Monday, December 13, 2010

The Curse of American Exceptionalism

It is, unfortunately, time to discuss yet another perverse mangling of our history, brought to us by the American right- this time the misuse of the notion of American exceptionalism.

This term, first used by Alexis de Toqueville to refer to the fact that this country was founded by the will of the people, rather than through the monarchical power struggles that produced most previous countries, has been reforged by conservatives as a battering ram to beat up and silence anyone who dares to criticize their plans for the United States in any way.

Naturally, as this perversion of Toqueville's comments represents a new high in right wing nativism, its foremost proponent is politics' lowest common denominator of demagoguery, Sarah Palin.

"The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty wrote a smart piece this morning that identifies what will likely be the running theme of the 2012 presidential primary season: American exceptionalism. It's the name given to the concept that America is, among the many extant and departed nations of the earth, uniquely superior...it often crosses the line into jingoism, which happens when adherents to the philosophy of American exceptionalism seek not to define it but use it as a weapon...That's where Sarah Palin comes in.

What Palin wrote(about American Exceptionalism, in her new book) means absolutely nothing. It's just buzzwords interspersed with rote assertions of American greatness, and she might be the only person I've ever seen laud the "common sense" of preschoolers.

But you're not going to get a better explanation of her political philosophy: Don't think; don't challenge ; just follow me because I, more than anyone else, think America is the greatest."

 Palin blasted out another Facebook diatribe Friday, criticizing President Obama for lacking "faith in American exceptionalism"

"We can't lose this next generation -- we have to keep teaching them what it means to be an American -- the American exceptionalism that so many of us do embrace," said Palin...It was a remarkable moment of clarity, making plain what -- on an emotional level -- the 2012 presidential election will really be about for many voters.

Nor is Palin the only one singing this song. Recent Republican Senator-elect Marco Rubio, upon winning his  race, said:

 “Americans believe with all their heart that the United States of America is simply the single greatest nation in all of human history, a place without equal in the history of all of mankind.”

Well, some Americans believe that.

I could go on and on here, with more examples, but you get the point.  A classic use of this weapon by the right is the way they succeeded in convincing so many Americans that we have the greatest medical care system in the world, and that they would all be harmed by any attempt to rein in the greed and corruption of health insurance companies.

Well, let us get to the ways in which our country really is exceptional, after three decades of being run on Republican economic principles.  Here are some of them:

In terms of equal distribution of wealth, the United States ranks 69th in the world, according to the CIA, behind such great bastions of equal  opportunity as Yemen, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

And proud of the opportunity to advance that our country offers?  Think again:  From the BBC: "The truth is that the US sits...at the bottom of the international league table of social mobility. "

A record one in six American families went hungry last year because they did not have enough food.

America has the least generous unemployment system in the world , behind Korea, Greece and Turkey.  In terms of the replacement of previously earned wages, the U.S. pays about 1/4 of the OECD average.
 
The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide some form of universal health care to its citizens.

132 million Americans have no dental insurance, whereas everyone in the European Union has access by law to some kind of dental plan.

Roughly 60 million American workers have no paid sick leave...more than 160 countries ensure that all their citizens receive paid sick leave and more than 110 of them guarantee paid leave from the first day of illness.

Life expectancy in the United States has declined to 36th in the world, behind such countries as Cuba, Costa Rica and even our own territory of Puerto Rico.

The U.S. has declined to 33rd in the world in infant mortality, behind such countries as Brunei, Slovenia and again, Cuba.

In a list of the 72 most industrialized countries in the world, the United States is the only one with no statutory minimum paid vacation.  This compares to the EU's minimum of four weeks paid vacation a year (many countries in Europe offer more than this.  The minimum, for example, in France, is 5 weeks.)

CNN:  "Workers in the United States are putting in more hours than anyone else in the industrialized world."
Figures for 2004 (note: things have gotten worse for us since then) for selected countries: Average work hours per year:  Sweden 1316, France 1346, Germany 1362, Italy 1523, USA 1777.  Yes, workers in that Socialistic hell, Sweden, work almost nine hours less a week that we do here in the Capitalist paradise of the United States.

The World Health Organization ranks the United States health care system 37th in the world, far behind all developed European countries, despite the fact that health expenditure as a share of GDP in the United States is by far the highest in the world, at 15.2%.  Typical European expenditures vary from 8.9% to 11.4%.  The WHO's measure of "health system attainment and performance" ranks the United States 72nd, behind such bastions of the free market as Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka and Iran.

And as I pointed out a few weeks ago, American workers cannot even take comfort any more in the notion that they are the most highly paid in the world.  European manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes are moving production here because they can pay workers half of what their domestic employees get.

However, do not despair.  The United States definitely leads the world in some statistics.  We are by far the world's largest arms dealer, beating our nearest competitor, Russia, by 2 3/4 times, and accounting for 41% of all international arms sales.  And we are still the world's leader in prison population, at over 2 million incarcerated, easily surpassing the totals of number 2 country China, which despite having a population many times ours, has only succeeded in imprisoning a million and a half people.

This is the rotten, ugly, third world existence that we have been given in this country, while people turn their heads from the hateful sight, confident that God has created us to be the Best Country on Earth in Every Way, confident because their demagogic leaders tell them this every single day, as those same leaders rob them blind and leave them with a loathsome shell of what America is supposed to be, and once was.  The world moves on, fitfully, but it still moves on.  With one exception.  The American exception.

5 comments:

mastercynic said...

President Palin will outlaw this sort of uncommon sense.

Anonymous said...

You've done an excellent job of putting the exceptionalism nonsense into context. How I'd love to see your piece in a major news outlet.

Cardinal44 said...

What a paradise! How does one emigrate to Cuba?

Green Eagle said...

I'm looking at Tuscany, personally, Cardinal.

Anonymous, thanks for the compliment, but I have to say that this information isn't that hard to get. It won't make it into a major news outlet in this country because they are all owned by people who are profiting from reducing us all to penury.

Grung_e_Gene said...

While the IOKIYAR is a well understood phenomenon, the type of American Exceptionalism preached by Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and the Teabaggers is the one which allows them to say:
'America was founded on freedom'
'we don't torture'
'the free market does everything better'
'republicans are fiscal conservatives'
'republicans are war heroes'

When everyone knows these things are false and blatantly so.