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American exceptionalism: a delusional concept

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American exceptionalism: a nationalistic belief that the people of America occupy a special niche in the world community of nations; that we are exceptional because of our unique system of beliefs and principles, because of our historical evolution, and our political and religious institutions. There's only one problem with that concept; it's no more than a myth.

We Americans have been deluding ourselves into thinking that we are the exceptional society in the world. What extreme arrogance, how egotistical to believe that we are the superior nation and people, above others in the world, better at everything we do. This is reminiscent of the old saying that if you say something often enough and loud enough you may begin to believe it.

For those who may take issue with my premise, let's examine several important elements of our society and, thereby, judge how we rank in the world relative to our achievements and what value we contribute to the world:

Manufacturing: How about manufacturing, the former foundation of America? We led the world for decades after World War II. In 1950, manufacturing was about 30% of total U.S. GDP but since then it declined to only 13% in 2008. Manufacturing employment, as a share of total U.S. employment, was 34% in 1950 and has dropped to less than 10% in 2008. Sure, a substantial part of the decline in employment is due to the recession, but we need to keep in mind that many of the manufacturing jobs lost will never return. Are we the exceptional manufacturing nation in the world? Not any more.

Education: America has the best and the brightest, right? Numerous studies continue to indicate that this nation is losing ground in world academic rankings, most notably in science and math. UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, in a recent study involving 24 major countries, concluded that South Korea and Japan were #1 and #2 in overall quality of education. The U.S. placed 18th.

Scores from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment showed that U.S. 15-year-olds trailed their peers from many industrialized countries. The average science score of U.S. students lagged behind those in 16 of 30 countries in a study by the well-known Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. students were further behind in math, trailing counterparts in 23 countries. The United States now ranks eighteenth in education among the World's industrial nations.

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A suggestion: Switch a few billion dollars from the massive budget for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into our educational system and use it for constructive rather than destructive purposes.

Societal Violence: We're #1; however, this is one area in which being at the top is not where you want to be. The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners. The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million people behind bars. China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in its prisons.

Statistics show the U.S. has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up). The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. Other nations have much lower rates. England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63.

Something is radically wrong here. This is America, the land of the free, a democracy; Ronald Reagan said, "America is a shining city upon a hill, whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere." How can America have the most people locked up behind bars and be a beacon light for other nations?

Foreign Policy: i.e., wars of occupation. Here we are #1 again. Over the years the nations of the world have looked up to America because of our innovative society, our talented musicians, academicians, great sports figures, and historic advances such as Civil Rights legislation. But in recent decades they are seeing a new kind of America, one that has become overly aggressive in military engagements. And they do not like this new America they see.

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As bad as was our totally unnecessary involvement in Vietnam, once our powerful military machine really got started, it has gone into high gear. All it needed was a presidency that was full of war hawks, led by Bush and Cheney. These two aberrations of history quickly launched invasions and occupations in Afghanistan and then Iraq. And now Pakistan has become a part of the equation.

This kind of aggressive military behavior is not welcome in the world of today. If this is the way that we intend to relate and interact with the world, by being the #1 power and aggressor, then we will find that we will evolve into a pariah nation; the antithesis of exceptionalism.

Financial Stability: The U.S., once the largest creditor nation in the world, has now become the world's largest debtor nation -- and the largest by far. Our national debt is escalating so rapidly, due to a combination of military spending and a collapsing economy that it's almost impossible to accurately measure how many trillions in the red America is.

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Michael Payne is an independent progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues; and especially with the great dangers involved with the proliferation of perpetual war, the associated defense (more...)

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America is/was an exceptional country. Just ask th... by Mad Jayhawk on Monday, Nov 16, 2009 at 10:43:16 PM
You sure know a lot about me. You know that I have... by michael payne on Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009 at 11:08:14 AM
But that is changing. We are, thanks to our leader... by KMGuru on Thursday, Nov 19, 2009 at 11:01:47 PM