American Exceptionalism

There is this assumption, perhaps born of incredible hubris and willful selectivity, that we are the best country and culture ever built. often said, best civilization and what have you. Buttressing the cluster of beliefs are several explanations but this meme stands strong and well rooted: American Exceptionalism.

Simplified, the narrative is this: that Americans are special; that the achievements made in science and other human endeavors could have happened only here. No credit is given to the robust ancestral shoulders of thought and engineering, on which we stand. It is all due, they say, to American ingenuity and work ethic.

It appears that any deviation from this view or even a probing questioning of this cherished, widely held belief would help you lose friends and influence people to anger. Why? It does not meaningfully help anyone and requires tremendous energy and discomfort to maintain. One would have to undertake onerous, copious editing and recreating history, our’s and the world to keep this fallacious conviction viable. But tenaciously we hold. Facts are unsupportable of American Exceptionalism, but Hollywood did do a fantastic job of recasting history. Other media cohere, passionately sustaining the myth. Our institutions demand it. Politicians thrive on its repetition. Mouthing it is demanded like a military oath; a sacred creed.

One needs not inform or remind us of all the ugly crimes and dehumanizing terror perpetrated to make America the world’s richest and most powerful country at this time, nor is it necessary to crow about the good America has done. But to embrace American Exceptionalism one has to also jealously embrace, the intertwining myth…Manifest Destiny. It is all or none.

Briefly, Manifest Destiny is the doctrine that America was given by God to those of Anglo-Saxon blood and that it was their destiny to expand its territory to include the whole of North America. It was concocted in the nineteenth century and grounded in their belief in their own racial superiority. Of course, since Anglo-Saxons were only a part of the whole population, it was necessary to deprive others of any rights whatsoever, in pursuit of that dream. Where necessary the essence was codified and unconscionably enforced through governmental actions and religious collusion. All varieties of brutality, genocide, and robbery flourished under Manifest Destiny. Okay, but I did say that it is not necessary here to point out the ugly crimes, so I’ll not go to the Indian Removal Act and other atrocities for which no one was ever held to account.

What troubles me is the little bell in my ear that keeps reminding me that we have seen this all before. It could be the Uber-man, purity or whatever masks they wear, there is this notion of racial superiority and we should be familiar with what it led to the last time. I am doubly concerned that in 2012, so recent, GQ Magazine and The Gap, Inc. were marketing Manifest Destiny T-shirts. Just reflecting.