"Exceptionalism" is a term with which I did not become familiar until this year. That was soon enough. It is essentially the belief that there are things so special about you and your country as to make you exceptional as a human and your country exceptional as a nation on this earth (2).
Certainly, one can say such things about people like Jefferson and Franklin, Madison, Priestly and Paine. Certainly, one can say such things about people like Darwin, Koch, Pasteur, Einstein and Bohr as well. It is difficult to see how exceptionalism applies to people like Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, and GW Bush. It simply does not apply to those who have failed to maintain human rights and the values of democracy in America.
Consider that Americans still tend to believe that they live in "The Greatest Nation on Earth." It is not true, of course. It is more accurate to say that America is the most despotic nation on earth, with the largest gap between rich and poor in human history.
Many nations are more fair and equitable in the distribution of revenue and resources, and many nations do a far superior job of providing their citizens with medical care and educational needs.
But such half truths, taken as beliefs, are part and parcel of being human. Most people would prefer to take a measure of pride in referring to their homeland ... even if they are not justified in doing so.
Problems emerge for real when belief in exceptionalism is taken to the self-righteous extreme of conferring upon believers the "right" to play a dominant role in the world, to dictate policies and programs to others in defining how the larger world works (3,4,5). This inherent unfairness and inequality is all based on religious assumptions which, in turn, are based on religious mythology (6).
Exceptionalism is a notion as old as western religion. It is a precursor of cultural bipolarism, when entire states (e.g., Rome) and entire nations (British colonialism, German Nazism) go manic , their ideological opposite takes control, and the nation does as it pleases to whomever it pleases ... at everyone's expense.
For better and for worse, the U.S. has had to deal with exceptionalism since the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. After all, we were the first nation on earth to break away from the chains of British colonialism and Old Testament Roman religion to establish the world's first human rights-based democracy.
To this day, the religious right wing simply does not "get it" when it comes to comprehension of the anti-Roman origins and the nature of the nascent Christian theology beneath Jefferson's Democracy. Roman religion has nothing to do with the emergence of democracy in America. It is the antithesis of a human rights-based Democracy.
Jefferson and Franklin's separation of church was pure genius, both men knowing that human rights would never survive a right wing religious program. The separation of honest from evil automatically lofted the U.S. to the top of a growing heap of European democracies.
While belief in American superiority has been around all along, most Americans in the generations following Jefferson have been aware of the fact that they had nothing personally to do with the emergence of democracy in America, that they are currently enjoying the fruits of their Father's labors, blessings which ought have been honored and nurtured.
Nevertheless, American exceptionalism has made a comeback in public over the past 40 years (3,4,5) with the increasing global dominion of conservative right wing capitalism, invested almost exclusively in the pursuit of money and power and increasingly justified (since the Reagan era) with Old Testament Roman religion.
As such, contemporary "American exceptionalism" is based on "The Golden Rule," i.e., the notion that those with the gold ought rule, based on the assumption that those with the most gold are the most deserving to rule - as a "chosen" people. American exceptionalism is based entirely on assumptions.
American exceptionalism is based on the assumption that those with ruling class wealth have acquired their riches through entirely honest means, which is seldom the case. None of this plateful of assumptions constitutes a definable idea, but merely weightless assumptions based on religious mythology, as are all examples of unfairness and inequality in the western world (6).
American exceptionalism is also based on the assumption that we still are whom we claim to be, that we are still a world leader in human rights and democracy. Not true anymore, is it? We end up parading around with nothing going for us but self-righteousness.
American exceptionalism is ideologically similar to "christian" evangelism. Both are essentially of the same program in self-righteousness, just in different time frames. Those who maintain our current global economic hegemony are the modern day equivalents of the "christian" missionaries of the past.
The message is even the same. 'We do it all for your own good, because we are the only people who know what we are doing, ostensibly chosen by our Roman god to share our godly knowledge with the world' ... it will only cost you about 90% of the GNP.
In terms of explaining Barack Obama's current failure to live up to his campaign rhetoric, it is of note that Obama holds to this right wing American extremism known as exceptionalism.
"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism" (7).
While exceptionalism is considered an aspect of conservative political ground, the post World War II version has "morphed into the fortress of those who see themselves threatened by one-worlders. It's become the angry refuge of the America that wants to deny the real state of the world" (8).
Thus, the "center-right" Obama supports exceptionalism right along with far right wingers like Sarah Palin, who claims that "America is an exceptional country" and that "You are all exceptional Americans" (unless you believe in sharing).
"Palinism" is a relatively mindless ideology which was "delivered without a passport and with a view (on a clear day) of Russia. Behind Palinism lies anger. It's been growing as America's relative decline has become more manifest in falling incomes, imploding markets, massive debt and rising new centers of wealth and power from Shanghai to Dubai".
The "damn-the-world, God-chose-us" rage of conservative America "has sharpened as U.S. exceptionalism has become harder to square with the 21st century world's interconnectedness"(8). Indeed, such repressed inner rage is characteristic of bipolar disorder.
This rage is harbored primarily by the conservative right wing, those who have sacrificed logic and common sense for renewed belief in Rome's supernatural "god", those who are capable of bipolar (upside down, backwards logic) responses to daily events which they see as needing to be controlled ... by those "chosen" for the job, i.e., the rich and powerful.
Consider Obama's recent Nobel Peace Prize which has brought out the worst in Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill Kristol and John Bolton among others (9). it is so bad that David Neiwert asks "Why do right wingers hate Americans (10)?
But such "Love-Hare" relationships are characteristic of bipolar disorder. Manics love someone or something when things are going their way, when they have control. They hate someone or something when things are not going their way, when they fear losing control. The swing from love to hate can be virtually instantaneous.
