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Two Distinctly Different Interpretations Of Exceptionalism

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From shining city on a hill
shining city on a hill by michael payne
A political and journalistic firestorm was ignited after Russia's Vladimir Putin, challenged and disputed Barack Obama's statement about America being an exceptional nation when the president used that term in discussing the crisis in Syria. Referring to oneself as being exceptional is one thing but truly living up to it is quite another and here's why:

The word exceptional typically includes these personal characteristics: remarkable, extraordinary, unique, singular and rare. While many think of these words as describing something that is outstanding and exemplary they can also be used to describe something negative that is distinctly different from the actions of others, and can be considered to be offensive and even destructive. Therefore, we might say that a person, an entity, or an act can be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

So let's examine this issue to determine just how America might fit the description of being an exceptional nation, whereby America is outstanding and exemplary and leads the world. Off hand I can't seem to think of much of anything of real substance in which America now leads the world except, of course, military power where it is completely dominant. But let's at least give it a try and see what we can come up with.

Here's a series of questions to try to determine if America leads the world in very specific categories of achievement or if, in fact, it lags behind. Does America lead the world in:

*The most effective and lowest cost health care system? The answer is no, it does not. America's system of health care, tightly controlled by the insurance industry, is not even close to that ranking; its costs are typically twice as much as those of the 31 other developed nations of the world; all these nations have some form of universal health care and most have banned insurance companies from being a part of the process. Here's are further troubling statistics; America ranks 27th in life expectancy, 18th in diabetes, and first in obesity.

It's a very faulted system to say the least. But t hose at the top of the income spectrum, who have the best health care benefits, defend it by insisting that all Americans are covered. They say that our health care system works just fine because, while poor Americans may not have access to critical precautionary tests, they must, by law, be given treatment by hospital emergency rooms. It's too bad though that, by the time that many of these poorer people are taken to the ER, their condition is too far advanced to be successfully treated, and is terminal.

The Affordable Health Care Act, aka Obamacare, may well represent the beginning of the era of universal health care in America but to do so it would have to go through a succession of improvements including the elimination of all insurance companies' involvement.

*Academic excellence? Well, America once led the world, but that's a thing of the past. America's world ranking in math is #27, and in science #22, a national disgrace. Even countries such as Hungary, Ireland and Iceland rank above America. About the only aspect of education in which America ranks right at the top of these developed nations is in the number of high school dropouts.

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*Technology and innovation? Well, when it comes to electronic gadgetry that might be the case. Does America lead the world in dealing with climate warming and climate change, in the development of solar and wind power, all of which are extremely important to this planet and its people? Nope; in fact, the U.S. government and the business sector act as if these critically important issues are a hindrance, something that exists only in the minds of liberals and those incompetent scientists who like to spread misinformation. After all, the profits of the giants of the petroleum industry trump all other considerations.

*In the art of diplomacy and promotion of peace? Most definitely not. The art of diplomacy has all but disappeared from the foreign policy playbook of the U.S. and has been replaced by the doctrine of hubristic arrogance. The greatest example of this misguided foreign policy doctrine can be found in the events surrounding the Syrian crisis when Mr. Obama struck out on the issue of diplomacy and Vladimir Putin his a grand slam home run.

*In the condition of our national infrastructure the best among the developed world? Not even close.

*Does America possess the world's #1 economy? Yes, it still does even though it's predicted that China will surpass it in the not too distant future, largely because U.S. corporations have outsourced millions of jobs to it. So, if we are #1 in GDP, then why in the world are we lagging so far behind the world in so many categories as mentioned above?

That's easy to answer. The tremendous wealth that this economy produces is largely held by the wealthiest of Americans, that 1% who lack for nothing; a very large portion of Americans do not benefit from that great wealth, especially those who work for the minimum wage. This is a country of extreme wealth at the top and not much left for the middle and lower parts of the income spectrum. And that's why America has so many problems that seemingly have no solution.

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I would think that, by the evidence presented above, that America severely lags behind the developed nations and, in some cases, the entire world, in so many important categories to the point that it doesn't even qualify for consideration as being exceptional.

That's depressing enough but now let's take a look at the other, opposite, interpretation of exceptional, which includes policies and actions which can be considered to be offensive and even destructive, i.e., exceptionally bad; where does America stand?

*In the number of invasions, occupations and wars initiated? We're #1, We're #1!

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Michael Payne is an independent, progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues. He is a featured writer on Opednews and Nation of Change and his articles have appeared on many other websites (more...)

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