June 07, 2006

Beyond The Myth of US "Exceptionalism"

Glenn Greenwald sparks a much-needed debate on US "exceptionalism". A few samples from the extensive comments:
I was talking to a Russian Jew who came to this country before the fall of the Soviet Union. He said people outside the country could and were making a distinction between the Bush government and the American people (the real America as it were). He thought the American people were still liked and admired inspite of Bush's actions.

But now, what he feared is that people outside the country are no longer seeing the distinction between the violence and harshness of the government and the American people. He didn't really talk about consequences, except to say that this is really bad for America.
The thing is, you, the people of the USA have voted for Bush not once, but twice (and that's after voting for and then discarding his miserable father). And while many of you are up in arms over Bush's behaviour, it still proceeds unchecked.

It's all well and good to say the GOP controls both Senate and Congress, Bush only got 51% (or 49% even) of the vote, etc etc. But what the world sees is that Bush ploughs ahead and nothing ever changes, except perhaps his plummetting poll numbers. If you, the people of the USA really, really care, why don't you do something? Why don't you all stand up for yourselves, put your collective foot down and stop Bush right now?

Actions speak louder than words, and in the places where it matters (e.g. Big Media and the Senate floor) there are not even enough words, let alone actions. That's what the world sees.
I keep thinking that if we can make it through the next 3 years, we'll be all right; but it seems every day, this administration and this congress get evn [sic] worse.
Yeah, sure. If we can just make it through to November 2004, we'll get rid of him for SURE... Oh, wait...!

This comment from Highlander is closer to my way of thinking:
At what point do we get to call bullshit on all this irrational rhetoric? How many bullets have to be fired in the name of America's wealthy elite, how much blood has to be shed to maintain or increase corporate profit margins, before we are willing to admit that high falutin' words phrases like 'mythos', 'ideal', and 'dream' all pretty much boil down to a self-righteous delusion that America is something exceptional... a delusion we all use to justify and rationalize away the undeniable, objective fact that throughout the world, millions still suffer every minute of every day from a lack of urgent necessities... food, water, shelter, a healthy local environment... while we Americans cheerfully ignore it all, as we mindlessly pursue our own God given and utterly inalienable rights to continuous comfort and endless entertainment?

The true history of America is now, and always has been, one of barely hidden greed, selfishness, dehumanization of ourselves and others... in short, outright evil, swaddled in poetic parchment. Ask the American Indian tribes, ask the native Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, Alaskans, Mexicans, ask the descendents of the Chinese and the Africans we imported to build our infrastructure, ask the Japanese we put in detainment camps...

The American way of life has, honestly, never been anything but a mass glorification of individual human selfishness. The American dream is to be better off, more comfortable, and more entertained than our neighbors. Is that something that can be degraded? I don't think so.
Personally, I think the best thing the USA can do now is drop this whole phony pretext of "exceptionalism" entirely. Then start acknowledging that people are people the whole world over. Why should some be rich while others are poor, some educated while others are ignorant? It offends our innate sense of decency, and anyway it makes no sense: we are all stronger when we unite as one. And it looks increasingly certain that the whole planet is going down the tube unless we can all band together, put our differences aside and make the most of what we've got.

Truth be told, it is nationalist fervour (stirred up by business and politicians for their own purposes) and old-fashioned, nation-based government structures which create an impediment to the better instincts of ordinary people, who are by nature far more ready to embrace a cohesive vision of humanity.

For example (as another commenter points out), the Bush neo-cons used the concept of US "exceptionality" to build support for their obscene Project for the New American Century:
we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
Maybe the myth of US "exceptionalism" served a propaganda purpose during the Cold War, but it's time has passed.

To quote an old song:
there is good and bad in everyone, we learn to live when we learn to give each other what we need to survive, together alive... !!!
Or, if you prefer poetry, here is Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!


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