Broken Arm, Ogalalla Sioux by Boston Public Library
Rabbits arrived in Australia in the late seventeen hundreds, traveling aboard the original fleet of convict ships. They were included on the voyages as a caged foodstuff, in time becoming the scourge of the continent -- they got out of their cages, ultimately destroying plant species and causing severe and irreparable soil erosion.
"The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people -- and especially of government -- always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it." The preceding quote by Rob Norton, former economics editor of Fortune magazine, is speaking about: rabbits, the Founding Fathers, American exceptionalism, Cuba, the internet, Roger Winthrop, Elvis and Marilyn Manson, John Kennedy, Jesus...Jesus? Yes Jesus.
As part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in in the Gospel of Matthew, along with The Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes, he preaches to his followers, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." This biblical passage inspired the Puritan John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "A Model Of Christian Charity". Anchored off the shore of the new Massachusetts Bay colony, Winthrop sermonized to the new colonists that their future community would be a " city upon a hill", watched by all the world -- unintentionally sowing the early seeds of American exceptionalism. This fertile ground was further plowed by many subsequent American leaders and orators including John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and, most egregiously, John O'Sullivan.
Kennedy in a speech in 1961 stated, ""I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates...Today the eyes of all people are upon us -- and our governments, in every branch, at every level...must be as a city upon a hill -- constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities." Reagan also used this image many times culminating in his 1989 farewell address. In a speech he gave in 1974 he said, "You can call it mysticism if you want to, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love for freedom and a special kind of courage...Standing on the tiny deck of the Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, We will be as a city upon a hill...we cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so. He left office in 1989 with these words, "The leadership of the Free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia...We are indeed, and are today, the last best hope of man on earth."
Subsequently and without irony, George W. Bush naturally hooked up the plow and exclaimed, "... our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world..."
Bush, Kennedy, Reagan, et al. were simply treading a well worn path. In 1845 John O'Sullivan, a magazine editor, coined the phrase "manifest destiny". Manifest destiny was the 19th century belief that the United States was without question, inexorably and spiritually, mandated to expand across the untamed and unsettled West. This concept was used to justify the unfettered expansion of settlers and capitalists into the western part of the continent. This was an ecological and cultural disaster. Manifest destiny gave us the dust bowl and the destruction and genocide of Native Americans - the dust bowl was an unintended consequence; the genocide was not.
O'Sullivan used the following, erroneously interpreted Sermon On The Mount inspired rhetoric to create and give birth to the incredibly destructive, yet highly effective and fertile, concept of Manifest Destiny: "...we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be a great nation of futurity...what can set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that 'the gates of hell' -- the powers of aristocracy and monarchy -- 'shall not prevail against it.' He further added to the delight of Fox News and all rabid and misguided American exceptionalists: "All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world...America has been chosen."
Mr. O'Sullivan became relatively famous, made a speech that got a statue of Andrew Jackson erected in Washington, went broke, supported the Confederates in the Civil War, moved to Europe, defended the institution of Slavery, moved back to New York, got into Spiritualism, communicated with William Shakespeare and died in obscurity in 1889, just as his concept of "Manifest Destiny" was being revived to live again in the following century. For him probably the most troubling unintended consequence of his concept would be that the West was completely opened up with the help of black Buffalo Soldiers and laborers whose ancestors would later become successful Americans - paving the way for a Black "Socialist" President. This appears to be a troubling unintended consequence for quite a few contemporary Americans.
Back to unintended consequences and the "City On The Hill" -- Neither Jesus Christ nor Roger Winthrop were talking about America spiritually, metaphysically, cosmically, economically, inevitably, historically or pedagogically. This was very simply a metaphor about personal responsibility -- "hey folks, people are watching, wear clean underwear and walk the walk." Without question America has become "Exceptional" in myriad ways and in large part because of the character of many of our leaders, past and present, and the character our people. Undoubtedly, many were inspired by the "City On The Hill." However, were we chosen or did we choose?
Unwelcome irony is such an inevitable, funny thing, and one must be careful with metaphor. The ever increasingly apparent irony of the unintended consequence of "American Exceptionalism" is that the wider world was paying attention and the city on the hill has spread across the globe. Will humanity be able to contain it? What about China? What about India? What about Iran? Is global warming real? I lost a good friend last year. He was an attorney and cowboy from Oklahoma. He was a tough guy, however he couldn't speak of Native Americans or the Civil War -- He got too emotional. Although, once, we did talk about Comanches and manifest destiny. He thought that we should have figured out a way to nurture and accommodate them instead of annihilating them.
Let's support a Lakota or Coahuiltecan for President instead of Barak Obama. If so many voters really are sure about American exceptionalism why don't we elect a true American.