institutions creates an infantile understanding of how the U.S. relates to the rest of the world, much the same as a small child sees herself as the center of the universe. It allows us to turn a blind eye to the atrocities our government commits largely against the populations of small, impoverished countries. Here at home the syndrome comforts the 1% and afflicts the rest of us.
The status quo is kept in place by powerful forces but it is not an immutable law of nature. Those powerful forces are necessary to keep it from tumbling like a house of cards. And the first card has already started to slip.