This mindless vacillation between extremes can go on forever. "Why? Because this subculture has as its fundamentalist faith that "they distrust facts per se" (11). So, when people call our president the "anti-Christ" you have to draw one of two conclusions. Either these people are racists looking for any excuse o level the next accusation or they are bipolar and "beyond crazy".
"And the Republican Party is entirely enthralled to this subculture to the extent that there is no Republican Party" but rather a handful of right wing extremists who have made the Party into a cult (12).
It puts the individual conservative mind in the position where it must sacrifice itself to its own Roman god - to end up nourishing cultural bipolar disorder, made manifest by the extremists currently allowed to define the Party, thus a world devoid of new ideas, on barren ground where there are no new ideas to be found, with its believers willing to go along with mindlessness in foreign affairs.
We say we are doing one thing and we tend to do the opposite. We liberate Iraq in the process of essentially destroying Iraq. We stand to accomplish the same thing in Afghanistan. We boost the economy with tax breaks for the very wealthy as unemployment skyrockets. We are the defending heroes of the civilized world ("The U.S. does not torture."), in spite of Dick Cheney's revival of torture.
If this is not indicative of bipolar disorder, then the condition may not even exist. We may be nothing more as a nation but spoiled rotten children, blessed only with "the emotional maturity of a bratty 13 year old" (13). In the former case, we can rise above accountability and cover our asses with claims that we are a collective "mental case". In the latter case, we need our asses spanked.
This bipolarism is all nurtured by a rage that can no longer be justified with anything but mythological religious rot, arguments reeking of overt self-righteousness, arguments that have nothing to do with human rights and democracy, nothing to do with even being human (14).
For example, the very notion that the U.S. ought maintain a global economic hegemony over the world is ludicrous. This can only come to pass with conservative-inspiration and religious-justification of military action against Russia and China and Venezuela and Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan and every single nation on earth hoping to define their own economies under a global economy (11).
Indeed, the past 8 years of the Bush-Cheney administration have been "a lesson in the price of exceptionalism run amok" (3,4), a full blown exercise in bipolarism and manic behavior. One third of New Jersey conservatives consider Obama to be the "anti-Christ" (11). How soon they forget Dick Cheney, the Republican's shining example of Jesus incarnate - the champion of human rights.
Indeed, the very existence of a nascent global economy actually begs the emergence of a global human rights-based democracy, as direct as we can make it. Clearly, there is need for a second American Revolution on the global stage.
Helping to define the nature of a global human right-based democracy is likely the only option open to Obama with his belief that America and Americans are truly exceptional in the world. If he is going to change the world for the better, he might as well change the entire world at once.
At the moment, however, the U.S. remains on a genuine manic binge, a culturally-induced disorder being made manifest by the conservative right wing of the Republican Party. Bipolar mania is so entirely wrapped up in ignorant individual points of view that its blind supporters do not have a clue what they are doing on any larger stage (15).
They are only concerned with themselves, to hell with the People, human rights and the rest of the world. If one takes action on these misbeliefs, one crosses the line into the realm of outright psychosis. Welcome to the Cheney-Bush administration.
How could such a thing happen to the Obama administration? Consider the possible outcomes if Obama is coerced into assisting Israel in bombing Iran. That could easily set the entire Middle East on fire and the entire world would be looking for ways to remove the U.S. from global power (16).
For Obama, his belief in American exceptionalism may be an aspect of some deeply held religious beliefs. If so, he is too religious to be the President of the United States, just as Bush was too religious to be elected to any office in the U.S. (12). It made him likely the worst president in U.S. history.
Obama's religion may be all the religion that it takes to make one's efforts meaningless, incompetent and counter-productive within the context of a human rights-based democracy. He ought know that the U.S. is only as exceptional as he makes it. he ought earn that Nobel Peace prize (17). Does one not have to make some peace somewhere in the world?
1) Conservatism and Capitalism:
Brain Dead for Decades - Life in a Bipolar Nation
Dr. Gerry Lower, OpEdNews, October 5, 2009
2) American Exceptionalism dot Com
Championing the Ideals and Institutions that Made America Great
3) American Exceptionalism - A Double-Edged Sword
Seymour Martin Lipset, Washington Post, 1996.
4) American Exceptionalism - A Disease of Conceit
Ron Jacobs, Counter Punch, July 21 2004
5) The Problem of American Exceptionalism
Andrew Kohut, Pew Research, May 9, 2006
6) The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Godfrey Hodgson, Yale University Press, January5, 2009
7) Obama Too Is An American Exceptionalist
Michael Scherer, Time, April 4 2009
8) Palin's American Exception
Roger Cohen, NY Times, September 25 2008
9) 8 Most Outrageous Attacks on Obama's
Nobel Peace Prize
Huffington Post, October 9 2009
10) Obama's Nobel Makes Wingnut Heads Explode. So Why Do Right Wingers Hate America?
David Neiwert, Crooks and Liars, October 9, 2009
11) Rachel Maddow: Why Do 1/3 of New Jersey Conservatives Think Obama Might Be the Anti-Christ?
Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show, September 18, 2009
12) Have Repubicans Turned Into a Weird Religious Cult?
Johann Hari, Independent UK, August 24, 2009
13) The Politics of Spite
Paul Krugman, NY Times, October 4,2009
14) The End of American Exceptionalism
David Gordon, Mises Daily, May 14, 2009
15) Who Will Harness The Rage?
Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, September 18, 2009
16) Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran?
Johathan Karl, ABC News, October 6, 2006
17) Congratulations President Obama on the Nobel Peace Prize - Now Please Earn it!
Michael Moore, Common Dreams, October 9, 2009