23 June 2020   Leave a comment

American exceptionalism is a phrase often used to describe the unique role in the world that Americans often ascribe to themselves. It is a phrase that suggests that Americans are “different” from citizens of other states. Usually that difference is determined to be “better”. In a number of important ways, the US is better positioned than many countries: it has easy access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans which also serve as a defensive moat from foreign invasion; it has the Great Plains, the most productive agricultural land on the planet; and it came into being at a decisive time, allowing it to implement the political and economic ideas of the Enlightenment without having to address the legacies of feudalism simultaneously. The belief in American exceptionalism has been a constant theme in American foreign policy and the almost constant flow of immigrants into the country served to reinforce that special sense.

The Turkish newspaper, Daily Sabah, published an op-ed that demonstrated a keen understanding of American exceptionalism and how the Trump Administration has undermined the ideology:

“Unlike many other countries, particularly compared to Russia, China and the European powers, the U.S. came into being as an experiment in nation-building, underlining the importance of secular, cosmopolitan, universal and multicultural values, uniting a diverse people around the political project of American nationalism.

“Being part of the American nation has long been considered as subscribing to the core tenets of the American creed, which has been in abject contradiction with examples of ethnic, religious and racists nationalism in other societies. Americans have thought of themselves so unique that promoting universal American values to other parts of the globe has long shaped American foreign policy practices. Americans have thought of themselves as an exceptional nation that has a God-given mandate to civilize and transform other societies in the image of American values.

“The four-year Trump presidency seems to have dented that image severely by contributing to the erosion of American soft power. We knew that Trump was a nativist politician, disparaging and belittling American exceptionalism. He said many times that it was not the U.S.’s business to teach others how to rule themselves and with him in power, the U.S. would no longer engage in nation-building exercises abroad.

Exceptionalism is a convenient ideology that is invariably used by imperial powers, largely to justify interventions in weaker powers as There is a great deal of evidence that has begun to undermine American exceptionalism. On 15 June, I posted information from the Gallup poll that indicated that the number of Americans who take great pride in being American has declined over time. Catherine Rampell wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post on how belief in American exceptionalism has been shattered by the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The comparison between the success of US efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and the EU’s efforts indicates a degree of incompetence that is breathtaking. The EU does not have any tools that are not also available to the US–it is a matter of effective governance.

But the COVID-19 example is only the most recent example of where the belief in American exceptionalism is misplaced. The Middle East Eye assesses the effects of the recent protests associated with systemic racism in the US on global attitudes toward the US:

“The world has seen through the veneer of American exceptionalism. Corruption, government mismanagement, systematic injustices, police brutality and civil strife have exposed a dark underbelly that arguably represents at least one foundational element of US society. 

“While many observers have associated this shift with the Trump presidency, this is a good time to reflect on whether that is truly the cause, or merely a reflection of a deeply rooted social malaise that has gone untreated. 

“Ultimately, the global outrage over Floyd’s killing suggests that the idea of ‘America’, however much it contrasts with reality, remains something that many around the world are willing to believe in. 

Similar sentiments have been expressed in Iranian and Chinese media. The real question is whether American citizens are willing to give up the vanity of American exceptionalism. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the US is just an ordinary country. Karen Greenberg writes:

“With Covid-19, the very idea of American exceptionalism may have seen its last days. The virus has put the realities of wealth inequality, health insecurity, and poor work conditions under a high-powered microscope. Fading from sight are the days when this country’s engagement with the world could be touted as a triumph of leadership when it came to health, economic sustenance, democratic governance, and stability. Now, we are inside the community of nations in a grim new way—as fellow patients, grievers, and supplicants in search of food and shelter, in search, along with so much of humanity, of a more secure existence.”

Posted June 23, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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