Thursday, September 30, 2010

American Exceptionalism Debunked

There exists among many on the neoconservative right the idea that America, and its citizens, are unique among all other nations and peoples of the world. And while it's easy to trace this idea back to the concept of Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism today, in the wake of two failed and illegal wars, scandals over torture of detainees, eavesdropping without warrant, targeted assassination of American citizens without due process, just reeks like the worst of imperialism, colonialism, and fascism.

In his remarkable 1835/1840 book Democracy in America, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville reveals much that he admires about the new United States of America. But he is somewhat sarcastic about the idea that Americans "are not very remote from believing themselves to be a distinct species of mankind." In other words, while we think we're all that, it is this believing our own bullshit that are actually a threat to our country. Written 180 years ago, and he's got the Bush/Cheney years and the Palin/O'Donnell/Fox News mindset down.

Well, Andrew Sullivan fisks neocon asshole Dinesh D'Souza over his Forbes article called "How Obama Thinks." It's a great read, but the money quote is here:

For what the new right has come to assert as empirical fact is that Americans are actually a distinct species of mankind, that America has a divine blessing not bestowed on any other countries, that its inherent specialness means that if Americans torture, for example, it is somehow not torture; that if Americans invade a country, it is never an invasion but always a liberation; that if Americans occupy a foreign country for a decade, it is not an occupation; and so on.

This kind of nationalism is dangerous. It is not patriotism. It is not pride in the exceptional history and constitution of the US, which Obama has expressed and, in many ways, exemplifies. It is a kind of national idolatry in order to justify anything America does, and to demonize anyone, like Tocqueville and Obama and any educated person, who sees the imperfection and flaws of America, as well its immense and enduring and specific virtues.

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